US Air Force Achieves First Military Flight with Artificial Intelligence
(Source: US Air Force; issued Dec. 16, 2020)
A U-2 aircraft returns from a Dec. 15 training sortie during which artificial intelligence took flight aboard a military aircraft for the first time. The AI algorithm executed specific in-flight tasks that would otherwise be done by the pilot. (USAF photo)
BEALE AFB, Calif. --- Signaling a major leap forward for national defense in the digital age, the Air Force flew with artificial intelligence as a working aircrew member onboard a military aircraft for the first time Dec. 15.

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. Air Combat Command’s U-2 Federal Laboratory researchers developed ARTUµ and trained it to execute specific in-flight tasks that otherwise would be done by the pilot.

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.

“ARTUµ’s groundbreaking flight culminates our three-year journey to becoming a digital force,” said Dr. William Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics. “Putting AI safely in command of a U.S. military system for the first time ushers in a new age of human-machine teaming and algorithmic competition. Failing to realize AI’s full potential will mean ceding decision advantage to our adversaries.”

During this flight, ARTUµ 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. ARTUµ’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.

“We know that in order to fight and win in a future conflict with a peer adversary, we must have a decisive digital advantage,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr. “AI will play a critical role in achieving that edge, so I’m incredibly proud of what the team accomplished. We must accelerate change and that only happens when our Airmen push the limits of what we thought was possible.”

After takeoff, 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. Today’s flight provided invaluable data for not only the team to learn from, but also ARTUµ.

“Blending expertise of a pilot with capabilities of machine learning, this historic flight directly answers the National Defense Strategy’s call to invest in autonomous systems,” said Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett. “Innovations in artificial intelligence will transform both the air and space domains.”

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

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.

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Old Dog Teaches DOD New Tricks: U-2 Achieves First Military Flight With Artificial Intelligence
(Source: Air Combat Command; issued Dec 16, 2020)
BEALE AFB, Calif. --- The U.S. Air Force flew artificial intelligence as a working aircrew member for the first time yesterday, signaling a major leap forward for national defense in the digital age.

The AI algorithm, developed by Air Combat Command’s U-2 Federal Laboratory, flew aboard a U-2 Dragon Lady assigned to Beale AFB, better known as Recce Town, USA. Developed by a small team of researchers led by Maj Ray Tierney, the algorithm trained the AI to execute specific in-flight tasks that would otherwise be accomplished by the pilot.

The test flight was the culmination 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. The flight was part of a specifically constructed scenario which pitted the AI against another dynamic computer algorithm in order to prove the new technology. The result demonstrated the pilot and AI successfully teamed to share the U-2’s sensor in order to achieve mission objectives against the dynamic algorithm.

The Beale team designed this algorithm in response to a direct challenge from Dr. Will Roper, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics. Dr. Roper posed the challenge to Beale’s Federal Lab only two months ago, increasing the significance of the accomplishment. The lab executed Roper’s challenge with an AI design capable of application beyond the U-2 to further strengthen joint all-domain command and control across the entire DOD.

Col Heather Fox, 9th Reconnaissance Wing Commander, explained how the U-2 Federal Laboratory is only one part of Beale’s drive to innovate for the service and its joint partners:

“This is one of the many ways the 9th Reconnaissance Wing is innovating to take on the DoD’s toughest challenges. The U-2 is the perfect platform to drive cutting edge military technology that is easily transferred to other Air Force and Joint partners. I’m extremely proud of the forward-thinking accomplishments of Maj Tierney and this entire Federal Lab team. They’re making history today!”

Fox continued, stating the unique nature of the 9th Reconnaissance Wing and what it brings to the fight:

“Recce Town is unlike any other wing in the Air Force. The 9th Reconnaissance Wing provides formal training, maintains ready forces, all while continuously and simultaneously executing missions from multiple locations around the globe.”

The U-2 Federal Lab Laboratory organically designed this application of AI technology to be easily transferable to other major weapon systems and plans to further refine the technology. It is a 15 U.S.C. compliant organization established to bring together a confluence of warfighter, developer, and acquirer vertically-integrated under the same operational roof.

The lab was developed by Recce Town Airmen to accelerate our nation’s National Defense Strategy, including edge development—a concept that integrates new software on operational systems in a bounded, safe environment.

The U-2 Federal Laboratory was approved by the National Institute of Standards and Technology under the 20th Laboratory Accreditation Program in the federal government.

The historic AI flight comes just two months after the U-2 Federal Laboratory updated inflight software for the first time during a U-2 training mission. The team leveraged Kubernetes, an open source container orchestration system for automating computer application deployment, scaling, and management; another military first.

Edge technology is just one example of an emerging innovation culture at Recce Town. Utilizing its recently created and unique Wing A-Staff organization, the 9th Reconnaissance Wing is accelerating AI, advancing its “get anywhere on the globe logistics concept”, and rapidly integrating cyber capabilities across its missions—it’s all happening at Recce Town, USA.

Who says the old dog can’t develop new tricks for its Air Force and nation?

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