Drones + AI = Military Might

Tracking submarines and recognizing faces are just two of the tasks for which the U.S. military has enlisted AI.

With the Reaper, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) achieved fame in the Obama presidency. But not all unmanned military vehicles are flying executioners. The 1-inch-by-4-inch Black Hornet, a tactical drone, is equipped with a tiny camera. Both still images and full-motion video are displayed on a handheld device, which British troops have used to peer over obstacles in Afghanistan since 2013.

Figure 1: Tracking submarines and recognizing faces are just two of the tasks for which the U.S. military has enlisted AI.

The U.S. military is testing Perdix drone swarms equipped with cell phone cameras. Perdix swarms can jam radars, confuse enemy air defenses, scout “on point” for foot patrols, recognize faces, and reveal coordinates for missile strikes. Artificial Intelligence (AI) can be used with Perdix to find a person through facial recognition. Perdix will reveal the location of the person that it recognizes (to order a strike), although life-or-death decisions are made only by humans.

Perdix swarms have been launched from F-18 jet fighters flying near the speed of sound for testing in battlefield conditions. Similar testing was performed for the CBS show 60 Minutes last year as a public demonstration of just a tiny portion of the $3 billion that the Pentagon is spending on autonomous systems each year.

The autonomous ship “Sea Hunter” can track submarines at a fraction of the cost of one warship. And like autonomous cars, Sea Hunter has been training to learn the rules of the road to avoid colliding with other ships.

Figure 2: The Sea Hunter autonomous vessel may look a bit like an armored Polynesian “war canoe,” but it can travel as much as 10,000 nautical miles without refueling. (Source: https://www.darpa.mil)

Earlier this year DARPA released a statement saying that the Sea Hunter prototype had transitioned to the Office of Naval Research for further development.

Autonomous systems from nano- to large-scale are disrupting warfare, replacing high-value “king and queen” pieces with many pawns. Combined with AI, these systems represent a new class of weapons.

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