The Advantages and Dangers of Using AI in Defense

Advantages and Dangers of Using AI in Defense

January 7, 2022

It is difficult to deny the omnipresence of artificial intelligence in our lives. In fact, there is hardly any sector that has not been touched by the magic of AI. Researchers are also exploring the applications of using AI in defense in order to bolster military operations. At this point, several nations are hopping on the technology bandwagon to achieve futuristic changes in the functioning of the defense sector.  

A nation’s security is a measure of its capability to resolve multiple challenges to protect its people and its own survival. In fact, one of the most important determinants of a nation’s power is the strength of its military. This is why many nations dedicate a significant portion of their budget towards military applications. This includes funding of research and development of cutting-edge technologies such as AI to exploit its use-cases in military operations. Let’s have a look at some of the possible applications of AI in defense. 

Applications of AI in Defense

Target recognition using AI in Defense

AI is being used to improve target recognition accuracy in complex warfare settings. This increases the ability to identify the location of potential targets with high accuracy. Defense forces can achieve a comprehensive understanding of operational areas thanks to the AI system’s capability of analyzing reports and any other form of unstructured information. These algorithms can analyse vast volumes of data in order to track and identify threats on the battlefield and produce the targeting data. AI-enabled target recognition systems are also capable of assessing and predicting enemy activity. 

DARPA, a research and development agency of the United States Department of Defense uses Target Recognition and Adaption in Contested Environments (TRACE) to provide “responsive long-range targeting for tactical airborne surveillance and strike applications.” 

Streamlining military logistics and transportation

Artificial intelligence plays an important role in streamlining the transportation of military goods such as armaments and ammunition. Machine learning algorithms can be integrated with the military’s logistical systems to reduce human efforts and mitigate any kind of errors. These algorithms also enable the detection of any kind of anomalies and possible component failures. 

The Air Force of the US is experimenting with AI for predicting aircraft maintenance. Essentially, the Air Force is using artificial intelligence to tailor maintenance schedules as per the needs of individual aircraft instead of sticking to a standard maintenance schedule for all aircraft. This approach involves the collection of real-time data from the sensors embedded in the engines of the aircraft. This data is in turn fed to the algorithms that can predict when a particular aircraft requires maintenance. 

In another example, the US army is leveraging IBM’s Watson AI to create customized maintenance schedules for the army’s armoured fighting vehicles – the Stryker family. 

Enforcing security in military systems

The military, like any other organisation, relies on cybersecurity for the safety of the systems and networks used in daily activities. The information that has to be safeguarded is often highly classified and should be protected from any kinds of vulnerabilities and hackers who are a threat to national security. This is the reason why cyberspace is also thought of as the next battlefront after land, water and air.

However, the question is what role can AI play in cyberspace. Many defense agencies are resorting to AI to protect networks, computers and data from all kinds of unauthorized intrusions. AI-enabled systems can also be trained in order to detect irregularities and vulnerabilities in broader patterns of network activity. This helps in devising a rigid barrier against all kinds of attacks. In fact, in 2016, Michael Rogers, Commander of U.S. Cyber Command, said that relying on human intelligence in cyberspace is a “losing strategy”. He further stated, “if you can’t get some level of AI or machine learning with the volume of activity you’re trying to understand when you’re defending networks … you are always behind the power curve.”

Intelligence and Surveillance 

Using AI in defense can aid in the extraction of data from connected devices like radars and automatic identification systems. This data can be used for the identification of criminals and unusual activities. Artificial Intelligence is especially useful due to the large volumes of data available for analysis. 

For example, Project Maven – a Pentagon project – aims to leverage computer vision and AI algorithms to search through footage from unmanned aerial vehicles and to identify enemy activity. This allows AI to automate the work of human analysts who would otherwise require a lot of time to sift through the footage manually. Automating this bit of work also enables the human analysts to focus on other important tasks such as timely-decision making. 

Soldiers’ healthcare

AI can be used to render battlefield healthcare services. In war zones, the technology can be used along with Robotic Surgical Systems (RSS) to provide surgical assistance. If required, AI-enabled systems can also be used to dig through soldiers’ medical records and assist in complicated medical diagnosis. 

IBM’s Watson AI’s research team has collaborated with the US Veterans Administration to create the Electronic Medical Record Analyzer (EMRA) to process patients’ medical records and recognize their most critical health issues using machine learning algorithms. 

Autonomous vehicles

Much like commercial autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles, there is ongoing research to incorporate AI into autonomous vehicles including drones, naval vessels, fighter jets, etc. The fact that there are so many different types of military vehicles simply means that the potential capabilities of autonomous vehicles are numerous in the defense sector. Autonomous cars and work trucks are also being researched for use in construction and logistics. The semi-autonomous vehicles can use AI to detect obstacles, make sense of the environment, engage in interaction with other vehicles and perform navigation. 

The Advantages and Dangers of Using AI in Defense, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The US Air Force Research Lab as part of its Loyal Wingman Program paired an uninhabited fighter jet with an inhabited jet. In this event, the unmanned fighter jet autonomously responded to external events that were not predetermined. 

In another instance, the Israeli aerospace industry has developed a self-driving bulldozer and a vehicle that has the capability to change its dimensions to adapt to different circumstances. 

With rapidly progressing research in the field, it is expected that perhaps AI may someday allow us to accomplish independent battlefield tasks with the help of autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles. This will allow the humans on the field to focus on more valuables tasks to enhance the quality of surveillance.  

Training and simulation of combat systems

This is a field that makes use of the conjunction of system engineering and software engineering to create models which can familiarize troops with the different combat settings in military operations. The United States is investing considerably in simulation and training applications. 

To summarize, we can see how AI in defense can open the doorways to a plethora of use-cases. This not only improves efficiency but also reduces the possibility of errors caused by humans by automating many tasks.

Challenges in the way of using AI in Defense

If the advantages of artificially intelligent war machines are obvious, so are the limitations. AI presents some considerable challenges for military integration owing to the fact that most of the research in the field is taking place in the commercial sphere. These commercial AI applications have to undergo significant refinements before they can be integrated for military applications. Some of the key challenges are as follows: 

  • Interpretability – A complex ML model with thousands of parameters is extremely difficult to interpret. This means it is difficult for an AI system of such a kind to explain the reason behind any decision it makes.
  • Model vulnerability – Some AI systems in the past have been known to be prone to adversarial attacks. These vulnerabilities could make a huge difference in the performance of the model. For example, a meticulously designed camouflage pattern on the ground has the potential of going unnoticed by AI systems using state of the art object detection techniques. 
  • Ethical challenges – The use of AI in defense poses an ethical quandary as well. Intentionally or unintentionally, AI development for military integration has increased tension between rival countries. Moreover, if an AI system were to divert from its original objective to something unpleasant or unplanned, it could lead to disastrous consequences. This is the reason why some organisations are strictly against autonomous vehicles in defense. 
  • Investment – One of the other major challenges for any nation is the procurement of the necessary investment and skills to boost research in the field of AI. This is especially problematic in countries like India where there are a lot of ongoing debates as to how much the country can afford for technological advancement.

Nonetheless, considering AI’s transformative ability, whether it is for the better or the worse, nations will have to assess the ramifications of military AI and other emerging trends. The research that will be put in now will have the potential to greatly shape the entire future of artificial intelligence which is critical in times when data is growing exponentially. It is vital to ensure that advanced technologies such as AI are in a position to sustain our national security goals and boost the military’s effectiveness. 


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