The Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force has started to deploy artificial intelligence (AI) as simulated opponents in pilots' aerial combat training. This is giving pilots a chance to hone their decision-making and combat skills against fast-calculating computers, while the AIs learn from each engagement – and have already bested their human opponents on many occasions, according to a new report.

In addition to training pilots efficiently, AIs are expected to be an integral part of China's future warplanes and assist pilots during combat decisions, observers said on Monday.

An aviation brigade affiliated with the PLA Central Theatre Command Air Force held a training simulation earlier in the summer, in which Fang Guoyu, a brigade group leader and winner of a previous confrontational combat exercise, was shot down in a mock aerial battle against an AI aircraft in a simulator, the PLA Daily reported on Saturday.

This is not the first time the renowned pilot was taken out by an AI, and Fang is not the only ace the AI has defeated over the past years, the report said.

"The AI has shown adept flight control skills and errorless tactical decisions, making it a valuable opponent to hone our capabilities," Du Jianfeng, commander of the brigade, was quoted as saying. The brigade has been integrating simulated and AI-assisted training in daily training in recent years, he said.

Simulated training can boost training efficiency, save costs, and lower flight risks, and with the rapid development of technology, it has become a common goal for major military powers around the world to take advantage of training simulations, the PLA Daily said.

The AI technology-based autonomic aerial combat simulator was jointly developed by the brigade and research institutes, and is helping to boost pilots' combat capabilities, Guoyu said.

The AI is also learning from the pilots as it gathers data from each training session. "At first, it was not difficult to win against the AI. But by studying data, each engagement became a chance for it to improve," Guoyu said.

This forces pilots to develop increasingly innovative tactics to win these simulations, the outlet said.

AIs can not only help pilots improve in training, but also be integrated into warplanes and assist pilots in combat, for example, by calculating the best tactical options for pilots to choose by taking the whole battlefield situation into consideration, at a much better efficiency than a human brain under very complicated situations, a Chinese military expert told the Global Times on Monday, requesting anonymity.

The chief designer of China's J-20 stealth fighter jet, Yang Wei, said in a paper in 2020 that the next generation fighter jet could soon feature AI to help pilots process vast information and make decisions in complicated battlefield environments.