Artificial Intelligence Shares Control On US Military Flight For First Time

The U-2S 'Dragon Lady' spy plane took off from Beale Air Force Base in California for a reconnaissance training mission.

Artificial intelligence (AI) has shared control on an American military flight for the first time.

The test flight was heralded as a ground-breaking moment, as the US aims to give AI a bigger role in its defence systems and programmes.

The U-2S "Dragon Lady" spy aircraft took off from the US Air Force (USAF) base at Beale in California last week for a reconnaissance training mission.

An AI programme called ‘Artuμ’, named after Star Wars robot R2-D2, managed navigational controls and in-flight systems on the plane from the USAF 9th Reconnaissance Wing.

The human pilot and AI jointly commanded the U-2's sensor to achieve mission objectives.

The AI can allow its human colleague to focus on other tasks, such as pinpointing enemy aircraft.

In an article published on Popular Mechanics, Dr Will Roper, assistant secretary of the US Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, wrote it is "a small step for the computerized co-pilot", but "a giant leap for 'computerkind' in future military operations".

Dr Roper also said: "Putting AI safely in command of a US military system for the first time ushers in a new age of human-machine teaming.

"Failing to realise AI’s full potential will mean ceding decision advantage to our adversaries."

The AI software was created and developed with an algorithm used in computer games.

The pioneering flight comes two months after the U-2 Federal Laboratory upgraded inflight software for the first time on a U-2 training mission, the US Department of Defense said.

Dr Roper warned: "Like any pilot, Artuμ (even the real R2-D2) has strengths and weaknesses.

"Understanding them to prep both humans and AI for a new era of algorithmic warfare is our next imperative step. We either become sci-fi or become history."

The U-2 spy plane has been around since the 1950s and has played a key part in some of the most famous military campaigns in history from the Cuban Missile Crisis to the Gulf War.

Reaching heights of more than 70,000ft, it is an aircraft that can sit on the edge of space.

Forces News was given rare access to Beale Air Force Base in California – home of 'The Dragon Lady'.

Cover image: A U-2 'Dragon Lady' aircraft takes off from Beale Air Force Base in California for a flight with AI having shared control for the first time (Picture: US Department of Defense).