The Third Revolution: How AI Is Designing the Future of War

Category Machine Learning

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The development of artificial intelligence technology has brought about a third revolution in warfare. AI-enabled military capabilities like autonomous drones and submarines are already being used by countries around the world, yet Australia's recent defense strategic review has failed to seriously consider the implications.

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Throughout history, war has been irrevocably changed by the advent of new technologies. Historians of war have identified several technological revolutions.The first was the invention of gunpowder by people in ancient China. It gave us muskets, rifles, machine guns and, eventually, all manner of explosive ordnance. It's uncontroversial to claim gunpowder completely transformed how we fought war.

Then came the invention of the nuclear bomb, raising the stakes higher than ever. Wars could be ended with just a single weapon, and life as we know it could be ended by a single nuclear stockpile.

The Ghost Bat Drone is Australia's newest unmanned aircraft technology.

And now, war has—like so many other aspects of life—entered the age of automation. AI will cut through the "fog of war", transforming where and how we fight. Small, cheap and increasingly capable uncrewed systems will replace large, expensive, crewed weapon platforms.

We've seen the beginnings of this in Ukraine, where sophisticated armed home-made drones are being developed, where Russia is using AI "smart" mines that explode when they detect footsteps nearby, and where Ukraine successfully used autonomous "drone" boats in a major attack on the Russian navy at Sevastopol.

Bluebottle is an uncrewed surveillance vessel used by the Australian Defence Force.

We also see this revolution occurring in our own forces in Australia. And all of this raises the question: why has the government's recent defense strategic review failed to seriously consider the implications of AI-enabled warfare? .

--- AI has crept into Australia's military --- .

Australia already has a range of autonomous weapons and vessels that can be deployed in conflict.

Our air force expects to acquire a number of 12 meter-long uncrewed Ghost Bat aircraft to ensure our very expensive F-35 fighter jets aren't made sitting ducks by advancing technologies.

The A$3.4 billion defense innovation program is designed to get new military technologies into service.

On the sea, the defense force has been testing a new type of uncrewed surveillance vessel called the Bluebottle, developed by local company Ocius. And under the sea, Australia is building a prototype six meter-long Ghost Shark uncrewed submarine.

It also looks set to be developing many more technologies like this in the future. The government's just announced A$3.4 billion defense innovation "accelerator" will aim to get cutting-edge military technologies, including hypersonic missiles, directed energy weapons and autonomous vehicles, into service sooner.

The House of Lords in the UK is examining the use of AI in weapons systems.

How then do AI and autonomy fit into our larger strategic picture? .

The recent defense strategy review is the latest analysis of whether Australia has the necessary defense capability, posture and preparedness to defend its interests through the next decade and beyond. You'd expect AI and autonomy would be a significant concern—especially since the review recommends spending a not insignificant A$19 billion over the next four years.

Luxembourg is holding a public conference on the use of autonomous weapons.

Yet the review mentions autonomy only twice (both times in the context of existing weapons systems) and AI once (as one of the four pillars of the AUKUS submarine program).

--- Countries are preparing for the third revolution --- .

Around the world, major powers have made it clear they consider AI a central component of the planet's military future.

The House of Lords in the United Kingdom is holding a public inquiry into the use of AI in weapons systems. In Luxembourg, the government just hosted an important conference on autonomous weapons. And China has announced its intension to develop autonomous military drones and hypersonic weapons.

China is looking into autonomous military drones and hypersonic weapons.

It's not just the tech giants and superpowers who are jumping on board either. Developing nations like India and sub-state actors like Hezbollah are reportedly actively exploring AI-driven military capabilities.

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