The US Air Force will pit an advanced autonomous aircraft against a piloted plane in a challenge set for July 2021.
The project could eventually lead to unpiloted fighter aircraft that use artificial intelligence (AI).
Lt Gen Jack Shanahan, head of the Pentagon’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, called the test a “bold, bold idea”.
Air Force Magazine also described the development of autonomous fighter jets as a “big Moonshot” for the military.
At a briefing organised by the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, Lt Gen Shanahan said he had exchanged emails last weekend with the team leader on the project, Dr Steve Rogers of the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL).
He said the AFRL team would attempt to field “an autonomous system to go up against a human, manned system in some sort of air-to-air”.
Shanahan said that, at this stage, it may not use “a lot of AI”, but in time, humans and machines working together would make a “big difference”.
These projects feed into an ongoing effort to explore ways of using artificial intelligence (AI) to enhance the American military’s capabilities.