Skip to content
Subscriber Only
James Stavridis

Artificial Intelligence Is the Next Top Gun

Computers are beating the military’s top pilots in simulations, and China is catching up to the U.S.

Inside A Lockheed Martin Corp. Flight Simulator Facility

Photographer: Edward Linsmier/Bloomberg

A few months ago I was at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Lab in suburban Maryland, where I serve as a senior fellow. A group of us — mostly retired four-star military officers — were there to witness a computer-simulated dogfight of a unique character: man against machine.

I was seated next to retired Admiral John Richardson, who until last fall had been chief of naval operations, the highest-ranking officer in the fleet. We were both skeptical that the artificial intelligence program that would be piloting one of the virtual aircraft would be able to outfight the human pilot, call sign “Banger,” from the Air Force's equivalent of the Navy’s legendary TOPGUN fighter-tactics instruction program