Summary: The US Navy should build unmanned fighters as well as unmanned vessels
Original author and publication date: CIMSEC – February 28, 2021
Futurizonte Editor’s Note: If the future is unmanned, will the future include humans at all?
From the article:
In August 2020, USNI News reported that the Navy had “initiated work to develop its first new carrier-based fighter in almost 20 years.” While the F-35C Lightning II will still be in production for many years, the Navy needs to have another fighter ready to replace the bulk of the F/A-18E/F/G Super Hornets and Growlers by the mid-2030s. This new program will design that aircraft. While this is an important development, it will be to the Navy’s detriment if the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program yields a manned fighter.
Designing a next-generation manned aircraft will be a critical mistake. Every year remotely piloted aircraft (RPAs) replace more and more manned aviation platforms, and artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming ever increasingly capable. By the mid-2030s, when the NGAD platform is expected to begin production, it will be obsolete on arrival if it is a manned platform. In order to make sure the Navy maintains a qualitative and technical edge in aviation, it needs to invest in an unmanned-capable aircraft today. Recent advances and long-term trends in automation and computing make it clear that such an investment is not only prudent but necessary to maintain capability overmatch and avoid falling behind.
This year, AI designed by a team from Heron Systems defeated an Air Force pilot, call sign “Banger,” 5-0 in a simulated dogfight run by DARPA. Though the dogfight was simulated and had numerous constraints, it was only the latest in a long string of AI successes in competitions against human masters and experts.
Since 1997, when IBM’s DeepBlue beat the reigning world chess champion Gary Kasparov over six games in Philadelphia, machines have been on a winning streak against humans. In 2011, IBM’s “Watson” won Jeopardy!. In 2017, DeepMind’s (Google) “AlphaGo” beat the world’s number one Go player at the complex Chinese board game. In 2019, DeepMind’s “AlphaStar” beat one of the world’s top-ranked Starcraft II players, a real-time computer strategy game, 5-0. Later that year an AI from Carnegie Mellon named “Pluribus” beat six professionals in a game of Texas Hold’em poker. On the lighter side, an AI writing algorithm nearly beat the writing team for the game Cards Against Humanity in a competition to see who could sell more card packs in a Black Friday write-off. After the contest the company’s statement read: “The writers sold 2% more packs, so their jobs will be replaced by automation later instead of right now. Happy Holidays.”
It’s a joke, but the company is right. AI is getting better and better every year and human abilities will continue to be bested by AI in increasingly complex and abstract tasks. History shows that human experts have been repeatedly surprised by AI’s rapid progress and their predictions on when AI will reach human parity in specific tasks often come true years or a decade early. We can’t make the same mistake with unmanned aviation.