The third and final competition in DARPA’s AlphaDogfight trials between artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled F-16 simulators and U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps pilots is to take place virtually this week due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The finals were to occur at AFWERX headquarters in Las Vegas in Las Vegas with fighter pilots from the Air Force Weapons School at Nellis AFB, Nev., until COVID-19 made the virtual competition necessary, said Air Force Col. Dan “Animal” Javorsek, the program manager of Air Combat Evolution in DARPA’s Strategic Technology Office.
The Air Force picked eight teams to compete last year to show advanced AI algorithms to permit autonomous F-16 dogfighting, and Javorsek said in a statement that “it’s been amazing to see how far the teams have advanced AI for autonomous dogfighting in less than a year.”
The teams are Boeing‘s [BA] Aurora Flight Sciences, Lockheed Martin [LMT], Perspecta Labs [PRSP], EpiSys Science, Inc., Heron Systems, PhysicsAI, SoarTech, and the Georgia Tech Research Institute.
The first two trials were held at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory last November and January.
On Aug. 18, the teams will “fly” their algorithms against five APL-developed AI algorithms, while on Aug. 19 the teams will compete against one another. On Aug. 20, the winner of the team competition will “fly” against an F-16 pilot.
Javorsek said that “regardless of whether the human or machine wins the final dogfight, the AlphaDogfight trials is all about increasing trust in AI.”
“If the champion AI earns the respect of an F-16 pilot, we’ll have come one step closer to achieving effective human-machine teaming in air combat, which is the goal of the ACE program,” he said.
Air Combat Commander Gen. James “Mobile” Holmes said that he plans to monitor the AlphaDogfight trials this week. “I’m all for the test,” he said, adding that his notion is to try such AI dogfighting first in “Red” adversary aggressor squadrons against manned aircraft. Holmes said that AI would initially provide options for pilots and human operators of command and control systems before moving to full control of a platform, akin to the trend for self-driving cars.
Holmes said that the move to privatize Air Force aggressor squadron training will free up Flight Training Unit (FTU) commanders and fighter pilots who previously had to devote time to aggressor squadron “red teaming,” rather than their own training.
Last month, the Air Force awarded its first aggressor squadron contracts to Textron‘s [TXT] Airborne Tactical Advantage Company (ATAC)–a $240 million contract for operations at Luke AFB, Ariz., and Holloman AFB, N.M., Tactical Air Support, Inc.–a $90.4 million contract for training at Kingsley Field, Ontario, and Draken International–a $74.5 million award to support training at Kelly Field, Texas and Seymour Johnson AFB, N.C.
ATAC said that it plans to use its fleet of Dassault Mirage F1 fighters to provide more than 3,000 aggressor sorties per year for up to four and a half years.
While freeing up pilots, contracting out aggressor squadron training could cost the Air Force $400 million per year, according to Privatized Adversary Air Combat Training, a report this month by Jeremiah Gertler, a military aviation analyst with the Congressional Research Service.
“A broader issue is whether military training should be considered an inherently governmental function, part of a long-standing debate on privatization that government has addressed previously but is also currently evident in areas such as air-to-air refueling services and logistics support for military aircraft,” per the report. “In possible counterpoint to the contract adversary air movement, the report accompanying the Fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act included language requiring the Air Force to report on the costs and schedule for expanding its in-house aggressor fleet.”