Researchers in China turn to AI for help in hypersonic dog fight simulation

Find a counter-intuitive way to strike the enemy while increasing the chance of survival for the crew.
Ameya Paleja
Artist's representation of a hypersonic aircraft
Artist's representation of a hypersonic aircraft

~UserGI15994093/ iStock 

Researchers at the Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics turned to artificial intelligence (AI) to simulate aerial dogfights using hypersonic aircraft. In the simulation, the aircraft flew at speeds between Mach 5 to Mach 11 or up to 11 times the speed of sound, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported.

The advent of drones or autonomous vehicles has already changed the nature of warfare today. During the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, Russia has successfully deployed cheaply assembled drone swarms to attack critical infrastructure. Countries are also looking at hypersonic weapons and aircraft to counter aerial threats and have been improving their abilities in hypersonic aerial warfare.

Reusable hypersonic aircraft have many advantages ranging from low mission costs to the ability to maneuver at very high speeds. However, fire-control systems for launching weapons from these aircraft have not yet been developed. The researchers worked to improve combat performance and turned to AI for help.

A counter-intuitive way to attack

In the simulation, the researchers instructed a plane flying at Mach 11 to attack another fighter jet traveling at Mach 1.3, approximately similar to an F-35. Conventionally, opponents try to take each other head-on in aerial combat and avoid being trailed by a rival. Instinct would tell us that the manner of attack in hypersonic action would be no different.

However, instead of heading straight toward the target, the AI-aided pilot in the simulation flew to a position far ahead of the enemy fighter jet. Once there, it fired a missile using the "over-the-shoulder" launch method. Instead of firing directly at the target, a rocket is tossed backward at an approaching foe.

Researchers in China turn to AI for help in hypersonic dog fight simulation
Stock representation of hypersonic missile

In the simulation, the target was 18.6 miles (30 km) behind the hypersonic plane but was hit by the missile at Mach 11. The researchers found that the approach ended the combat in a mere eight seconds.

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Not only does this approach offer a long killing range for hypersonic aircraft, but it also reduces the risk for the crew to a minimum. Upon firing the missile, the aircraft could quickly leave the battlefield. Next, the researchers want to use the technology to coordinate a simulation where multiple hypersonic aircraft perform a 'multi-wave, multi-task attack', the SCMP report added.

The research findings were published in the Journal of Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics last month.

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