The U.S. Air Force (USAF) tasked game engine developer Unity with creating a ‘dogfight’ simulation, according to internal USAF documents obtained by Waypoint. The agency that contracted Unity is the Air Force’s “Kill Chain Integration Branch.” Kill chain is a military term for the list of activities—sourcing data, acquiring targets, and ultimately using weapons against them—related to performing a strike. But Unity stresses its simulation was for training purposes only, and that its work did not improve the USAF’s kill chain.
The documents provide new insight into what exactly Unity has developed for military agencies. Last year, Waypoint reported that Unity employees were deeply conflicted about the company’s military contracts, in part because a Unity developer may work on one system, such as an artificial intelligence project, without understanding or even being aware that it may then be integrated with a product Unity sold to the military.
“Unity-based technology will provide a three-dimensional simulation environment and foundations for artificial intelligence [...], which is intended to enable functionality through a ‘dogfight’ simulation, i.e. a simulation aerial battle between fighter aircrafts conducted at close range,” one of the documents reads.
Do you work for a tech company that is making products for the military? Do you work for Unity? Or are you in the military and have used Unity technology? We'd love to hear from you. Using a non-work phone or computer, you can contact Joseph Cox securely on Signal on +44 20 8133 5190, Wickr on josephcox, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Waypoint obtained the documents from the USAF through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed last July. Waypoint requested all procurement documents related to two specific deals the USAF struck with Unity in June and October 2020 for $428,000 and $220,583 respectively.
The Unity contract specifically centered around the development of a simulation that would improve AFSIM (Advanced Framework for Simulation, Integration and Modelling), a simulation system that the USAF already used for wargaming. AFSIM had an “irreplaceable physics engine” and its underlying data was informed by the intelligence community, the documents read. But AFSIM wasn’t the greatest looking simulation: it used a command-line interface to move units around.
Bringing in Unity was intended to make it possible to run the simulation with fewer operators managing it, and provide “better immersion and simulation quality than existing systems.”
“Unity’s biggest strength, among its many offerings, is that it provides AAA quality, real-time graphics rendering in a three-dimensional simulation environment,” another section of the documents read. “Unity also provides foundations for extensions such as artificial intelligence training and agents, multiplayer support, cloud service, a huge developer base, streamlined workflows, etc. all of which may apply in future growth plans of this project.”
In a description of the sort of training session that Unity might be used to support, the document reads that “The generals can see everything in an aerial view;” “The generals can drive the storyline and overall simulation, by adding or removing assets, vehicles, etc;” and “They have debriefings where the general can show the station manager trainees how they did and provide instruction towards the desired learning objectives.”
The Unity-powered simulation was intended for the teacher to have an “air picture” over the entire simulation; replay functionality; as well as “OPTIONAL STRETCH GOAL: a Master Air Attack Plan (MAAP),” the documents read.
As part of the FOIA release the USAF provided a copy of an announcement the agency previously published looking for relevant submissions from interested companies. In it, the Air Force writes it is specifically looking for technologies that can help improve the efficiency of its kill chain.
Applicants submitting a proposed product are asked to describe “The degree to which the proposed concept is relevant to kill chain integration, including the degree to which it enhances and/or accelerates development.”
Unity told Motherboard that while USAF directly solicited a response from Unity related to this announcement, Unity’s work was not created in order to directly improve the USAF’s kill chain.
“We completely understand why that may be confusing but the ‘kill chain’ reference does not actually have anything to do with our contract,” Matias Cavallin, senior PR manager at Unity, told Motherboard in an email. “It is simply the name of the contracting agency (AFLCMC/HNJ) that procured Unity for the ‘Prototype Project’—again focused on simulating scenarios that could help modernize their pilot training and simulation solutions.” Cavallin added that “Ultimately, the project was not implemented and there are currently no plans for implementation with Unity’s technology.”
“To reiterate, when we partner or are actively working with an organization or company—whether it’s the US military or frankly, any of our customers—we ask ourselves if the specific engagement violates one of our key principles: that it does not directly involve the loss of life, harm of the planet, or a person’s right to equity and inclusion. We don’t invest our time and energy with customers that undermine these principles," Cavallin added.
Cavallin said the USAF turned to Unity so that training could be safer for those involved.
The USAF did not respond to multiple requests for comment.