Transforming the Battlefield: How AI is Driving Military Tactics
The world has seen unprecedented technological change over the past few decades, impacting every aspect of human life. One area where it is expected to have far-reaching implications is military strategy and weapons manufacture. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Autonomy are transforming how nations wage war, and their impact will be profound.
AI-enabled systems can revolutionize where and how wars are fought. Small, cheap, and increasingly capable uncrewed systems will replace large, expensive, crewed weapon platforms. This revolution is already underway in many parts of the world. For example, Ukraine has developed sophisticated armed drones that strike with precision, while Russia is using AI “smart” mines that respond to nearby footsteps. Australia has a range of autonomous weapons and vessels that can be deployed in conflict, including uncrewed Ghost Bat aircraft and Bluebottle surveillance vessels.
Major powers around the world recognize the importance of AI in shaping the future of warfare. The House of Lords in the UK is holding a public inquiry to study the use of AI in weapons systems, while Luxembourg recently hosted an important conference on autonomous weapons. The United States has adopted a “third offset strategy” that will invest heavily in AI, autonomy, and robotics. Meanwhile, China has already announced its intention to become the world leader in AI by 2030.
In this article, we will examine how AI and autonomy fit into the larger strategic picture and why it is crucial for countries to incorporate them into their defense strategy.
AI and Autonomy: The Future of Warfare
AI and autonomy will change the way wars are fought in different ways. Autonomous systems can function independently or with minimal human intervention, allowing militaries to operate unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), ground robots, and uncrewed ships. In contrast, artificially intelligent systems can help decision-makers analyze vast amounts of data generated by sensors and other sources to provide a more accurate and timely picture of the battlefield.
The use of autonomous systems in warfare is not new. Drones have been used extensively in Iraq and Afghanistan, while underwater drones have been used by navies worldwide for years. However, the increasing sophistication of AI-enabled systems is expected to revolutionize this field. These systems can act faster than human decision-makers, react with greater accuracy, and adapt to changing circumstances in real time.
The Role of AI and Autonomy in Military Strategy
AI and autonomy offer several advantages that are critical to military strategy. First, they help militaries reduce the risk of human casualties by removing personnel from harm’s way. Second, they can help decision-makers analyze vast amounts of data generated by sensors and other sources that provide a more accurate and timely picture of the battlefield. Third, they can react faster than human decision-makers, respond with greater accuracy, and adapt to changing circumstances in real time.
One area where AI has shown its value is in identifying targets in satellite images. In 2014, the US Air Force demonstrated how machine learning algorithms could identify a T-90 main battle tank in a satellite image with an accuracy rate of 91%. Another area is facial recognition technology, which can help military personnel identify high-value targets in a crowd accurately. Additionally, AI-powered text generation can help create information operations to influence public opinion or deceive enemy forces.
AI and Autonomy: The Risks and Challenges
Despite the potential benefits of AI and autonomy in military strategy, there are risks and challenges we must address. One significant concern is the possibility of an arms race involving autonomous weapons. As AI specialist Steve Omohundro warned in 2014, “An autonomous weapons arms race is already taking place.”
The proliferation of autonomous weapons could lead to an escalation of violence as countries race to develop ever more sophisticated systems. There is also the risk of autonomous weapons malfunctioning or being hacked, thereby leading to unintended consequences.
Another challenge is the ethical concerns surrounding autonomous weapons. The use of artificial intelligence in warfare raises several questions about accountability and responsibility. For example, who is accountable if an autonomous weapon causes collateral damage or malfunctions? How do we ensure that these systems are used ethically and comply with international law?
AI and autonomy are transforming military strategy at an unprecedented pace, and their impact will be profound. Countries worldwide recognize the importance of artificial intelligence in shaping the future of warfare. They are hence investing heavily in research and development to stay ahead of the curve.
However, there are risks and challenges involved in the use of AI in designing and deploying war weapons. The proliferation of autonomous weapons could lead to an escalation of violence, and there are concerns about accountability and responsibility. Therefore, it is essential for countries to incorporate ethical considerations into their decision-making around AI-enabled systems.