The Defence One website has quoted several unnamed sources as saying that “secretive” tests of combat robots were being conducted on Virginia’s Wallops Island, as part of a Marine Corps programme called Sea Mob.
The sources described the tests as a “major milestone in the development of a new wave of artificially intelligent (AI) weapons systems, soon to make their way to the battlefield”.
With some senior US military officials saying that there are no firm plans to give AI machines full control, others point to the fact that such machines can act and react much more quickly that a human being.
“The problem is that when you’re dealing [with war] at machine speed, at what point is the human an impediment? There’s no way a human can keep up, so you’ve got to delegate to machines,” former US Deputy Defence Secretary Robert Work was cited by Defence One as saying.
Ex-Deputy Pentagon Chief Warns of Combat Robots Use
At the same time, he admitted that “there will be times where the machines make the mistake”, adding that the US is “not looking for the omniscient machine that is never wrong”.
“What we’re looking for are machines that have been tested to the point where we have the trust that the AI will do what it is designed to do, and hopefully be able to explain why it made the decision it did,” Work added.
He gave kudos to AI, which he claimed may help “make weapons more discriminant and better, less likely to violate the laws of war, less likely to kill civilians, less likely to cause collateral damage”.
US Military Tests AI Weapons
Work spoke as every branch of the US military, including the Army, the Navy and the Air Force is now “seeking ways to do just that—to harness gargantuan leaps in image recognition and data processing for the purpose of creating a faster, more precise, less human kind of warfare”, according to Defence One.
Tests are underway to develop a remotely-controlled submarine hunter and the Joint Air-to-Ground Missile system, capable of picking out vehicles to attack “without human say-so”.
Additionally, a pilotless version of the F-16 fighter jet is being developed as part of the US Air Force’s “SkyBorg” programme.
The tests, which will not involve vehicles meant for immediate combat situations, aim to showcase new technologies which may be integrated in the future as well as how soldiers could use them in the field, according to the spokesperson.
Mission Enabler Technologies-Demonstrator (MET-D) vehicles: leveraging the latest tech in cameras, data display, GUI, drive-by-wire capability, unmanned aerial vehicle-provided video, & advanced comms to help w/ battlefield situational awareness & enhance communication capability pic.twitter.com/SyWTwohq5g— U.S. Army CCDC Ground Vehicle Systems Center (@CCDC_GVSC) July 1, 2019
They were echoed by David Centeno Jr., chief of the Tank Automotive Research, Development, and Engineering Centre’s Emerging Capabilities Office, who said that the new RCVs will allow for “freedom of air and ground manoeuvre”, which will keep soldiers out of range.
In a separate development, the USAF Research Lab’s Centre for Rapid Innovation and aerospace company DZYNE Technologies recently completed a multi-hour test flight that essentially turned a Cessna 206 Stationair into an unmanned aircraft.
The centre noted in its statement that the aircraft-operating robot takes orders from its computer, which uses GPS-like sensors to measure its “situational awareness and information gathering”.
“The system ‘grabs’ the yoke, pushes on the rudders and brakes, controls the throttle, flips the appropriate switches and reads the dashboard gauges the same way a pilot does”, researchers noted.