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Diving Into 3 Key DARPA AI Programs

As one of the Department of Defense’s 14 critical technology areas, artificial intelligence has taken center stage in the organization’s research and development endeavors.

According to Matt Turek, deputy director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Information Innovation Office, approximately 70 percent of the agency’s programs now use AI and machine learning. Its priorities are not just to develop systems for U.S. warfighters, but to prevent “strategic surprise” from adversary AI systems.

The Potomac Officers Club’s 2025 Defense R&D Summit in January will convene key public and private sector leaders to discuss the future of defense technology. To learn more about the event and stay up-to-date on speaker confirmations, click here.

DARPA offers a plethora of programs designed to transform the DOD’s understanding and application of AI systems. Keep reading for a glimpse into three of these initiatives.

AI Cyber Challenge

In August 2023, DARPA announced its two-year AI Cyber Challenge, or AIxCC, a contest through which the agency hopes to drive innovation “at the nexus of AI and cybersecurity to create a new generation of cybersecurity tools.”

The goal of the challenge is to find new ways to protect critical infrastructure, which, due to the proliferation of software, is now more vulnerable to attacks.

“If successful, AIxCC will not only produce the next generation of cybersecurity tools, but will show how AI can be used to better society by defending its critical underpinnings,” said Perri Adams, who previously led the program.

Artificial Intelligence Quantified

Known as AIQ, the Artificial Intelligence Quantified program aims to develop mathematical foundations for evaluating the safety and capability of generative AI systems.

Patrick Shafto, who manages the program, predicts that the combination of mathematical foundations with progress in measurement and modeling could create a quantified method for assessing AI capabilities.

Over the course of the program, DARPA will collaborate with the National Institute of Standards and Technology as well as other DOD components.

Air Combat Evolution

DARPA’s Air Combat Evaluation initiative intends to boost trust in combat autonomy through a challenge problem that is based on human-machine collaborative dogfighting. It has four major goals: increase air combat autonomy performance in local behaviors for individual aircraft and team tactical; build and calibrate trust in air combat local behaviors; scale performance and trust to global behaviors; and build infrastructure for full-scale air combat experimentation.

ACE hit a significant milestone in April, in which the program completed the first-ever in-air tests of AI algorithms autonomously flying an F-16 against a manned F-16 within-visual-range combat situations.

To get a closer look at DOD R&D programs, register for the 2025 Defense R&D Summit here.

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