Rafael, an Israeli defence firm, on Monday announced it had successfully demonstrated a new "automatic target recognition" capability that relies on artificial intelligence and machine learning for the newest variant of its SPICE family of guided air-to-ground bombs. The Indian Air Force is believed to have used SPICE bombs in its attack on a Jaish-e-Mohammed camp in Balakot in February. SPICE is an acronym for Smart, Precise, Impact and Cost-Effective. The SPICE munitions come in three variants: SPICE-2000, -1000 and -250, with the number denoting the weapon's weight class in pounds. The SPICE-250, which weighs around 113kg and the newest variant of the SPICE family, was the version tested with artificial intelligence technology by Rafael.
Military pilots may soon have a new kind of wingman to depend upon: not flesh-and-blood pilots but fast-flying, sensor-studded aerial drones that fly into combat to scout enemy targets and draw enemy fire that otherwise would be directed at human-piloted aircraft. War planners see these robotic wingmen as a way to amplify air power while sparing pilots' lives and preventing the loss of sophisticated fighter jets, which can cost more than $100 million apiece. "These drone aircraft are a way to get at that in a more cost-effective manner, which I think is really a game-changer for the Air Force," says Paul Scharre, director of the technology and national security program at the Center for a New American Security, a think tank in Washington, D.C. Unlike slow-moving drones such as the Reaper and the Global Hawk, which are flown remotely by pilots on the ground, the new combat drones would be able to operate with minimal input from human pilots. To do that, they'd be equipped with artificial intelligence systems that give them the ability not only to fly but also to learn from and respond to the needs of the pilots they fly alongside. "The term we use in the Air Force is quarterbacking," says Will Roper, assistant secretary of the U.S. Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics and one of the experts working to develop the AI wingmen.
Air Force researchers working with artificial intelligence code may soon have a platform that gives them secure access to educated end-users and outside developers, algorithms, mission data and computational hardware. Because the Defense Department's does not allow unvetted software or code on its networks, it's difficult for developers to experiment with cutting-edge tools. But the Air Force is looking to dismantle some of those barriers with its Air Force Cognitive Engine (ACE) software platform. "We're trying to create a software ecosystem to hook up the core infrastructures that are required for successful AI development -- that's people, algorithms, data and computational resources," said Maj. Michael Seal, director for the Air Force's Autonomy Capability Team 3, which leads the ACE program. The traditional DOD way, Seal said during the Defense Department's April 25 Lab Day, is for people to use the network they're told to use, use one that houses data from an amalgamation of sources and use whatever tools are approved and available.
A new contract with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) will bring airmen from across Air Force career fields to work with researchers on artificial intelligence technology. The project will focus on research in AI projects including decision support, maintenance and logistics, talent management, medical readiness, situational awareness, business operations and disaster relief, according to a news release. The effort is part of the service's science and technology strategy. Similar partnerships around the U.S. focus on other innovations.
Unmanned drones, powered by artificial intelligence, may soon accompany US Air Force Pilots on missions as autonomous wingmen. Both Boeing's F-15 and Lockheed Martin's F-35 fighter jets are being considered for the'Skyborg' drone support program. The scheme would cut down on the amount of people in the jets and could both reduce the risk to pilots and be more economical. Drones can be manufactured for a fortieth of the cost of a new fighter jet and may be guided by the sole pilot inside the nearby fighter plane. To safely manage any such drones, however, AI will need to be sufficiently developed to make it immune to attacks that could exploit its operating features.
It's not yet clear how this collaboration will go down, especially since the military's previous efforts to collaborate with industry have proved problematic. Most notably, a project involving Google's Cloud AI team, established through a program known as Maven, sparked a backlash among employees. This involved using the Cloud platform to identify objects in aerial images, and some worried that it could eventually lead to using AI to target weapons. As a result, Google chose not to renew its contract with the Air Force and issued a new AI code of ethics, which precludes working on technology that could be weaponized.
The Pentagon is one of the largest technology customers in the world, purchasing everything from F-35 planes (roughly $90 million each) to cloud services (the JEDI contract was $10 billion). Despite outlaying hundreds of billions of dollars for acquisitions though, the Defense Department has struggled to push nascent technologies from startups through its punishing procurement process. The department launched the Defense Innovation Unit a few years back as a way to connect startups into the defense world. Now, the military has decided to work even earlier to ensure that the next generation of startups can equip the military with the latest technology. Cambridge, Mass.-based MIT and the U.S. Air Force announced today they are teaming up to launch a new accelerator focused on artificial intelligence applications, with the Air Force committed to investing $15 million into roughly 10 MIT research projects per year.
It's not every day that an Air Force captain can give a four-star general an earful. Gen. Stephen Wilson, the vice chief of staff, invites input from his very junior colleague because Kanaan's expertise is artificial intelligence. Wilson says he believes AI's ability to sort mountains of data to find targets like terrorists is a way to change the nature of war. The Air Force needs to lean on Kanaan and other young, tech-savvy airmen, Wilson says, to help transform the way it uses data. "It's pretty unusual," Wilson says of his relationship with Kanaan.
The Air Force wants to see if AI-powered autonomous drones can help human pilots better perform their mission. In a press release, the Air Force said it was seeking input from the tech industry in a new AI initiative for autonomous drones it calls Skyborg. Still in its planning stages, the Air Force is looking for market research and concept of operations analysis for Skyborg to get a sense of what technologies are out there for such a fleet. It is seeking to launch protoypes of the autonomous drones as early as 2023. What exactly would the autonomous drones under Skyborg do?
In the near future, an Air Force pilot's wingman could be flown by artificial intelligence. The two might fly side-by-side in a highly contested war zone -- and the AI aircraft not only takes the lead, it begins making choices. Does it fire missiles or drop bombs ahead of its fighter counterpart? Probably, because the human response has a lag time, unlike a machine that can detect and react immediately, if necessary. It sounds very much like the Air Force's proposed Loyal Wingman program.