Airforce Secretary Makes Historic Flight in AI-Controlled F-16 Fighter Jet

Artificial intelligence is one of the most significant advancements in military aviation since stealth was introduced in the 1990s. The Air Force’s interest and involvement in this field has grown these last few years.

While the current tech isn’t fully developed, the Air Force plans to build an artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled fleet of more than 1,000 unmanned warplanes, the first of which shall commence operations in 2028. AI agents are already being trained to fly in war at Edwards Air Force Base, a facility located in the desert. It was here that Chuck Yeager broke the speed of sound.

Frank Kendall, an Air Force secretary, recently had the privilege of flying a jet using artificial intelligence. Seated in the front seat of the experimental F-16 fighter jet dubbed Vista, Kendall flew at more than 550 miles per hour, putting pressure five times the force of gravity on his body.

Following the hour-long flight, Kendall in his capacity as an air force secretary made a public statement of confidence on the future role of AI in air combat. He noted that not having it was a security risk, then admitted that he would trust this tech with the ability to make decisions on whether or not to deploy weapons in war.

Not all are in favor of the military using artificial intelligence. Humanitarian groups and arms-control experts have raised concerns that one day AI may develop the ability to autonomously deploy bombs that kill individuals without needing to consult humans.

In its warning, the International Committee of the Red Cross noted that there were serious and widespread concerns about relinquishing life-and-death decisions to software and sensors. It added that autonomous weapons demanded an urgent, global political response and were an immediate cause of concern.

The shift to artificial intelligence-enabled planes by the military is being driven by strategic capability, cost and security. Vista operators hold the opinion that no other nation globally has a jet like its own. The tech’s uniqueness comes from the fact that the software processes data in a simulator then examines its conclusions in actual fights. Data from the actual fights is then fed back into the simulator, and the AI processes it to better understand combat.

Thus far, the reports show that some versions of this tech, as tested on the fighter jets, is already besting human pilots in air-to-air combat. This doesn’t unnerve pilots at the base, however, who may be training their replacements.

As companies such as Palantir Technologies Inc. (NYSE: PLTR) continue making advances in the development of AI software, these technologies are likely to make their presence and utility felt in different industries, not only in defense.

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