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AI-powered fighter jets give US huge battlefield advantage but raise ethical questions


The US Air Force’s development of an unmanned aircraft piloted by artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to give US forces the edge in any conflict, but it also raises ethical questions about how a such powerful technology should be deployed on the battlefield.

“This technology is something we will need for the future of defense,” Phil Siegel, an AI expert and founder of the Center For Advanced Preparedness and Threat Response Simulation, told Fox News Digital.

Siegel’s comments come as the Air Force continues development of the experimental XQ-58A Valkyrie aircraft, a artificial intelligenceA US-run stealth platform that the US hopes can provide a relatively inexpensive weapon that can be used to limit losses of manned aircraft and pilots in a conflict with a close rival like China .


The XQ-58A Valkyrie demonstrates the separation of the ALTIUS-600 small unmanned aircraft system during a test conducted at the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona on March 26, 2021. (US Air Force)

The AI-driven unmanned aircraft is being developed by Kratos Defense & Security Solutions, which won a contract to develop the platform in 2016. The aircraft’s first successful test flight took place in March 2019 , the aircraft behaving “as expected”. after performing a 76 minute test.

Since then, development of the plane has continued, including a recent test that saw the plane fly in formation alongside an F-15E Strike Eagle, according to a Defense Connect report. Proving this capability was an important step for the Air Force, which sees the AI ​​platform as somewhat of a wingman for manned aircraft, capable of identifying threats, engaging targets and even disarming. absorb enemy fire for manned aircraft, if necessary.

One of the benefits of the plane is its relatively cheap cost, with Kratos estimating that each unit would cost around $4 million if it were to produce 50 planes a year, according to a report by The Drive. That price compares favorably to the MQ-9 Reaper drone, which is estimated at $30 million per unit, according to the Pentagon, while F-35 fighters cost around $80 million per unit.

Steve Fendley, president of Kratos Unmanned, told Fox News Digital that the company had developed an aircraft that was priced well below what the US government demanded, while providing a platform with “full capabilities”.

“The economy of scale is amazing, both from the cost of the unmanned system, because you don’t have any of the expense of life sustaining systems, and the level of reliability you need. for a manned system versus an unmanned system,” Fendley said. “On top of that, because you’ve scattered the abilities, distributed the abilities, you’re spreading that cost over a much larger geometric space, which means the risk to the whole thing is very, very low compared to the equivalent risk for (one) single inhabited system.

AI-powered fighter jets give US huge battlefield advantage but raise ethical questions

A Lockheed Martin F-35C Joint Strike Fighter (Reuters/Mike Blake/File)

“The ability to use resources more aggressively without the cost or risk of casualties will add enormous capabilities to military planners,” Christopher Alexander, head of analysis at Pioneer Development Group, told Fox News Digital.


Alexander says the XQ-58A is “astonishing proof of concept for a breakthrough Pentagon strategy that relies on less expensive solutions in the event of conflict,” but he noted that using the platform “raises also important ethical concerns”.

Military planners have shared concerns about the degree of autonomy a deadly AI-powered weapon should be granted, a concern highlighted by the US drone program, which has at times been criticized for its record of civilian casualties. .

Alexander says these concerns have so far “been handled well by the MoD,” and Siegel noted that further developments will be needed if the role of AI-piloted aircraft shifts from defensive to offensive capabilities.

AI-powered fighter jets give US huge battlefield advantage but raise ethical questions

An XQ-58A Valkyrie is shown during a second test flight on June 11, 2019. (2nd Lt. Randolph Abaya, 586th Flight Test Squadron)

“The key is in the goals we put into the technology,” Siegel said, pointing out that inexpensive platforms have so far focused their efforts on defending human spaceflight teams. “More expensive equipment and intelligence could be found in other devices with offensive and defensive capabilities. But then the question is how to weigh these targets when they have multiple roles. Then they need instructions on what to do when a battle moves out of its training space, or what if its sensors or cameras are disabled and data is not available?”

Even though Fendley pointed out that Kratos is partnering with other vendors who are developing the AI ​​that will fly its planes, he believes sufficient safeguards have been put in place, noting that systems in development will require human intervention before they can make certain decisions.

“There’s a lot of concern, and rightly so, because I think in many cases our enemies will be much freer in what they allow agents of artificial intelligence to do, and I don’t think that our country will do this,” he added. Fendley said. “What’s very important to understand is that having the capability doesn’t mean you do. It’s very easy to set up a system that might be able to deploy weapons without asking anyone. It’s also really easy to have a constraint system.”


Nonetheless, military planners believe the need for such technology is growing if the United States is to continue to be able to take on near-peer adversaries such as China, which has invested considerable resources in air defense systems. that could make it difficult for US forces to operate. in a conflict without taking heavy equipment or casualties.

“We need to move in that direction by adding AI — both in equipment and to help our soldiers make decisions,” Siegel said. “Like any AI, we will need to both provide it with performance goals and give it instructions for high-information and low-information scenarios. This is the reality of combat.”