The US Air Force has recently conducted tests of artificial intelligence (AI) systems for fighter jets. The AI technology, developed by Lockheed Martin Skunk Works and Calspan, is designed to enhance human pilots rather than replace them. This development brings the concept of AI in the skies, reminiscent of the science fiction film “Stealth,” closer to reality.
Lockheed Martin has partnered with the United States Air Force Test Pilot School to create a training aircraft named VISTA X-62A (Variable In-flight Simulation Test Aircraft). Originally flying in April 1992, the jet has undergone numerous upgrades and modifications, making it an essential tool for AI development within the USAF. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), US Air Force Test Center, and the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) support the VISTA project.
In December 2022, an AI agent took the VISTA jet on a 17-hour test flight. This aircraft is equipped with Calspan’s VISTA Simulation System (VSS), Lockheed Martin’s Model Following Algorithm (MFA), and System for Autonomous Control of the Simulation (SACS). The VSS enables the AI aircraft to mimic existing vehicles such as the F-16 fighter jet or the MQ-20 drone. This capability allows the US Air Force to apply new AI systems to existing aircraft without risking their safety.
The VISTA aircraft can travel distances up to 5,200 km (2,800 nm), reaching a maximum speed of 2,170 kph (1,170 knots) and flying at altitudes of over 15,000 meters (50,000 ft). While some might envision a fully automated Air Force, Lockheed Martin emphasizes that their goal is to “keep people in control while enabling them to be safer, more effective, and better able to focus on higher-level tasks.”
The VISTA aircraft is just one component of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Skyborg program, which aims to create unmanned combat aircraft that assist manned fighter planes. The AI-driven Skyborg initiative provides crucial data to help pilots make quick decisions in high-stress situations, enhancing their situational awareness and survivability.
Beyond the United States, other countries are also exploring the use of AI in military operations. For instance, Israel has developed an AI tool called Fire Factory for its Defense Forces. This system organizes raids, prioritizes targets, assigns them to aircraft and drones, and proposes schedules. The use of AI in strategic planning has significantly increased the efficiency and speed of operations for the Israel Defense Forces.
As AI technologies continue to advance, they are becoming increasingly integral to military operations worldwide. The US Air Force’s ongoing testing and development of AI systems for fighter jets, along with other countries’ exploration of AI in military planning, highlight the growing prevalence of AI in the defense sector.