The company behind the ubiquitous AK-47 assault rifle has a new weapon of war on the horizon: robot guns that learn and kill all on their own.
Kalashnikov Concern has reportedly developed a “fully automated combat module based on neural network[s]” that can allow various weapons platforms to “identify targets and make decisions” independently of a human operator, the company spokeswoman Sofiya Ivanova told Russian state news agency TASS on July 5. The advanced “neural network” system allows autonomous weapons platforms — say, unmanned aerial vehicles or a ground combat vehicle — to not only make decisions on their own, but adapt to their environment and apply “acquired experience” to pre-existing instructions.
Kalashnikov Concern has been experimenting with robotics and artificial intelligence for some time. In March, the weapons manufacturer hyped its brand-new BAS-01G Soratnik combat vehicle, a seven-ton mini-tank designed to semi-autonomously bring the pain with a Kalashnikov PKTM machine gun and Kornet-EM anti-tank missiles. And according to Defense One, Russian news agencies have touted robot-led victories against enemy combatants in Syria, although the veracity of those claims appears suspect.
More importantly, Russian weapons manufacturers appear to be leapfrogging U.S. Department of Defense planners when it comes to integrating artificial intelligence into the battlefield. Where the Pentagon sees AI as an important tool for intelligence analysts, the DoD has hesitated to incorporate autonomous decision-making technology directly into weapons of war for one simple reason: Autonomous murderbots are “un-American,” as Defense One put it.
“I will make a hypothesis: that authoritarian regimes who believe people are weaknesses,” Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work told Defense One in 2015, “that they cannot be trusted, they will naturally gravitate toward totally automated solutions. Why do I know that? Because that is exactly the way the Soviets conceived of their reconnaissance strike complex. It was going to be completely automated. We believe that the advantage we have as we start this competition is our people.”
It’s unclear how the transition between the Obama and Trump Pentagons has dramatically affected the DoD’s approach to AI and robotics, but military planners should consider reassessing their priorities sooner rather than later. According to Ivanova, the Russian military will get a look at the new technology in action as soon as Moscow’s International Military-Technical Forum (ARMY-2017) in August. Which means before long, warfighters may end up facing down one of these monsters downrange:
A small unmanned aerial vehicle built by service academy cadets is shown here flying above ground. This type of small UAV was used by cadets and midshipmen from the U.S. Air Force Academy, the U.S. Military Academy and the U.S. Naval Academy, during a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency-sponsored competition at Camp Roberts, California, April 23-25, 2017. During the competition, cadets and midshipmen controlled small UAVs in "swarm" formations to guard territory on the ground at Camp Roberts. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Drones have been used in conflicts across the globe and will play an even more important role in the future of warfare. But, the future of drones in combat will be different than what we have seen before.
The U.S. military can set itself apart from others by embracing autonomous drone warfare through swarming — attacking an enemy from multiple directions through dispersed and pulsing attacks. There is already work being done in this area: The U.S. military tested its own drone swarm in 2017, and the UK announced this week it would fund research into drone swarms that could potentially overwhelm enemy air defenses.
I propose we look to the amoeba, a single-celled organism, as a model for autonomous drones in swarm warfare. If we were to use the amoeba as this model, then we could mimic how the organism propels itself by changing the structure of its body with the purpose of swarming and destroying an enemy.
Soldiers from 4th Squadron, 9th U.S. Cavalry Regiment "Dark Horse," 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, are escorted by observer controllers from the U.S. Army Operational Test Command after completing field testing of the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle (AMPV) Sept. 24, 2018. (U.S. Army/Maj. Carson Petry)
The Army has awarded a $575 million contract to BAE Systems for the initial production of its replacement for the M113 armored personnel carriers the service has been rocking downrange since the Vietnam War.
President Donald Trump has formally outlined how his administration plans to stand up the Space Force as the sixth U.S. military service – if Congress approves.
On Tuesday, Trump signed a directive that calls for the Defense Department to submit a proposal to Congress that would make Space Force fall under Department of the Air Force, a senior administration official said.