Going for Robots and Autonomous Weapons Systems
The race for technological superiority in warfare, strategizing and even planning processes is inexorably drawing in artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics as a factor into the equation. The two, AI and robotics, are inexorably linked as the former governs the functioning of the latter. While leading military powers of the world have been moving ahead with the development of these systems, India cannot afford to remain behind.
AI systems do not require human input and are capable of discharging their duties with no human input. At present, there is a significant shift towards Autonomous Weapon Systems(AWS) that are now completely self-contained weapons platforms .They have not yet reached the stage of “battle robots” but autonomous gun platforms, and unmanned ground platforms as well as unmanned naval – surface and subsurface platforms – are all under varying stages of development. These may not necessarily revolutionize warfare but they may dramatically reduce risks to human personnel who will not have to undertake the most hazardous of tasks in future combat.
Against this background, it was a matter of great significance that Raksha Mantri (Defence Minister) Rajnath Singh launched 75 newly-developed AI products/technologies during the first-ever ‘AI in Defence’ (AIDef) symposium and exhibition, organised by the Ministry of Defence in New Delhi on July 11, 2022.
The products, launched as part of ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’ celebrations, fall under various domains. These include AI Platform Automation; Autonomous/Unmanned/Robotics systems; BlockChain-based Automation; Command, Control, Communication, Computer & Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance; Cyber Security; Human Behavioural Analysis; Intelligent Monitoring Systems; Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems; Logistics and Supply Chain Management, Operational Data Analytics; Manufacturing and Maintenance; Simulators/Test Equipment and speech/voice analysis using Natural Language Processing.
Three AI products developed by the DPSUs (Defence Public Sector Undertakings) having dual use applications and good market potential, namely AI-enabled Voice Transcription/ Analysis software developed by Bharat Electronics Limited; Driver Fatigue Monitoring System developed by Bharat Earth Movers Limited and AI-enabled evaluation of Welding defects in X-rays of Non-destructive Testing developed by Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers were screened during the event. These products are expected to open up new business avenues for the Defence PSUs.
Rajnath Singh has called upon all the defence stakeholders to enhance the jointness of human consciousness and the ability of AI to bring a radical change in the sector. “When there has been full human participation in wars, new autonomous weapons/systems have been developed with the help of AI applications. They can destroy enemy establishments without human control. AI-enabled military devices are capable of handling large amounts of data efficiently. It is also proving to be very helpful in training the soldiers. In the coming times, Augmented and Virtual Reality technologies will also be used effectively,” he said.
The Raksha Mantri appreciated the fact that MoD, Armed Forces, DRDO, DPSUs and the Industry are making meaningful efforts to provide innovative & indigenous AI solutions for defence and are developing futuristic technologies. He echoed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of developing AI-enabled and AI-led applications to ensure social welfare & national security and making India a ‘Global Hub for AI’.
The defence minister asserted that weapons/systems are being developed, keeping in mind the crucial role AI can play in future warfare. “We have started incorporation of AI applications in remote piloted, unmanned aerial vehicles etc. There is a need to move further in this direction so that we can develop autonomous weapon systems. Timely infusion of technologies like AI & Big Data in the defence sector is of utmost importance, so that we are not left behind the technological curve and are able to take maximum advantage of technology for our services,” he said.
One cannot agree with him more.
It is a fact today that major global defense-centric companies like Boeing, Lockheed, Raytheon, General Dynamics, and Northrop Grumman have also announced AI-based development projects and product releases. Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Airbus have invested significantly in AI startups through their venture arms.
AI is a transformative technology in defense because of its ability to enable militaries to gather and make use of large amounts of data, potentially providing a competitive edge over their adversaries. AI is proving to be of great help in a wide range of other applications in aerospace, some of which are particularly noteworthy.
In the area of ‘product design’, AI algorithms can evaluate and streamline design and manufacturing systems from an assortment of design alternatives in the shortest possible time. AI-powered generative design, combined with 3D printing, can be utilized to deliver different aircraft parts, be it turbines or wings.
AI can considerably reduce the use of billions of gallons of fuel by fabricating lightweight parts with the assistance of 3D printing. It can also help aerospace companies in improving their fuel efficiency. It is said that a plane uses fuel at the highest rate in the climb stage.
Here, it is said that AI models can analyze how much fuel is expended in the climb period of various aircraft and by numerous pilots to create climb stage profiles for each pilot. These profiles can streamline fuel utilization during the climb stage. By utilizing AI-created climb stage profiles, pilots can adequately preserve fuel during flights.
In fact, artificial intelligence can be utilized to improve even pilot training. It is said that AI simulators can help pilots in having realistic training. AI-enabled arrangements inside a cockpit can improve a flight path progressively by evaluating and alerting about the fuel level, frameworks status, climate conditions, and other vital parameters.
It is also pointed out how the aircraft could be equipped with brilliant cameras fueled by computer vision algorithms, extending the visual field of pilots, and in this manner supporting their safety performance.
AI can play a big role in the maintenance of aircraft, which is universally acknowledged to be essential for the best performance. Cloud-based applications, facilitated by AI, are now being used by Airbus for data processing, retrieval, and analysis to increase aircraft maintenance efficiency.
Algorithms can detect and track possible faults in real-time and forecast the most appropriate repair times, resulting in more intelligent maintenance schedules.
AI Boosts Supply Chain Management also. Other than saving/monitoring fuel and boosting operational performance, AI is also becoming crucial for business leaders to explore and leverage the benefits of artificial intelligence in efficient supply chain management and improved customer service. There are formidable attractive factors such as access to resources, the speed at which firms can get their products to consumers, and the skills available in the workforce that go in favor of the supply chains. But the long-term implications of AI cannot be ignored.
However, while the development of AI, robotics and the consequent development of Autonomous Weapons Systems and AI assisted planning and management of battlefields is nearer to fruition, there remain increasing concerns about the level of checks and balances and control necessary to ensure adequate human input into any decision that would involve the use of lethal force. This is a debate that is ongoing and while science and technology is forging ahead in the development of these potentially game-changing systems, the need for considered human oversight is increasingly important.
It is heartening that the Modi government is cognizant of this issue. No wonder why Rajnath Singh emphasised on the need to think about humanity and world peace along with one’s own defence & security. “There is a need to think about the ethics of AI and its potential dangers at an early stage. Whenever a new technology is introduced, it takes time for the society to adapt to it. In this transition period, a challenging situation sometimes arises. Since AI is a technology that brings about a massive change, we have to be prepared in advance for any legal, ethical, political and economic challenges. We should look at the future of AI with a positive attitude, but remain prepared as well. We have to use this technology for the welfare, development and peace of humanity. We must work towards ensuring its democratic use,” he rightly pointed out.
By Prakash Nanda