Artificial Intelligence (AI) has changed not only airpower but air warfare. AI has slowly been intertwined with air power, an example of this is the increasing use of UAVs. Because of its ability to significantly improve the kill chain and create invaluable live flight data, AI algorithms have seen a massive spike in R&D in the last decade. DARPAs Air Combat Evolution (ACE) program began in 2019 when the agency started to work on human-machine collaboration in dogfighting.
The ACE program first tested out AI flights in 2020. The DOD has more than 600 projects incorporating AI into war-fighting programs. In 2018, the US government committed to spending $2 billion on AI investments in the next five years. In 2022 they spent $2.58 billion on AI research alone. AI-controlled fighter jets are not a cure-all to air warfare. Human decision-making is still needed to determine if the use of force that AI recommends is correct or reliable. The Air Force Test Pilot School is currently measuring how well pilots trust the AI agent and calibrating trust between humans and the AI.
The most recent accolade for AI in airpower is the successful AI-piloted F-16. DARPA announced that its AI algorithms can now control an actual F-16 in flight. The fighter aircraft that was first introduced in 1978 has now seemingly evolved into an autonomous plane. AI allows militaries to keep older aircrafts operational and not have to risk the lives of pilots flying them. This low-cost option for strategic defense allows more focus to be put on newer fighter jets or weapons systems. AI is being implemented into more than just flying. Project Kaiju will use AI and machine learning in future cognitive electronic warfare systems to assist aircrafts in breaching air defenses that rely solely on multispectral sensors, missiles, and other air-defense systems.