AI Fighter Jet Test Determines Fate Of New Drone Warplanes

By Douglas Helm | Published


The US military’s latest experiment with AI is definitely one of the most terrifying yet, as the Air Force will be testing out an AI fighter jet this spring. During a hearing with senators on Tuesday, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said he would soon be climbing into the cockpit of an F-16 that was converted to drone flight to see how the plane flies. Kendall explained how he and a pilot will be watching the technology to see how it works, adding, “Hopefully, neither he or I will be needed to fly the airplane.”

Future Of Warfare Is Here

This is likely a significant step in the Air Force’s plans to put its budget toward a fleet of more than 1,000 AI-operated drones in the coming year. This AI fighter jet testing isn’t surprising, as drone warfare has only become more common in recent years. As AP News reports, drones are one of the primary weapons used in modern warfare, threatening people and strategic targets like bases and ships in Ukraine and the Middle East on a daily basis.

AI Drone Swarms At Mach 3

The Air Force plans to create a fleet of these AI fighter jets, designated collaborative combat aircraft (CCA), with a strategy that utilizes a piloted jet to act as a sort of leader for multiple AI drones, or “loyal wingmen.” At this point, the Air Force has not provided specific details on what this drone fleet will look like. It could be possible that they will be full-sized planes, or it could be that something smaller will be used.

As Kendall points out, the converted F-16 AI fighter jet is simply being used to test and observe the technology firsthand that will be a part of the unplanned fleet. According to reports, the Air Force requested $559 million for its 2025 budget to research and develop these combat aircraft, which are being designed for future warfare and potential conflicts with China. The drone aircraft could reportedly allow the Air Force to breach air defense systems that prevent manned crews from doing surveillance or jamming signals.

Defensive Counter-Measure

Kendall explained that the AI fighter jets were originally designed as counter-air measures, but they have the potential for other applications. According to Kendall, this new fleet will also cost less than developing manned jets despite the $559 million budget request. The estimates say that the fleet could cost around a quarter to a third of F-35 fighters if all goes according to plan.

Air Force Keeps Pushing Technology Forward

AI continues to be a rapidly developing technology, and it’s no surprise that the US military is applying the tech to things like AI fighter jets. As an organization that often gets early access to bleeding-edge technology, there are undoubtedly far more AI projects in the works. It remains to be seen how significant a role the technology will play in future warfare, but it seems inevitable that it will play a large role. 

Clearly, more research is needed for the AI fighter jets in the meantime. Still, with hundreds of millions of dollars to throw at the problem, progress will likely be quick. We’ll keep you updated on any new terrifying AI updates.

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