Dawn of the Intelligent Machines – What it means for the Future of Warfare

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Alan Turing’s paper on the ability of machines to ‘think’ left the entire world amazed at the notion that a machine could have a mind of its own. Ever since, swathes of research teams and scientists have been working to achieve scientific breakthroughs that would allow us to create machines that can think autonomously. In essence, they were working towards the creation of Artificial Intelligence (AI), a concept which is now taken almost for granted. AI has a central position in our day to day lives, from helping us drive, to assisting us in picking out our favorite T-Shirt. It is engaged in a consistent process of learning patterns.

In military affairs, the ability to develop autonomous platforms that can carry-out their own missions with minimum to no human supervision is still unfathomable. This is especially true given the fact that military organizations and structures are designed to function around human operation. However, with the passage of time, the idea of integrating AI has gained traction in the modern military force structure. Now, there is an increased emphasis on the same in order to produce a more efficient and flexible force structure that can keep up with the fluid and ever changing dynamics of the modern battlefield.

The development of AI plays especially well into the idea of the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) which advocates for a much more precise, lethal and flexible military force structure. AI has the added advantage of allowing for the computation of large amounts of data in a short time, as compared to its human counterparts. AI also does not have physical limitations such as emotions, fatigue, need for nutrition and physical recovery that can be a hindering factor, allowing it to maintain a hundred percent operational readiness at all times.

Another beneficial aspect of AI is its ability to recognize patterns, a characteristic especially suitable for data mining. Without AI, substantial manpower is required to gather information from an apparent random set of data, while AI can extract patterns and information in a large dataset in a relatively small amount of time. The intelligence cycle can especially benefit from this aspect, allowing information superiority and battlefield dominance. Other advantages of AI analysis of open source intelligence would include analyzing satellite images to deduce military formations, decrypting intercepted military communications, and helping pre-empt military attacks or hostile formations.

Discussed below are some of the recent advancement in military platforms that include AI.

Aerial Platforms:

AI infused UAV may be able to conduct aerial reconnaissance and translate it into real-time intelligence for the command center. Not only that, but the UAV will be able to identify the presence of High Value Targets (HVT) and through pattern recognition, can predict movement of the HVT. As a result of this, the UAV will be able to provide real-time intelligence and information on HVTs and provide an estimated success rate of a drone strike vis-à-vis the risk of collateral damage. AI being incorporated into reconnaissance and surveillance roles is a real possibility within the coming years. However, the role of the AI in executing combat operations is also an interesting prospect.

A number of projects are already underway to develop completely autonomous UAVs. These UAVs will carry out all of the operations with minimum human supervision, which is also called ‘spare supervisory control’. These UAVs will be able to take off, fly, loiter and land without human supervision. The Boeing X-47, Boeing Phantom Ray, Dassault nEUROn, Sukhoi Okhotnik and Mikoyan Skat are all being designed with autonomy in mind. It is also worth noticing that these UAVs are being designed as combat operable.

It might also be a possibility that traditional platforms such as aircrafts may be retrofitted with AI for fully autonomous entities. Removing the human pilot from the cockpit results in greater performance levels because the aircraft would be without physical limitations and could, for instance, exceed G-Force levels that a human operator would be unable to tolerate.

In a recent virtual, a human and AI were pitted against each other in a simulated dogfight in an F-16. The AI was able to beat the human pilot in five rounds out of a total of five. It is worth mentioning that this dogfight was a simulated affair and many U.S. Air Force officers have argued that since real life conditions would be different, the result should be taken with a pinch of salt. Nonetheless, this could serve as a watershed moment for the realization of the true potential of AI.

Naval Platforms:

The Sea Hunter, a vessel designed for Anti-Submarine Warfare, is currently undergoing sea trials and is completely autonomous. With sparse supervisory control, itis being tested for its basic characteristics such as seakeeping, stability and maneuverability. The next phase of the trials will incorporate the offensive capabilities as well. So far, the Sea Hunterhas been able to meet all project targets and is slated to be incorporated into the U.S. Navy after the completion of successful trials.

Sea borne vessels can now also be designed with autonomy in mind, rather than emphasizing provision of facilities for crew such as restrooms, dining rooms, pantries and other human amenities. In terms of submersible warfare, this can result in much more pronounced results. Nuclear powered submarines have the ability to remain submerged virtually endlessly; they are only limited by the need to re-supply and rotate the crew. Imagine an autonomous nuclear submarine which need only re-arm itself but can otherwise stay on duty for considerably long periods of time.

Logistical Platforms:

Perhaps the most underestimated utilization of AI is in the logistical chains, which can be particularly useful when operating in hostile territory. An example of this is the TerraMax, a kit developed by the Oshkosh Defence that allows any vehicle to be retrofitted with an autonomous system. In essence, TerraMax can allow for the utilization of the autonomous vehicles to continue the re-supply and re-armament of the frontline troops.

The rise of the AI means that not only will civilian affairs be revolutionized, but military affairs as well and with far-reaching impact. Humans are now at the Event Horizon, the utilization of the AI in our civilian and military affairs is heralding in a new world which will be dominated by the rise of the machines.

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Zeeshan Javed
About Zeeshan Javed 2 Articles
The writer works at the Islamabad Policy Research Institute as a consultant. He can be reached at [email protected]

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