Will robots fight the wars of the future?
Once a science-fiction fantasy, the seemingly far-fetched vision is becoming a reality.
The United States Department of Defense and its leadership is trying, through new contract rules, to spread artificial intelligence technologies faster through the military service arms.
Artificial intelligence is currently used in various capacities within the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines – whether that is through logistical operations, surveillance activities or weapon systems.
For the fiscal year 2021, the Department of Defense sought a total of $841 million for artificial intelligence investments.
By comparison, the Pentagon’s artificial intelligence budget is equivalent to about 29,000 Ford F-150s (2021 model).
While that might seem like a lot of money – an understatement – consider that the U.S. Department of Defense spends about $2 billion PER DAY.
The Depart of Defense’s total budget in 2020 was $721.5 billion. (In case you’re wondering, that’s about 25 million Ford F-150s.)
Meanwhile, in China, it’s estimated that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) spent $70 billion on artificial intelligence research and development in 2020, which is up from an estimated $12 billion in 2017.
According to those numbers, the U.S. Department of Defense’s annual budget for artificial intelligence is a mere 1.2-PERCENT of communist China’s annual spending budget for artificial intelligence advancement.
With China spending $191.8 million per day on artificial intelligence, by Day 5 they’ve already eclipsed the Pentagon’s artificial intelligence budget FOR THE ENTIRE YEAR.
Whether you’re a military planner, a patriotic American, a member of Congress, or a bureaucratic gnome sitting on your hands when you’re not playing wastepaper basketball, that number should send a shiver down your spine if you believe artificial intelligence is critical to the future of warfare. Which it is.
The Pentagon’s effort and investment in artificial intelligence is part of a broader move to reform and adapt the U.S. military to the 21st-century battlefield landscape, new global threats, and a realigning balance of world powers.
To quote former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, “when it comes to predicting the nature and location of our next military engagements, since Vietnam, our record has been perfect,” he quipped. “We have never once gotten it right.”
For long after World War II, the U.S. military’s defense posture was oriented towards fighting mass mobilization land wars and combatting the nuclear threat of the Soviet Union.
Then 9/11 happened and counter-terrorism efforts absorbed the U.S. military for two decades. While the U.S. was distracted in the Middle East for twenty years, China silently plotted its next steps and began to rise.
Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Michael Groen, who is director of the Pentagon’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, stated they are pushing the U.S. military to use artificial intelligence to transform the department in three main ways: one, transform warfighting; two, “support enterprises in the department”; and three, “transform business practices.”
In the same manner that some colloquially refer to the Pentagon as the “puzzle box,” referencing its architectural shape and its shroud of secrecy, we might call what the Lieutenant General just gave us puzzlebox-ese for “business as more or less usual.”
While China is investing in unmanned systems, such as drone swarms or autonomous submarines – which are lost-cost, mass-produced, and can be utilized in more aggressive ways in higher-risk environments because there is no need to protect human personnel – the U.S. military continues to spend the bulk of its budget on legacy weapons systems and boondoggles like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
So if the U.S. Department of Defense recognizes the threat and understands that artificial intelligence will underpin the future of war, then why isn’t it changing course?
Reasons include the inertia of cloistered thinking among the top military brass and, frankly, corruption between the Pentagon and major U.S. weapons makers who want to keep selling their sweet rockets of yesteryear, skim on R&D, and shower profits on shareholders. ‘Merica.
Meanwhile, China marches forward.
At least the U.S. Marine Corps, under Commandant General David Berger, is taking action. General Berger sees the 21st-century battlefield and is making radical changes to how the Marines operate – orienting the service towards China, eliminating tanks and artillery batteries in exchange for rocket and missile batteries to combat China’s array of guided munitions, as well as incorporating artificial intelligence into strategy and tactics.
The Marines, Berger affirms, will remain the nation’s “9-1-1 force,” the first called to fight, but that these structural moves are necessary to fight the wars of the future.
The Marines are America’s scrappiest and often most innovative because, for one, they have the smallest budget of the U.S. armed services.
If the U.S. Congress trimmed the Pentagon’s budget down in size do you think they’d, too, find a way to “adapt and overcome” too?
The U.S. military needs to wake up to artificial intelligence. It is the future of warfare.