On December 15, the US Air Force used artificial intelligence (AI) to control a Lockheed U-2 spy plane’s radar and sensor systems. This marked the first time that AI was given control of any US military system.
The event took place during a reconnaissance training mission conducted out of Beale Air Force Base located in California. According to the Air Force, the AI, named Artuµ, was given control of the sensor employment and tactical navigation with the task of finding enemy missile launchers during a simulated missile strike. “With no pilot override, Artuµ made final calls on devoting the radar to missile hunting versus self-protection,” said Air Force acquisition executive Will Roper.
Prior to taking off on its first flight, Artuμ completed over a million simulated training runs to prepare it for the real world. This allowed Artuμ to go from entirely inexperienced to 9th Reconnaissance Wing mission commander in just five weeks, far better than any average human could do.
The computerized co-pilot was developed by DeepMind, which you may remember from 2016 when AlphaGo, another specialized AI developed by the company, defeated the world Go champion. And while that was an amazing achievement and milestone for AI, what Artuμ pulled off is the beginning of something much more influential.
We are on the cusp of massive and important changes occurring on the battlefield, some good and some bad. But all of these changes have one thing in common – AI. Artuμ proved that AI has the capability to do what a human can do on the battlefield, at least to some degree, and that’s a big deal. From here, AI will undoubtedly only become a bigger part of wars that are fought in the future.
This is what Air Force Chief of Staff General Charles Brown had to say on the subject:
We know that in order to fight and win in a future conflict with a peer adversary, we must have a decisive digital advantage. AI will play a critical role in achieving that edge, so I’m incredibly proud of what the team accomplished. We must accelerate change and that only happens when our Airmen push the limits of what we thought was possible.