Pentagon Plans Human/AI Sky Battle

The Pentagon is planning a 2024 showdown between an F-16 piloted by a human and one controlled by artificial intelligence, a man versus machine matchup that military officials believe could represent a key turning point in technological development.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced the 2024 contest during a speech on AI development Wednesday at the Pentagon. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, already has held numerous combat simulations between human pilots and machines.

In the most recent round, officials said the AI-controlled system easily defeated the human.

“The AI agent’s resounding victory demonstrated the ability of advanced algorithms to out-perform humans in virtual dogfights,” Mr. Esper said. “These simulations will culminate in a real-world competition involving full-scale tactical aircraft in 2024.”

AI development is central to the Pentagon’s 21st-century battle plan. While it may be frightening to see machines top highly trained pilots, military officials argue that China and other global competitors are pouring billions of dollars into their own AI development programs, and the U.S must keep pace.

Still, Mr. Esper stressed that machines cannot and will not fully replace flesh and blood.

“To be clear, AI’s role in our lethality is to support human decision-makers, not replace them,” he said. “We see AI as a tool to free up resources, time, and manpower so our people can focus on higher priority tasks, and arrive at the decision point, whether in a lab or on the battlefield, faster and more precise than the competition.”

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