Pentagon Rolls Out Plan For AI Piloted Ghost Fighter Jets

 March 12, 2024

The skies are on the brink of witnessing a significant transformation.

The US Air Force is gearing up for a futuristic endeavor with a $6 billion investment in 1,000 AI-piloted fighter jets designed to modernize its fleet and bolster capabilities against formidable adversaries, notably China.

As reported by the Daily Mail, this landmark move signifies a strategic pivot towards integrating more autonomous and potentially expendable combat aircraft into military operations, aiming to operate seamlessly alongside manned aircraft.

The dawn of robotic top guns in aerial warfare

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall articulated the unique advantages these unmanned combatants bring to the table. They're engineered to undertake maneuvers that would be considered too perilous for human pilots, flying at altitudes as low as 30 feet above the ground and reaching speeds just shy of breaking the sound barrier. The initiative reflects the Air Force's concern with its current fleet, deemed the smallest and oldest since its establishment in 1947. It necessitates a blend of novel technologies and strategies to maintain a competitive edge.

The contenders vying for this ambitious contract include some of the defense industry's heavyweights: Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, General Atomics, and Anduril Industries. Notably, Boeing's MQ-28 Ghost Bat has already made public demonstrations, showcasing a glimpse of the future of aerial warfare. By the upcoming summer, the Pentagon plans to narrow its selection to two companies to commence production. The goal is to roll out hundreds of these jets within five years, each costing an estimated $10 to $20 million.

Combat drones poised to redefine warfare

The Boeing MQ-28 Ghost Bat, currently in use by Australia, exemplifies the potential of these Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA). These drones will be more compact than traditional fighters and armed with missiles ready for air and ground engagement. The incorporation of AI enables these drones to adapt to combat situations in real-time autonomously, a testament to the technological prowess that companies like Shield AI bring to the forefront.

Ground controllers are expected to manage up to ten drones simultaneously, emphasizing the potential to create autonomous swarms. This capability presents a tactical advantage, allowing for executing complex strategies without direct human intervention. The concept of expendability also plays a crucial role, with these drones being designed for potential retirement or destruction after a mere one or two missions, significantly reducing manufacturing costs.

The future of air combat unfolds

The pursuit of these AI-piloted fighter jets is not merely about augmenting the Air Force's tactical arsenal; it's about a paradigm shift in military strategy. The ability of these drones to conduct riskier maneuvers than their unmanned counterparts, escorting and safeguarding crewed planes, executing precise strikes, and performing reconnaissance missions, represents a leap forward in utilizing technology on the battlefield.

The initiative is anticipated to counter the military expansion of nations like China, focusing on smaller, more versatile combat aircraft. This strategic approach underscores the importance of agility and cost-effectiveness, aiming to produce 100 new jets annually at a fraction of the cost of manned models like the F-35 and the B-21 bomber.

Despite some pilots' concerns about job security, the newer generation of recruits seems to embrace the concept of remote-controlled warfare. This transition underscores a broader acceptance of technology's role in augmenting human capabilities rather than replacing them.

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall underscores the transformative potential of these AI-powered jets, saying, "They offer a lot of things that traditional crewed fighter planes just aren’t designed to do," such as executing maneuvers that would be too dangerous for humans and operating at low altitudes at speeds nearing the sound barrier.

This initiative enhances the Air Force's operational capabilities. It paves the way for a new era in military aviation, where autonomy, technology, and human skill converge to create a formidable force in the skies.


The US Air Force's $6 billion contract for 1,000 AI-piloted fighter jets marks a significant pivot towards autonomous, expendable combat aircraft designed to enhance capabilities against adversaries and supplement the aging fleet. With competing companies like Boeing demonstrating viable models, the Air Force aims to select firms by summer to kickstart production.

These jets, capable of executing risky maneuvers and equipped with AI for autonomous flight and real-time combat adaptation, signify a strategic shift in military aviation. Despite concerns from traditional pilots, the move towards more autonomous, technology-driven warfare seems to be gaining acceptance, heralding a new chapter for the Air Force and its combat strategies.

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