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The Air Force is hoping to pit an autonomous drone equipped with an artificial intelligence-driven flight control system against a fighter jet with a human pilot in a little over a year. The service has described this effort in the past as a "big moonshot" that could revolutionize air-to-air combat in ways that have so far been limited to the realm of fiction - at least as far as we know.
Air Force Lieutenant General Jack Shanahan, head of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC), revealed that the Air Force had set the goal of holding the faceoff in July 2021 during a remote event that the Air Force Association's Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies held on June 4, 2020. The Pentagon established the JAIC in 2018 to serve as a central point of focus for AI developments and related activities across the U.S. military.
Shanahan did not offer any details about the design of the unmanned aircraft that is supposed to take part in this in this future aerial duel or specifics about its planned capabilities. He did say that Air Force Research Laboratory's (AFRL) Autonomy Capability Team 3 (ACT3), led by Steve Rogers, was still in charge of the effort, which Inside Defense first reported the existence of in May 2018. AFRL created ACT3 that year to focus on AI developments.
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