The Defense Community Turns to Artificial Intelligence

September 1, 2020

The U.S. Army and Air Force are turning to artificial intelligence (AI) for improved combat, task efficiency, vehicle maintenance, robotic field support and troop safety.

Fighter Jet AI Fleet

In a recent trial, AI beat a human pilot in a virtual F-16 dogfight. The AlphaDogfight Trials consist of three competitions aimed at incentivizing AI development for the Air Force. In the competitions, AI teams compete against each other until the champion team faces a human pilot. This year, the winning AI won against a human pilot with a score of 5-0.

The Air Force strives to create a future AI fleet, capable of serving as wingmen to human aircraft. Such AI aircraft would be employed to confuse enemy air defenses, serve as decoys, scout areas too risky for human pilots and perform missile launches.

Tank AI Assist

Military tanks are normally operated by a crew of three or more. But the U.S. Army has plans to develop an Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle (OMFV) with an AI assistant that would require two human operators or could be operated by remote control. Operating a tank requires awareness of potential obstacles, threats and targets. An AI operator can take over some duties, relieving human operators to be more efficient and effective at other tasks. AI-equipped tanks would also share data on the battlefield. Such a vehicle is still in development and isn’t expected to see service until at least 2028.

Vehicle Maintenance

The U.S. Army and Air Force have turned to AI to predict when aircraft, land vehicles and weapons will need repair. The predictive maintenance method of replacing parts or performing repairs as needed saves money compared to preventative methods of regularly scheduled repair or replacement regardless of condition. Predictive AI also takes over data analyzation, freeing troops from pouring over lengthy maintenance records. AI development contracts are already secured for tracking aircraft and pilot tests are underway for land vehicles.

Military Cobots

The automotive industry has used cobots – robots that work autonomously side by side with humans – since 2013. The Army is currently researching collaborative robots that could warn troops of unseen danger in the field. The robot senses the environment in 3D and detects subtle changes that might indicate a hidden enemy. The robot warns its human partner of the detection through augmented reality glasses.

Another robot teammate in development uses a Joint Understanding and Dialogue Interface (JUDI) to communicate. The JUDI system uses AI to interpret spoken commands and relays messages to the soldier from the robot in a natural language. The advantage of this system is hands-free and intuitive robot control.