WRIGHT-PATTERSON AFB, Ohio – U.S. military researchers needed a company to find ways of increasing trust in combat autonomy using human-machine collaboration in aircraft dogfighting. They found their solution from SOAR Technology Inc. (SoarTech) in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Officials of the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, announced a $4.8 million contract to SoarTech on Wednesday for the Air Combat Evolution (ACE) project.
ACE seeks heavier reliance of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine autonomy in complex air combat maneuvering that involves manned aircraft and combat unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
The ACE project also will develop enabling technologies to enhance collaboration among humans and unmanned combat aircraft in a variety of combat scenarios. The Air Force Research Lab awarded the contract on behalf of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Va.
ACE will apply existing AI technologies to aircraft dogfighting in experiments of increasing realism. ACE also will develop ways to measure, calibrate, increase, and predict human trust in combat autonomy performance.
The program will scale machine automation in aircraft dogfighting to more complex, heterogeneous, multi-aircraft, operational level simulated scenarios informed by live data. These scenarios are expected to lay the groundwork for future live, campaign-level experiments.
The idea is to enable one human pilot to become a more deadly warfighter by leading several semi-autonomous artificially intelligent unmanned aircraft, all from his own cockpit. This would shift the human role from sole operator to system mission commander.
In particular, ACE aims to enable a pilot to handle a broad, global air command mission while his aircraft and unmanned aircraft team members attack enemy aircraft and ground targets.
ACE would have the human pilot handle complicated jobs like developing an overall engagement strategy, selecting targets, and choosing weapons, and enable the combat UAVs to handle aircraft maneuver and engagement tactics.
To achieve this, however, the human pilot must be able to trust his unmanned wingmen to conduct complex tactics in scenarios like dogfights where adversaries are within visual range.