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AI Beats Experienced Human Pilot 5-0 in F-16 Dogfights

3 min read
Aug 27, 2020

An experienced Air Force F-16 fighter pilot went head-to-head with an artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm, and the AI came out on top in each of the five dogfights. In fact, the human pilot was unable to even achieve a single hit on its AI counterpart. 

The simulated dogfights were part of the United States’ Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) AlphaDogfight Trials. The competition was designed to explore AI in more detail and further develop human-assisted and unassisted potential. Heron Systems created the AI program used in the dogfights.

The competition was designed to recreate the type of dogfight that often happened in World War II, meaning they were in visual range of each other and they were one-on-one. They also only used their forward-facing guns. That environment, critics say, gave an advantage to the AI.

"You have an artificial intelligence program that has been perfectly trained in that environment to conduct a simulated fight, and you have a US Air Force fighter pilot who you are forcing to wear VR goggles," Guy Snodgrass told Business Insider

Snodgrass is a former Navy Pilot and instructor at TOPGUN.

"In a best-case scenario, dogfighting is completely irrelevant because you want to see your adversary as far away as possible," Snodgrass added. "I was not surprised by that outcome." 

However, the human pilot was also given an advantage. The unidentified pilot, with the callsign ‘Banger,’ was able to perform some maneuvers that would probably not be possible in the real world. 

All that being said, don’t expect AI to replace human pilots anytime soon. Although the AI pilot showed off an incredible ability to aim, there is plenty of work needed before it can perform as well in an environment that simulates modern warfare. After all, this simulation was done based on fighting conditions that existed 80 years ago.

"The AlphaDogfight trials were a significant step toward one day providing an unmanned aircraft that can perform dogfighting," Snodgrass explained, "but what it does not demonstrate is that we're there now."

The U.S. already uses drones that are piloted by remote pilots, however, this simulated aircraft was controlled completely by AI.

The next move for DARPA will be to use the AI simulator at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. There, other human pilots will take on the AI to see if they can take it down. Additionally, the AI will be tested to see if it is able to carry out different types of combat missions.

"I think there's a point in time where the US military will have unmanned aircraft that you could give a mission, load it up, have it take off, and have it potentially fight its way in and fight its way back out," Snodgrass said. "That's absolutely possible and something likely to happen probably sooner than we ever imagined."