How data scientists are changing the global military landscape
The use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in a country’s military forces is not a new phenomenon by any means. In fact, since the mid-2010s, the world has already been witnessing a steady arms race for better military AI. The quest for military AI dominance is essentially a precursor for dominance in other sectors a well, especially when countries are seeking both economic and political advantage.
According to the SIPRI Military expenditure database 2020 factsheet, the United States has a net defense spending of about US$732 billion annually. This accounts for about 38% of global defense spending and is greater in amount than the next ten countries, combined. Hence, it should come as no surprise to note that the training exercises for the United States cavalry are also the most technologically advanced – and the most expensive as well.
Dubbed ‘Project Convergence 2020’, the exercise held at the Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona was set in the year 2035 and was the first in a series of annual demonstrations showing how the Armies of the future would fight their battles. It used Artificial Intelligence and autonomous systems to ‘take sensor data from all domains, transform it into targeting information, and select the best weapon system to respond to any given threat’ in real-time during the course of the war. According to Brigadier General Ross Coffman, the director of the Army Futures Command’s Next-Generation Combat Vehicle Cross-Functional Team, AI was used to autonomously conduct ground reconnaissance, employ sensors and then pass that information back.
The exercise showed that the use of autonomous technologies has drastically reduced the sensor to shooter time-gap – from 20 minutes to 20 seconds, depending on network quality and the distance of transmission between the point of collection and its destination. Space-based sensors operating in low Earth orbits were used to capture battleground images to be sent to the TITAN ground station in Washington, where they were processed and fused by a state-of-the-art AI system called Prometheus. TITAN was envisioned as a “scalable and expeditionary intelligence ground station”, supplying data to Prometheus to be fused, identified and analyzed.
Once threats picked up from TITAN are sent to Prometheus, the targeting data is then passed on to the Tactical Assault Kit, a software-based program giving operators and data scientists an overhead view of battlefield positions. Additional images and live feeds can also be pulled up, as and when needed.
The best response is then determined by the Army’s indigenous new AI-based computer brain – the FIRES Synchronization to Optimize Responses in Multi-Domain Operations, or FIRESTORM. According to Coffman, FIRESTORM “recommends the best shooter, updates the common operating picture with the current enemy situation and […] admissions the effectors that we want to eradicate the enemy on the battlefield.”
The FIRESTORM program processes terrain, weapon availability, proximity to threats and other auxiliary factors in order to determine the best-response firing system. Data scientists and operators at the FIRESTORM unit process the information coming in and send orders to on-ground soldiers or weapons systems within seconds of a threat being identified. It also provides critical target deconfliction, ensuring optimised and efficient deployment of weapons.
By using aided target recognition and machine learning to train algorithms and identify types of enemy forces, military prowess has improved by leaps and bounds – truly taking the art of war to the next level.