Weapons and warfare have become increasingly sophisticated; the latest battlefield technology is starting to look more like a computer game with wirelessly connected soldiers communicating via sound and vision to drones carrying satellite-linked wi-fi hotspots & given orders by commanders that could be on the of the side of the world.
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But the weapons of the future won’t need soldiers or commanders to operate them because they will make the decision of what or whom to target themselves using Artificial intelligence.
The pentagon is spending billions on developing a new generation of Lethal Autonomous Weapons (LAWS) like robotic fighter Jets, missiles that decide what to attack and ships that hunt enemy submarines.
For now, remote weapons like UAV’s or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles are directed by humans from the safety of cubicles often hundreds or thousands of miles away from the conflict zone and as such, any decision to use lethal force is made by a person.
But before we start thinking Skynet is going to take over and we’ll have terminators roaming around, we are still a long way from the Hollywood version of AI. Although We have seen the latest generation of robots like the Boston Dynamics Atlas and its uncanny ability for walk and move like a human, we won’t be seeing an army of robotic soldiers anytime soon.
Whilst we think of AI being used with the latest hardware, The USAF is working on using older aircraft refitted with autonomous controls. The project called “Loyal Wingman” sees retired F-16’s reused and with enough autonomy so that they could be fly alongside the latest F-35’s and take cues from the human pilot in another aircraft just as a real human wingman would, and probably before driverless cars will be on public roads.
Autonomous missiles are an area which is already in use with systems like the British “fire and forget” Brimstone missiles. Once it has been primed with target information it can work on its own to select the best target and co-operate with up 24 other missiles to coordinate a staggered attack against swarms of enemy vehicles or boats, if it can’t find a target it will self-destruct.
Drones are the other big area for Military AI. The Israel Aerospace Industries HAROP is a small anti-radiation drone, which is also called the “suicide drone”. This can stay airborne above a battle area for up to 6 hours looking for a specific radio transmission like a RADAR sources or enemy air defense systems, but could, in theory look for things like specific mobile phones, the HAROP will then home in on the signal and deliberately crash into and destroy its target with it on board warhead.
Meanwhile, DARPA, the military research arm of the Pentagon has also unveiled the “Sea Hunter”, an autonomous surface vessel that is designed stay at sea for months and track even the quietest submarines anywhere in the world. Because it is designed not to have any human crew during its operation, it must navigate busy shipping lanes and interact with an intelligent human adversary by its self then communicate its data back to its control centre or take the appropriate action if it were to be armed.