A recent Chinese state media report claims that pilots from the country’s air force have been losing a not insignificant amount of the time to artificial intelligence-driven opponents in simulated dogfights. This sounds reminiscent of the very public outcome of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s AlphaDogfight Trials last year, work that has since been leveraged in more advanced demonstrations. It also underscores the People’s Liberation Army’s growing interest and investment in the development of advanced artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies, generally.
Earlier this week, Chinese state-run outlet Global Times reported on the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) squaring off in simulators against “AI aircraft,” citing a separate story from this past weekend in the PLA Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese armed forces. An English version of the original PLA Daily story could not be immediately found.
“The AI has shown adept flight control skills and errorless tactical decisions, making it a valuable opponent to hone our capabilities,” Du Jianfeng, identified as the commander of an unspecified PLAAF brigade assigned to the PLA Central Theater Command Air Force, told PLA Daily, according to Global Times.
Global Times‘ story also says that the AI, which reportedly has been in use during simulator training for “years” now, has the ability to learn “from the pilots as it gathers data from each training session.” As such, “at first, it was not difficult to win against the AI. But by studying data, each engagement became a chance for it to improve,” Fang Guoyu, a group leader within Du’s brigade, also told PLA Daily. Fang is further identified as a top performer in a recent real-world aerial combat exercise.
“Fang used a [sic] hard-thought tactics against the AI and finally beat it by a small margin, but in the next session, the AI used the same tactics against Fang to defeat him,” the Global Times piece continued.
It is, of course, important to note that all of this is entirely according to Chinese state-controlled media outlets. Regardless of how long it’s been in use at Du’s brigade, it’s also unclear how widespread the PLAAF’s use is of the technology in simulated training, or for any other applications, and how aggressively they might be pursuing its continued development.
At the same time, it is immediately interesting that the PLA Daily itself, let alone Global Times, which is affiliated with the People’s Daily, the Chinese Communist Party’s official newspaper, have chosen to highlight an apparent top PLAAF pilot struggling against and even losing to an advanced AI in simulated combat, regardless of how accurate the description of this mock opponent’s capabilities may or may not be.
The video below shows PLAAF pilots engaged in live aerial combat training.