Artificial intelligence working to help protect national security is “here to stay,” and the U.S. Air Force is already showcasing how AI can dominate airspace.
“We need to recognize that AI is here. It’s here to stay. It’s a powerful tool,” Air Force Col. Tucker “Cinco” Hamilton said in a video published by the Air Force Research Laboratory.
The AFRL, which is headquartered in Ohio, detailed plans this month on how autonomous drones will act like wingmen to pilots in the future, including training artificial intelligence on the Kratos XQ-58 Valkyrie experimental drone.
AFRL’s office of Strategic Development, Planning and Experimentation is carrying out an operational experiment to determine the scale of work ahead to train AI to operate aircraft, according to the Air Force.
“Our senior leaders have been clear and direct in saying, we’re dealing with new technology, and we’re dealing with a new threat. We need to go fast in determining the competitive advantage of autonomy, and how to ultimately operationalize autonomy for the warfighter,” experimentation lead Matthew “Rico” Niemiec said in the Air Force’s video on the research.
The military branch is currently working to “mature autonomy concepts through digital simulation” and then apply that to real life situations.
“Running these neural networks takes millions and millions of runs, of training runs,” chief test pilot “Evil” Bill Gray said in the video. “You can’t do that in a real airplane … But you can do it in a simulator.”
Once the technology is deemed by experts to be “mature enough in the” simulation, it is applied to a flight test where “pilots can effectively go hands off.”
“One of the advantages of tests is our ability to experiment and demonstrate some of these capabilities in a controlled environment. Both so that we can get important data and lessons learned out of it, so we can develop our systems and risk reduce for future development, as well as making sure that we’re walking down the right road,” Lt. Col. Ben “Baja” Gilliland said.
The Air Force team explained that it tallied how many lives were lost across the years to mishaps or collisions, and are working towards a future where military members aren’t at as much risk, which would be a “huge benefit for this community,” according to group technician director Jessica “Sting” Peterson.
Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall discussed the importance of the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) air superiority initiative back in May, highlighting that the U.S. military “will lose” its edge “if we don’t move forward now” on the high-powered tech.
“NGAD will include attributes such as enhanced lethality and the ability to survive, persist, interoperate, and adapt in the air domain, all within highly contested operational environments. No one does this better than the U.S. Air Force, but we will lose that edge if we don’t move forward now,” Kendall said.
That sentiment was reiterated by the Air Force members working on the experiment, who said the tech will ultimately increase the “survivability of our human operators.”
“We need industry working alongside academia, working alongside DoD, in order to get us to the future state, allowing us to protect our national security interests against an adversary that does not share our values,” Hamilton said.