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The future face of aerial warfare is set for a radical transformation as the United States Air Force moves ahead with the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) controlled F-16 fighters. According to Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall, these autonomous fighters may soon be as competent as their human counterparts. This signals a massive shift in combat strategy and technology, one that has immense ramifications for the future of global security.

Kendall's remarks came on the heels of a successful flight aboard an autonomously-controlled X62A VISTA, a modified version of the F-16 Fighting Falcon. The aircraft uses AI and machine learning programs from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) Air Combat Evolution program, which are in line with the Air Force’s Next Generation Air Dominance program. This groundbreaking initiative is bridging the gap between human pilots and AI-assisted systems, aiming to create a "system of systems" that will include both manned sixth-generation fighters and autonomous platforms.

In a striking display of the AI's capabilities, an autonomously-piloted F-16 recently engaged in simulated dogfights with a manned fighter. Kendall spoke of these mock battles as being “roughly an even fight." He added that the AI-controlled aircraft could potentially outmatch a less experienced human pilot. While these autonomous aircraft are not yet operation-ready, Kendall is optimistic about the future. He suggested that it's "easy to see a situation where they’re going to be able to do this job, generally speaking, better than humans."

The development of these AI-controlled fighters forms part of the Collaborative Combat Aircraft program. The goal is to create autonomous 'loyal wingmen' to support manned fighters, with the human pilots ostensibly retaining the authority to make high-level decisions. This juxtaposition of human acumen and AI precision aims to revolutionize air combat.

While the potential benefits of AI-controlled systems are immense, concerns about autonomous "killer robots" persist. Kendall acknowledged these anxieties, stressing the need for stringent regulation and adherence to warfare norms. Amid the debate over the ethics of AI in warfare, the urgency to implement the technology grows as rival nations such as China and Russia are also charting similar AI combat developments.

As we stand on the precipice of this new era in aerial warfare, it's clear the battlefield of the future will be dominated by the harmonious blend of human intellect and AI expertise. With this impending reality, nations around the globe must grapple with the implications of this technology beyond the battlefield, driving discussions around ethical, legal, and policy challenges. Rest assured, we are witnessing the dawn of a new chapter in defense technology - a shift that will fundamentally alter the dynamics of conflict in the not-too-distant future.