Artoo, take the wheel: U-2 spy plane flies for the first time with an AI co-pilot – DefenseNews.com

Chess Training

WASHINGTON In Star Wars, Luke Skywalker destroys the Death Star with the adorable, wisecracking droid named R2-D2 in the back of his X-wing, helping navigate and fix the ship in real time.

On a reconnaissance training mission conducted out of Beale Air Force Base in California, Artu was tasked with finding adversarial missile launchers during a simulated missile strike, and it was solely responsible for sensor employment and tactical navigation after takeoff, the Air Force said in a news release.

The human U-2 pilot, referred only by the callsign Vudu for security reasons, concentrated on finding enemy aircraft and shared the use of the radar with the AI co-pilot.

Like any pilot, Artu (even the real R2-D2) has strengths and weaknesses, Air Force acquisition executive Will Roper tweeted in an announcement of the news. 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.

Artu was created by the U-2 Federal Laboratory, which in October successfully updated the planes software while it was flying a first for the U.S. military. The event was made possible by deploying Kubernetes, an open-source, containerized method for automating software updates.

Artu is based on a gaming algorithm known as Zero, which has been used to beat human players in chess and Go, Roper explained in an op-ed on Popular Mechanics. The U-2 lab specially trained the AI co-pilot to manipulate the U-2s sensor suite during over half a million computer-simulated missions, according to the Air Force.

With no pilot override, ARTU made final calls on devoting the radar to missile hunting versus self-protection, Roper wrote.

Although Artu was developed to take away from the pilots workload in a U-2, it can be modified for use by other combat planes, the service said.

We know that in order to fight and win in a future conflict with a peer adversary, we must have a decisive digital advantage, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown said in a statement. AI will play a critical role in achieving that edge, so Im incredibly proud of what the team accomplished. We must accelerate change and that only happens when our Airmen push the limits of what we thought was possible.

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Artoo, take the wheel: U-2 spy plane flies for the first time with an AI co-pilot - DefenseNews.com

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