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AI-controlled F-16 takes US Air Force leaders on high-speed cruise – while relying on weapon-firing technology | US News

An AI-controlled fighter jet has taken a senior Air Force leader on a groundbreaking test flight over California.

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall sat in the cockpit as the experimental F-16 jet named Vista performed lightning-fast maneuvers at more than 550 miles per hour over Edwards Air Force Base.

It was almost neck-and-neck with a second human-piloted F-16 as both raced to within 1,000 feet of each other, twisting and turning to force their opponent into vulnerable positions.

Air Force AI-powered F-16 fighter jet, left, flies alongside an enemy F-16
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The AI-controlled F-16 (left) dueled with a human-controlled opponent

Mr. Kendall’s flight was another expression of confidence in artificial intelligence after the first known battle between a human pilot and an AI-controlled fighter aircraft Last month.

Thursday’s flight lasted an hour and the US Air Force hopes to have more than 1,000 of the AI-controlled jets in the coming years.

“It’s a security risk not to have it. At this point we have to have it,” Mr. Kendall said after he climbed out of the cockpit, grinning.

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall in the forward cockpit.  Image: AP
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Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall sat in the cockpit. Image: AP

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall after the flight Image: AP
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Mr Kendall said there was always human oversight when using weapons. Image: AP

The pilots working on Vista want the first fleet to be operational by 2028 and say the programs learn so quickly that some are already beating human pilots in combat.

More on the topic of artificial intelligence

The idea is that unmanned aircraft could carry out a preliminary attack on enemy defenses and penetrate airspace without much risk to human pilots.

But the change is also cost-related, as AI aircraft are smaller and cheaper to manufacture.

The US Air Force is still hobbled by delays and cost overruns in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, estimated to cost $1.7 trillion (£1.35 trillion).

Meanwhile, China’s air force is on track to surpass the US’s in numbers and is also developing unmanned weapons – although there is no sign yet that it has found a way to run away AI Testing outside of a simulator.

“Concern about life and death decisions”

Vista’s operators, who have flown it about two dozen times since September, say no other country has a similar AI jet – where the software learns from millions of data points in a simulator and then tests its conclusions on real flights .

The real performance data is fed back into the simulator, where the AI ​​processes it to learn more.

The head of the Air Force, Frank Kendall, was so impressed that he said he would entrust her with decisions about the use of weapons in the war.

It’s a controversial take. Arms control experts and humanitarian groups fear that AI could one day be able to drop bombs autonomously without further human advice and are calling for limits on its use.

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“There are widespread and serious concerns about leaving life and death decisions to sensors and software,” the International Committee of the Red Cross warned.

Mr Kendall said there was always human oversight when using weapons.

The pilots who program Vista are aware that they may be training their own successors, but would also be wary of taking on an enemy’s AI fleet themselves.

“We have to keep running. And we have to run fast,” Mr. Kendall said.

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