U-2 Dragon Lady: How US Air Force intends to use AI-powered aircraft in future air wars

The US Air Force unleashed the AI-powered U-2 Dragon Lady  reconnaissance aircraft changing the air war dynamics setting the stage for 21st century pilotless military planes

U-2 Dragon Lady

The US Air Force now has a new weapon - an AI-powered aircraft where the co-pilot is the computer, very soon even a human-pilot will disappear making a giant leap ahead in AI technology which will signal a complete shift in the method of war in future confrontations.

"Signalling a major leap forward for national defence in the digital age, the Air Force flew with artificial intelligence(AI) as a working aircrew member onboard an aircraft," the US Air Force said on December 15.

"This flight marks a major leap forward for national defence as artificial intelligence took flight aboard a military aircraft for the first time in the history of the Department of Défense," it said.

The AI algorithm, developed by Air Combat Command’s U-2 Federal Laboratory, trained the AI to execute specific in-flight tasks that would otherwise be done by the pilot.

The Command’s U-2 Federal Laboratory, trained the AI to execute specific in-flight tasks that would otherwise be done by the pilot.

The flight was part of a specifically constructed scenario pitting the AI against another dynamic computer algorithm in order to prove both the new technology capability and its ability to work in coordination with a human.

(Photograph:Others)

AI algorithm in Dragon Lady

Not just Predator drones, now the US military will begin employing AI as a "weapon" to track down targets with potential deadly consequences for combatants on the ground and in the air.

The AI algorithm, known as ARTUµ, flew with the pilot, U.S. Air Force Maj. “Vudu”, on a U-2 Dragon Lady assigned to the 9th Reconnaissance Wing at Beale Air Force Base. 

The test flight was the result of years of concerted effort within the Air Force to apply cutting-edge technology to military operations as it competes with other world powers in the digital age.

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AI on sensor operation

During this flight, ARTU was responsible for sensor employment and tactical navigation, while the pilot flew the aircraft and coordinated with the AI on sensor operation. Together, they flew a reconnaissance mission during a simulated missile strike.

ARTU’s primary responsibility was finding enemy launchers while the pilot was on the lookout for threatening aircraft, both sharing the U-2’s radar.

The flight was part of a precisely constructed scenario which pitted the AI against another dynamic computer algorithm in order to prove the new technology.

(Photograph:AFP)

Manipulated the sensor, based on insight previously learned

After take-off, the sensor control was positively handed-off to ARTUµ who then manipulated the sensor, based on insight previously learned from over a half-million computer-simulated training iterations. The pilot and AI successfully teamed to share the sensor and achieve the mission objectives.

The U-2 Federal Laboratory designed this AI technology to be easily transferable to other systems and plan to further refine the technology.

(Photograph:AFP)

First move advantage in the AI sky

It is still early days and it is presently hard to put down the probable adversaries for this new weapon of war as it has to be pitted against a design of a similar kind where none exist, giving the US Air Force a clear edge and the first-mover advantage.

(Photograph:AFP)

U-2 training mission

The U-2 Federal Laboratory is a 15 USC compliant organization established to bring together a “confluence of warfighter, developer, and acquirer” vertically-integrated under the same operational roof.

The historic flight with AI comes just two months after the U-2 Federal Laboratory team updated inflight software for the first time during a U-2 training mission. The team leveraged the open-source container-orchestration software Kubernetes, another military first.

(Photograph:AFP)

New software integration

The US lab has developed and been approved by the National Institute of Standards and Technology to establish the 20th Laboratory Accreditation Program in the federal government. It promotes “edge development” – a concept to develop new software integration on operational systems in a bounded, safe environment.

(Photograph:AFP)

National Institute of Standards and Technology

The new US innovation represents a quantum leap in air warfare which is set to unleash a new generation of pilot-less, AI-driven fighters which will in all likelihood take the human angle out of war.

Imagine the year 2035 and pilotless fighters hovering around in the sky - the future is here!

(Photograph:AFP)

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