AI airforce: Artificial Intelligence fighter pilot beats human in virtual dogfight

The AI-controlled virtual fighter jet has trounced a human pilot in a dogfight. The feat occurred during the finale of the US military’s AlphaDogfight challenge.

This was put on by the controversial Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA).

It is massively symbolic moment, a proof case that even in the most hallowed of human roles in air war, AI is moving in

Peter W. Singer

This involved some of the largest military contractors including Lockheed Martin participating in the competition.

Peter W. Singer, a strategist and Senior Fellow at New America believes this exercise marks a major milestone in the new technology.l

He tweeted: “A John Henry-versus-the-steam-engine moment.”

“There is a nobility to the human role, but it symbolically points to a future of more and more machines in more and more roles.

“It is massively symbolic moment, a proof case that even in the most hallowed of human roles in air war, AI is moving in.

“But it is just the start, the opening pitch of a nine inning game so to speak.”

The winning company, Heron Systems, emerged as a victor with its fighter jet AI by defeating a human fighter pilot — call-sign ‘Banger’.

The opponent was reportedly sitting inside a simulator wearing a visual reality headset five rounds to zero.

However, Mr Singer does not believe the demonstration will immediately render human fighter pilots redundant.

He wrote: “The key is that this is not really a ‘contest’, but a learning exercise for both the military and the machine.

“The military is learning what works or not, but so is the system itself.

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“Each and every data point makes that system more intelligent, more capable.

“Win or lose, the human pilot that shows up for round 2 and then 3 will be effectively the same 1.0 version, while the technology will be at 2.0, 3.0 on so on.

“Moreover, AI is also a ‘black box’, so its creators soon won’t even know how it improved itself. Just that it did.

“But don’t expect wholesale move to this kind of system anytime soon.”

The military strategist then outlined three reasons why it will take time.

He tweeted: “The decision to automate is not just about “could” but ‘should’.

“There are a host of legal and ethical concerns that would have to be navigated through first.

“Second, the military is, for very good reasons, a conservative organisation, seeking to go into battle with what is known and trusted.

“Any new tech, let alone one of such change, has to go over that hurdle.

“Third, there is massive investment in existing programs of record, with literally hundreds of billions of dollars and tens of thousands of jobs at stake.

“Anything that alters those plans is a threat that will be fought bureaucratically.”


The teams had to start from the ground up to teach their AIs how to fly a fighter jet.

Lee Ritholtz, director and chief architect of AI, from Lockheed Martin, said: “You don’t have to teach a human [that] it shouldn’t crash into the ground.

“They have basic instincts that the algorithm doesn’t have.

“That means dying a lot. Hitting the ground, a lot.”

For Lockheed Martin, it took several servers running trial-and-error dogfights around the clock to come up with its final AI, a piece of software capable of being run on a single graphics card.

The winning team’s AI had been through more than 4 billion simulations.

This equates to approximately 12 years of flight time, as Ben Bell, senior machine learning engineer at Heron Systems, told Defense One.

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