“Very expensive, few only”: Takeaways from the International Fighter Conference 2022

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From November 16-18, 2022 air forces from different countries met with global defense industry participants in Berlin for the International Fighter Conference 2022 to discuss the state and the challenges of rolling out the 6th generation fighter jets and their loyal wingmen.


A concern of the community, which included numerous *stars*, was the direct information exchange of users and pilots with global defense industry participants. In past decades, this dialogue had been difficult or even non-existent because it was led or facilitated by defense procurement authorities. But government offices, by their very nature, have only a limited understanding of the user requirements that operators want to see met for the mission. Every system manufacturer who engineers systems with a focus on user voices knows how difficult - and expensive - system development can become if a direct exchange with the user is limited.

Silo thinking prevails

The air forces' desire to maintain air dominance also in the future was plausible. Had Russian forces had air superiority, it was said across the board, then Russia could have effectively cut off Ukraine from arms supplies from Western countries, and no weapon would have crossed the Ukrainian border. Little time, therefore, was devoted by the conference to the topic of multi-domain: Even air forces still seem to think in silos.

The evolution: Mosaic warfare

While industry is working on Systems of Systems, air forces are voicing ideas of what American sources call Mosaic Warfare. With their visionary requirements, they take a leap from the System of Systems concept to the next but one stage in the evolution of defense. For Mosaic Warfare, distributed battlefield assets are soft wired on demand to a wide variety of engagements and at a campaign’s real time. Such requirements will have to be met by a distributed system architecture, such as implemented by multi-agent systems, also known as Distributed Artificial Intelligence, which can do without a central C2 component and instead exhibit emergent tactical behavior.

Can it be done without humans?

Whether it still makes sense for Mosaic Warfare when battlefield objects coordinate themselves on the fly in real time to require humans to be deployed on the battlefield at all was a valid question asked by several conference participants. Such requirement, however, is being made by politicians. A technical necessity to place humans at the center of a battle though will probably not always exist in the future. The political requirement to continue to send humans into combat is the idea to tame technically autonomous weapons through meaningful human control over technical systems. If one subscribes to this idea with a view to the democratic image of man as a sovereign and self-determined subject, one can still legitimately ask whether meaningful human control can only be exercised directly on the ground or also from some distance. The question is unresolved and the subject of current research.

Industry lags behind in tactical scenarios

Mosaic Warfare and its ability to compose new effects meshes at campaign time means that countless different combat situations and configurations are imaginable. While the industry presented scenarios for the use of 6th generation fighter jets in impressive images at the International Fighter Conference, it was nevertheless clear that conceptions of the tactical behavior of such jets and their loyal wingmen are severely limited. All of the scenarios presented simulated an enormous expenditure of resources, which in practice, however, is only really worthwhile to defend against very few adversarial assets. The industry still lacks a simulator that is able to generate millions of complex engagement scenarios with intelligent adversaries and validate their system capabilities against such smart virtual opponents, as for the defender, it is only during red teaming that it becomes clear which of his own resources could be used to economically overcome a specific enemy configuration. As it shows, the economics of resource deployment is a big challenge, as resources are scarce – both financial resources and pilots, as the demographic change also hits air forces.

GhostPlay 2021/24: A Serious Game of Emergence and Tactical AI at Machine Speed

The call for Mosaic Warfare, however technically extremely challenging due to its distributed nature, is highly encouraging for 21strategies, which takes their tactics21 technology to GhostPlay, a Serious Game developed for dtec.bw. GhostPlay simulates emergent behavior of adversaries and defenders alike, using Third Wave AI. In the current state of development of the GhostPlay Serious Game, which implements the digital twin of a battlefield, virtual AI-enabled artillery systems defend against the attacks of virtual AI-enabled swarms of drones, generating and training with hundreds of thousands of potential attack scenarios - a process known as Counter Play.


Early results are promising and point to GhostPlay's vast deployment potential, ranging from battlefield simulators of AI-enabled assets to Independent Validation and Verification of third-party defense AI to emergent cyber-physical GBADs. Its capabilities will be demonstrated for the first time at the GhostPlay Demo Day 2023, which will take place in Berlin on January 25, 2023.


For more information about the GhostPlay Demo Day 2023, see www.ghostplay.ai.

Author: Yvonne Hofstetter