The mainstream attention on artificial intelligence (AI) in 2023 allowed militaries to more openly discuss some of the astonishing initiatives they’ve undertaken as they race toward the future of warfare.
AI presented an entirely different challenge and revealed an arms race many did not even know had already gotten well underway: Advanced and automated targeting capabilities, virtual environment weapon testing and AI-controlled vehicles present just the tip of a substantial and rapidly developing iceberg.
The allure of AI is so strong that the Pentagon has some 800 AI-related unclassified projects in the works to attain a “force multiplier” integration and gain the upper hand over its rivals.
This year gave the general public a better idea of where militaries stand with their astonishing development and where they might head next. Here are some of the highlights and most fascinating revelations regarding AI on the battlefield.
One of the most impressive uses of AI technology arose in Israel, where the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) shortly before the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack unveiled its AI-powered Barak tank, which can create a 360-degree view of the battlefield for operating crews.
In a video that features animated segments to demonstrate the tank’s potential, an IDF operator is able to identify targets both in front and behind his tank, thanks to a specially designed helmet that helps him filter battlefield data. The tank also seamlessly communicates the information to another nearby tank, which can immediately respond to the data and identify the target instead.
The Barak also possesses “advanced observation and night capabilities” that allow tank crews to engage in close-range combat, thanks to the improved and up-to-date intelligence collection and sharing made possible by a new, wide and reliable “sensor infrastructure” with the ability to more precisely analyze terrain.
“The 401st Armored Brigade sees the Barak tank as a historic event and a national mission for victory in the next campaign,” Col. Beni Aharon, commanding officer of the 401st Armored Brigade, said of the new weapon.
“We were privileged to be the first armored brigade to receive the Barak tank and, therefore, a great responsibility rests on our shoulders – our mission is to fulfill it with distinction,” he said.
VIRTUAL WEAPONS TESTING
Germany’s greatest advancement for AI military development went under the radar but grabbed the imagination of weapons testers everywhere: Berlin unveiled a virtual reality weapons-testing environment that would allow faster and wider testing of weapons than conventional environments would allow.
“Novel, superior courses of action can be developed by simulating complex military battle scenarios,” developer 21 Strategies wrote of their GhostPlay project. “As a result, flexibility and superiority can be achieved at the strategic, tactical and operational levels.”
One of the key aspects that sets the program apart rests in the use of “third-wave” algorithms, which 21strategies CEO Yvonne Hofstetter says creates more “human-like” decision-making from the simulated units.
The platform also seeks to recreate environments “down to the last leaf,” according to Hofstetter, which GhostPlay achieves through aggregating satellite photos and local databases on everything from housing to vegetation.
The most promising exercise the platform has recently explored looks at how to best optimize swarm tactics, particularly loitering munitions. The Office of Army Development has collaborated with the platform precisely due to its ability to recreate detailed environments in which the munitions would deploy.
DRONE SWARM CONTROL
The AUKUS alliance of Australia, the United Kingdom and the U.S. conducted a military drill in June that included the deployment of an AI-controlled swarm of drones. The drones detected and tracked military targets “in a real-time representative environment,” according to a British government press release.
The Pentagon has said it seeks to develop an AI drone fleet in order to deploy it over land, sea and air to compete with China, which has also eagerly pursued the development of autonomous drones.
The test, conducted in southwest England, included a Challenger 2 tank, Warrior armored vehicle and Viking unmanned ground vehicle. The U.K. Defense Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) said the test helped the three allies reduce duplication efforts and ensure interoperability.
“Accelerating technological advances will deliver the operational advantages necessary to defeat current and future threats across the battlespace,” U.K. Deputy Chief of Defense Staff Lt. Gen. Rob Magowan said in a press release about the trial.
Retired Brig. Gen. Uri Engelhard, an AI and cyber expert of the Israel Defense and Security Forum, told Fox News Digital, “The clearest advantage of AI-controlled drone swarms is that if programmed well in advance, the swarm can execute its tasks exceedingly well without the need for remote controlling.”
PROJECTING THE FUTURE
Israel has sat on the cutting edge of AI development and integration, using systems to not only rapidly identify battlefield targets but also to project where targets might be – creating an almost unbelievable combat capability.
“There is an understanding in the IDF that there is a great potential for a leap forward,” Col. Uri, head of the Data and AI Department, Digital Transformation Division, told Fox News Digital. “Anyone who wants to make such a change faces a huge challenge.”
“The essence of digital transformation is the change of this organization,” Col. Uri explained. “We are not looking to replace people, we are looking to improve and raise the level of operational effectiveness. There is a limit to your count as a human being to what you can process.”
The IDF announced in February that the force had started utilizing AI in its operations, saying that new digital methods helped produce “200 new target assets” during a 10-day operation in 2021 to successfully target at least two Hamas commanders, the Jerusalem Post reported.
“We take original subgroups, calculate their close circle [of personal connections], calculate relevant features, rank results and determine thresholds, use intelligence officers’ feedback to improve the algorithm,” AI Commander Col. Yaov said of the operation.
CHINA’S AI PACING CHALLENGE
China has leaned into AI development and integration to an alarming degree: Beijing has pursued a “multi-domain precision warfare” concept, which seeks to incorporate advances in big data and AI to “rapidly identify key vulnerabilities in the U.S. operational system and then combine joint forces across domains to launch precision strikes,” according to a Pentagon report.
The concept would help China develop “additional subordinate operational concepts” with an eye toward refining China’s capabilities to fight and win “future wars.” The country’s latest Five-Year Plan prioritizes these developments, which the Pentagon claimed would include advances in “brain science” and biotechnology, semiconductors and deep space, deep sea and polar-related tech.
“The size, scope and sophistication of Chinese military modernization programs is breathtaking,” James Anderson, who served as the deputy undersecretary of defense during the Trump administration, told Fox News Digital. “The report makes clear that Beijing remains hellbent on developing a world-class military force, despite its recent economic slowdown.”
China seeks to lead the world in AI development by 2030, according to the report, having designated the technology as key to “intelligentized warfare,” which is how the CCP views the future of combat.
The Pentagon admits China already is the world leader in facial recognition and natural language processing technology, but it remains “silent” on “certain foreign capabilities” to produce hardware, including the most advanced semiconductor chip factories and electronic design automation software.
“The U.S.’s advantages in AI-related technologies is no cause for comfort since they appear to be shrinking relative to Chinese advances,” Anderson warned. “There is no question that China aims to be the world leader in AI by the end of the decade, and it is sparing no expense to achieve this goal.”
“AI technologies will increase the speed and lethality of new military platforms, while breathing some new life into old ones,” he noted. “Air, sea, land and spaced-based unmanned platforms driven by AI will proliferate in the coming years and play a key role in any major U.S.-China military confrontation.”