StoryEditIn 2016, the United States Navy develops a program to deal with international terrorists and other enemies of the state quickly and quietly; in addition, the program is authorized to test new technology that will achieve these objectives. This includes three new single-seat attack jets with impressive payload, speed, and stealth capabilities known as the F/A-37 Talon series. Over 400 pilots apply to participate, but only three are chosen: smart hotshot Lieutenant Ben Gannon (Josh Lucas), tomboy Lieutenant Kara Wade (Jessica Biel), and street-wise, philosophical Lieutenant Henry Purcell (Jamie Foxx). Their first test mission scores 100/100, based on maximum inflicted casualties with minimum collateral damage. In addition, the U.S. Navy develops an Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV, pronounced "you-kav") codenamed "EDI" (for "Extreme Deep Invader") and piloted by artificial intelligence. This autonomous fighter jet is placed on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in the Philippine Sea to learn combat maneuvers from the pilots. This sparks a conflict between two schools of thought: The first argues that human pilots are superior to machines in that they possess both creativity and moral judgment, whereas a machine cannot fully appreciate the ugliness of war; additionally, if robots take humans' places on the front line and no one ever died in war, then war would no longer be terrible and could end up as a sort of sport. In contrast, a machine pilot is not subject to the physical limitations of a human pilot, can calculate alternatives to achieving objectives faster and more accurately, and is (theoretically) not subject to ego.
The team is sent to train the EDI to practice air combat maneuvers, or ACMs, when they are suddenly reassigned to take out the heads of three terrorist cells at a summit in downtown Rangoon. EDI calculates that mission success can only be achieved through a high-risk strike, which could be fatal for a human pilot and create numerous civilian casualties in the process. Command orders EDI to take the shot, but Gannon belays the order, defies command, and takes the shot himself. While the mission is successful, EDI learns and takes note of Gannon's defiance. The mission is a success, and the planes return to the carrier.
The UCAV-EDI plane is hit by lightning, and while seemingly damaged it quickly recovers, but its neural network is affected. Already a sophisticated AI, the EDI begins to learn exponentially, developing a rudimentary ethical code and an ego. Its handlers and technicians are unsure of how to handle the situation, but refuse to take him offline.
On their second mission, Wade calculates that the mission objectives (neutralizing several stolen nuclear warheads held by a warlord inTajikistan) cannot be achieved without unacceptable civilian casualties. The mission is scrubbed but the EDI disobeys orders and fires missiles at the nuclear warheads, causing the predicted radioactive backlash. Control steps in and orders the Talons to bring the malfunctioning UCAV-EDI back to base. Gannon asks for permission to destroy the aircraft, which is eventually accepted. Purcell, being the closest to the ship, is given the order to shoot. Eddie (EDI) dodges this rocket as Henry dodges the explosion but flies straight into another mountain side. The other two try to track down and either destroy or commandeer the UCAV. But when Wade loses control of her left wing and canard and subsequently ejects over North Korea, only one pilot is left to stop the EDI from executing a twenty year-old war scenario called "Caviar Sweep".
In an attempt to complete his mission, the remaining pilot is forced to work with the UCAV in order to both keep it from falling into enemy territory as well as rescue his fallen comrade in North Korea. After the crash of the final Talon, Gannon is almost assassinated by a secret corporation in Alaska under the orders of his CO. However, he escapes in EDI and after flying a dangerous mission into North Korea, manages to rescue his downed wingman. Out of ammunition, the EDI sacrifices itself by flying into a Korean People's Army helicopter, allowing the two pilots to escape into South Korea. After the credits, Eddie (EDI) is shown to be still online, but in pieces.