The future of air combat has taken a monumental leap forward as Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works division recently achieved a groundbreaking milestone—a successful test of artificial intelligence (AI) in a live, high-stakes dogfight scenario.

Partnering with the University of Iowa’s Operator Performance Laboratory (OPL), the project saw an L-29 Delfin jet controlled entirely by AI engaging a virtual adversary in simulated air combat.

This wasn’t just a joystick plugged into a computer; the AI took full command, maneuvering the aircraft through offensive and defensive maneuvers, managing heading, speed, and altitude with precision.

In a press release published on Wednesday, June 5, Skunk Works said the test pushed the AI’s capabilities through eight different scenarios, ranging from standard head-on battles to complex maneuvers involving missile support and defense.

“This was the first live exercise of the new flight interface,” said Dr. Tom “Mach” Schnell, OPL professor at Iowa Technology Institute. “The complete system performed even better in live flight than in simulation,” underscoring the AI’s impressive ability to translate its training into real-world action.

Beyond the Initial Test: Building on Success

The success of this live test marks a significant milestone for AI in air combat.

Lockheed Martin plans further flights this year, introducing additional aircraft and more intricate battle management scenarios. These advancements not only showcase the rapid development of operational AI but also underscore Lockheed Martin’s unwavering commitment to ethical development.