US and China Compete over AI-enabled Military Hardware
Vijay Sakhuja September 02, 2018
There is a sense of urgency among the militaries of United States and China to gain ascendency in the field of artificial intelligence and machine learning. The United States Department of Defence has set upJoint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC) that will help the US military to “preserve and expand military advantage” as also pursue “AI applications with boldness and alacrity while ensuring strong commitment to military ethics and AI safety.” The JAIC will costan estimated $1.7 billion over the next six years. It will work on nearly 600 AI projects in partnershipwith the industry, academia and allies, and will have oversight over almost all service and defense agency AI efforts.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has urgedPresident Donald Trumpto consider formulating a national strategy for artificial intelligence. Meanwhile, the US Army has establishedan AI Task Force and given itself three months to identify “specific skill sets that we’re going to need to be relevant and to thrive in this environment that will include AI and machine learning.”
Likewise, the Chinese government is pursuing an aggressive policy for the development of artificial intelligence at the national level. In December 2017, the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology through Circular No. 315called on all agencies under the Central Government to implement ‘Made in China 2025’ and ‘New Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan’ and ‘ accelerate the development of artificial intelligence industry, promote the deep integration of artificial intelligence and real economy” It also laid out a ‘Three-Year Action Plan for Promoting the Development of a New Generation of Artificial Intelligence Industry ( 2018 – 2020).
According to a reporttitled “China’s AI Development Report 2018” released by Tsinghua University, the China’s artificial intelligence (AI) market touched 23.7 billion yuan ($3.5 billion) in 2017, with the growth rate expected to reach 75 percent in 2018. Further, China emerged as the ‘most attractive country for AI investment and financing’ and in the last five years since 2013 the Chinese AI industry accounted for 60 percent of the world’s total including 18,232 AI technology research experts accounting ‘for 8.9 percent of the world’s total and was second only to the United States, which accounted for 13.9 percent’.
In China, AI is used in a number of sectors like robotics, drones, autonomous vehicles such as cars and trucks, in manufacturing white goods including marketing services. Perhaps what merits attention is that China is investingin AI-related devices and systems that range from the anodyne to the dystopian wherein the military is looking to the technology to work in concert with its military strategy? Further, experts believethat the Chinese are “making their machines more creative” and “A little bit of automation gives the machines a tremendous boost” which can be characterized as “remote warfare”.
The US is visibly concerned about losing military edge to China in the field of artificial intelligence. The PLA Navy presents different challenges with significant investments made in weapons such as the Electromagnetic Railgun (EMRG), Solid State Lasers (SSLs) and other systems and sensors.As noted earlier, AI technologies are also being incorporated into a new generation of anti-ship missiles through autonomous targeting capabilities. Similarly, autonomous air and underwater drones and miniaturized assault boats would soon be part of its force structure It is quite plausible that the PLA Navy may have begun to conduct exercises based on AI and ML and assimilated commonly used and commercially available communication devices such as smart phones, tablets and hybrid devices into its naval strategy.
AI is surely adding to the war fighting tool kit of both the US Navy and the PLA Navy through stealthy ‘robotic trimaran’(Sea hunter and D3000 respectively)thatcould result in a dangerous escalations of a new kind of competition between the two navies. Similarly, China is developing autonomous robotic submarines which are likely to be ready for operations by the early 2020s and supplement regular human-operated submarines. This is sure to pose another set of challenge to the US Navy.
Dr Vijay Sakhuja is a Trustee of TPF.