WASHINGTON ― An artificial intelligence algorithm will face off against a human F-16 fighter pilot in an aerial combat simulation in late August, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency announced Aug. 7.

The simulation — the third and final competition in DARPA’s AlphaDogfight Trials — will take place Aug. 20. The event will be virtual due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The AlphaDogfight Trials was created to demonstrate advanced AI systems’ ability in air warfare. Eight teams were selected last year to participate in the final competition that runs from Aug. 18-20. The competition is also part of DARPA’s Air Combat Evolution, or ACE, program, which was started in 2019, and seeks to automate air-to-air combat as well as improve human trust in AI systems to bolster human-machine teaming.

“We weren’t able to host the finals at AFWERX in Las Vegas as we’d originally planned with fighter pilots from the Air Force Weapons School at nearby Nellis Air Force Base,” Col. Dan Javorsek, program manager in DARPA’s Strategic Technology Office, said in a statement. “We are still excited to see how the AI algorithms perform against each other as well as a Weapons School-trained human and hope that fighter pilots from across the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps, as well as military leaders and members of the AI tech community will register and watch online. It’s been amazing to see how far the teams have advanced AI for autonomous dogfighting in less than a year.”

The eight teams are Aurora Flight Sciences, EpiSys Science, Georgia Tech Research Institute, Heron Systems, Lockheed Martin, Perspecta Labs, PhysicsAI and SoarTech.

On the first day of the competition, the teams will fly their respective algorithms against five AI systems developed by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab. Teams will face off against each other in a round-robin tournament on the second day, with the third day featuring the top four teams competing in a single-elimination tournament for the championship. The winner will then fly against a human pilot.

“Regardless of whether the human or machine wins the final dogfight, the AlphaDogfight Trials is all about increasing trust in AI,” Javorsek said. “If the champion AI earns the respect of an F-16 pilot, we’ll have come one step closer to achieving effective human-machine teaming in air combat, which is the goal of the ACE program.”

Andrew Eversden covers all things defense technology for C4ISRNET. He previously reported on federal IT and cybersecurity for Federal Times and Fifth Domain, and worked as a congressional reporting fellow for the Texas Tribune. He was also a Washington intern for the Durango Herald. Andrew is a graduate of American University.

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