NewsAptima Awarded $5.2+ Million Contract by AFRL to Advance AI for Pilot Training & Gaming Laboratory

Aptima Awarded $5.2+ Million Contract by AFRL to Advance AI for Pilot Training & Gaming Laboratory

System to smartly match AI adversaries to pilot trainees

Aptima, Inc. has secured a 4-year contract from AFRL Airman Systems Directorate, Warfighter Interactions and Readiness Division (AFRL), to develop an automated training librarian that leverages imperfect AI to create more perfect pilot training. The $5.2+ Million contract also includes funding for the Gaming Research Integration and Learning Laboratory.

Compared to computer-generated forces that rely on more brittle, gameable scripts, the advent of more robust AI adversaries that can be smartly matched to pilot trainees is expected to improve the access and quality of simulated training.

Under the contract, Aptima will manage seven leading developers of AI agents, who will create artificial enemy pilots that fly missions against human pilot trainees. A prior phase of this program produced numerous pilot agents. The performance of each of these AI varied significantly between scenarios, as if each were an expert pilot in a few types of encounters and a journeyman or novice in others.

Aptima will capitalize on this variance. Specifically, it will create an automated librarian that will categorize the AI pilots and match them to the trainee in scenarios to best develop their expertise. NATO recognized this novel concept with an award in 2020.

The sweet spot of training

In air combat simulation, pilot trainees must learn to influence, defeat, and defend against an opponent as fuel supply, weapons, and other scenario conditions are varied. This makes the tactical skill and instructional value of the adversary crucial to the trainee’s development.

“For training to be effective, it should be neither too difficult, nor too easy, but in the sweet spot for the trainee to learn and develop their competencies,” said Jared Freeman, Chief Scientist at Aptima, which is overseeing the AI program. “Much like training in sports, where you want to practice against an opponent that stretches and develops your game, an AI agent chosen well by the librarian will be just better enough than the trainee for them to learn how to win, pushing them just to the bounds of their learning envelope.

“It is usually ineffective to have a dominant adversary that repeatedly overwhelms a novice pilot, or a weak adversary that doesn’t challenge the trainee to improve,” Freeman added. The smart librarian will categorize AI adversaries by their skills, training scenarios by their demands, and trainees by their needs, picking the best AI agent and scenario to match against the student.

‘Adaptive Learning’ in Action

A unique feature of the AI system will be to leverage training data in real-time. As performance measures roll in, the model will select the next scenario and agent that will advance the trainee to expertise most quickly and surely. Rather than apply a traditional, one-size-fits-all approach, these ‘adaptive learning’ models personalize learning at scale.

AI pilots offer the potential of being tireless trainers that are always available to rigorously train to the curriculum. AI agents are expected to augment expert human trainers who are in limited supply, and unavailable on-demand.

In addition to developing the automated librarian, Aptima will oversee the development of AI agents by companies that include CHI Systems, Charles River Analytics, Discovery Machines, Eduworks, Soar Technology, Stottler Henke Associates, and TiER1 Performance Solutions. Aptima will also create a cloud-based testbed that scales to enable many AI agents to generate flight data in parallel. Those data should, in turn, help all agent developers train and assess agents. Finally, the $5.2+ Million contract will also include the support for the Gaming Research Integration for Learning Laboratory.

The Gaming Research Integration and Learning Laboratory (GRILL) provides a unique environment for testing the capabilities of new technologies and evaluating them for their application to a variety of learning environments from classrooms to operational field settings.


About Aptima, Inc.
For 25 years, Aptima’s mission has been to improve and optimize performance in mission-critical, technology-intensive settings. Visit


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