AI and combat robots in future wars

The topic of robotics development is a key one for the modern world. Humanity, by and large, is just entering the actual era of robotization, with some countries already striving to take the lead. In the long term, the winner will be the one who finds his place in the global technological race in the field of robotics today. The future belongs to this field, but its development is associated with a set of complex, complicated, and even ambiguous problems. The successes and failures of entire nations depend on their solutions' speed, degree, and essence.

Tasks of artificial intelligence in the sphere of national security

A unique role is assigned to robotics in national security and defense. Armed forces equipped with prospective types and samples of tomorrow's robotic complexes will have an undeniable intellectual and technological superiority over the enemy, who, for one reason or another, will not be able to reach the same level of development in this field in time. Technological backwardness in robotics today can have disastrous consequences in the future. In the foreseeable future, a new global technology race will lead to the introduction of the most advanced innovations in the military sphere. All leading world powers will be engaged in this because any lag from their rivals increases vulnerability, making it very difficult to replace with conventional weapons. In addition, the emergence of new technologies may lead to notable changes in the strategies, planning, and organization of the armed forces.

It is impossible to prevent the use of artificial intelligence for military purposes

Critical areas in weapons now include artificial intelligence, vehicle-military interaction complexes, unmanned combat vehicles and robots, autonomous weapons, hypersonics, directed energy, and even social technologies such as talent management, that is, engaging military personnel in the process of innovation. Four groups of tasks can be distinguished in the development of AI in the military:

  • Information,
  • tactical,
  • strategic
  • economic. Artificial intelligence will significantly expand the possibilities of data collection and analysis, which will allow us to obtain certain advantages in the speed and quality of information processing. In the field of military intelligence, there will be more opportunities and different types of information sources. Still, there will also be more opportunities to hide the truth from the enemy. AI can supplement the information space with a large volume of artificially created data and virtual actuality, which on the one hand, will confuse potential adversaries, but on the other hand, may create additional political risks. Artificial intelligence can increase the efficiency of missile warning radar stations and the information processing system on radio optical recognition complexes. Artificial intelligence can also be used to counter enemy radars by studying their operation and selecting methods of radio signal suppression. Working in cyberspace and tracking constantly emerging cyber threats requires many highly qualified specialists. Artificial intelligence could also take over some of their work since it can find vulnerabilities and write codes and machine algorithms much faster.

Why combat robots are needed

Over the years, militaries worldwide have cited many reasons why autonomous combat systems are needed in the military. They include increasing the accuracy of strikes against enemy positions, reducing collateral damage (additional destruction and loss of life when the main target is hit), saving military budget funds, and much more. However, only four main factors have a determining influence on the development of military robotics:

  • The desire to reduce the losses of one's own troops,
  • The gradual increase in the complexity of armed conflicts,
  • the arms race
  • Compensation for the size of the armed forces. All other reasons justifying the development of autonomous armed systems, including reconnaissance systems, probably indirectly influence the outcome of autonomous combat systems. Reducing the losses of one's service members in armed conflicts is one of the most prominent goals. It makes it possible to maintain numerical parity with the enemy or superiority over him. Fewer casualties also reduce military expenditures, from payments on insurance policies to the costs of organizing rescue operations, evacuation, and burial of the remains of the dead. In addition, training a professional military is quite expensive and time-consuming, so losing them in armed conflicts is highly unprofitable. Defense ministries of several countries, including the U.S., believe that the use of combat robots will make it possible to solve complex combat tasks faster and with minimal risk to soldiers' lives, including military operations in dense urban areas or active sniper hunting.

It is assumed that by 2050 more than 80 percent of the world's population will live in cities, which means that armed conflicts will occur in urban areas. Conducting hostilities in the town is much more complicated than in the open because the danger threatens units both from the ground (sewers or subways) and from above (from the windows of tall buildings). The use of various combat robots - from small armed multicopters to highly mobile ground systems - in urban environments can significantly simplify the planning and execution of military operations, in which, in fact, the same machines can be scouts saboteurs, and assault fighters. The arms race is another argument the military makes in favor of combat autonomous systems. The fact is that military progress is gradually leading to the creation of more and more advanced weapons and military equipment. The leading countries of the world, for example, are creating hypersonic weapons that can penetrate the enemy's missile defense systems. New autonomous anti-missile systems with artificial intelligence, capable of independently detecting, classifying and firing ballistic, aeroballistic, and aerodynamic targets, will need to be developed to intercept hypersonic missiles. Because of the extremely high speed of these targets, the people on the anti-missile systems' calculations will simply not have time to analyze the air situation, make decisions and issue commands. Finally, the armed forces of some countries worldwide are facing a gradual decrease in numbers due to demographic or economic reasons. For example, South Korea's armed forces are declining due to a gradual decline in the birth rate, so some units are already understaffed. The U.S. Air Force has a lack of drone operators and fighter pilots. The development of fully independent combat robots is expected to solve the problems of staffing the armed forces. About 40 countries, including the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, Israel, and South Korea, are already working on robots that can battle without the need for human participation. More than 30 nations are developing and manufacturing approximately 150 types of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), with almost 80 of them adopted by 55 armies worldwide. Although unmanned aerial vehicles are not classified as classical robots because they do not reproduce human activity, they are generally classified as robotic systems. To date, more than 20 examples of remotely piloted ground vehicles have been developed for the military. The Air Force and Navy work on about the same number of air, surface, and underwater systems.

Robotics and autonomous weapons

There are many applications for tactical weapons with artificial intelligence. These include drones, armored vehicles, and missile boats that find targets and make decisions to destroy them independently. The cost of drones and drones is falling rapidly, becoming mass-produced. Artificial intelligence will help combine thousands of drones into a huge controlled "swarm" capable of a mass attack. Artificial intelligence has even more prospects in space. Autonomous constellations of tracking satellites or fighter satellites can be created that do not require constant monitoring and special commands from control centers on Earth. The efficiency of special forces and amphibious units can be considerably increased in the future with the help of artificial intelligence. Even a small group of special forces, using unmanned platforms, will be able in this way to control large areas in enemy territory and attack with the help of autonomous interacting combat vehicles different targets or prevent the enemy troops in a particular part, thereby holding the beachhead for the landing of the leading forces. Considering that modern warfare strategies involve a change in the way troops are deployed, and that modern warfare will be conducted simultaneously over the entire enemy territory: on the ground, in the air, in near-Earth space, as well as in the information field and cyberspace, it is autonomous robotic support systems for soldiers that will be developed very shortly. The transition from manned to unmanned combat missions will also accelerate. The Army's near-term priorities should be focused on autonomous weapons technology with network support, systems for human-machine interaction, including decision-making, autonomous learning systems with artificial intelligence functions, and advanced unmanned systems.

As for robots themselves

Robots are needed in the Army to achieve two goals: replacing humans in dangerous situations or autonomous solutions to combat tasks previously performed by humans. There is a general rule: the cost of the weapon must not exceed the price of the object of destruction. It is unlikely that the commander of a robotic brigade will dare to throw his androids into a frontal attack on the enemy's fortified positions. Given the current cost of their creation, such an action would cause substantial financial losses. Then the question arises: are such robotic androids needed at all in line combat units? As of today, the answer is likely to be negative. It is expensive and burdensome, and the practical payoff and efficiency are meager. So far, it is hard to imagine any situation on the battlefield in which a robotic android would be more effective than a professional soldier. The only way it could be more effective than a professional soldier is in a radioactively contaminated area or during a bacteriological attack. But what tactical commanders definitely need today are airborne and ground-based remotely controlled or automated reconnaissance, surveillance and tracking complexes, and engineering vehicles for various purposes, which are also called robotics due to the vagueness of this term.

Current Problems and Prospects of Development of Combat Robotics

People have been creating remotely controlled mechanical devices for centuries. The principles have hardly changed. Semi-autonomous combat vehicles began to be introduced into the armed forces of economically developed countries as early as the 1970s. The comprehensive introduction of cybernetic systems into the various ground, surface (underwater), or air armaments at that time allowed us to consider them semi-autonomous (in some cases autonomous) combat systems. This process developed especially rapidly in the Air Defense Forces, Air Force, and Navy. During the previous two decades, the Army has also been actively automating various functions and tasks of standard weapons and military equipment. There is an intensive development of ground robotic vehicles used as vehicles and as weapon carriers. Today the Armed Forces need autonomous military equipment and weapons that would meet the new conditions of the environment, the new battlefield. More precisely, a new battle space includes cyberspace and the known spheres. It is also essential to have such in the Armed Forces such robots, the maintenance of which would require minimal human intervention.

The widespread introduction of genuinely autonomous robots into the ground forces of various armies of the world, according to some predictions, can be expected in 2025-the 2030s, when autonomous humanoid robots will become advanced enough and relatively inexpensive for mass use in combat operations. However, there are various barriers in the way. The role and place of the armed man in it are changing. Creating a full-fledged robot requires joint efforts of specialists from different fields of human activity. Not only gunsmiths but, to no small extent, psychologists, philosophers, sociologists, and specialists in information technology and artificial intelligence. For this purpose, it is already necessary to actively work on theoretical description and creation of algorithms for combat robots functioning not only as a separate combat unit but also as an element of a complex system of general military combat. A wide range of special software for the effective functioning of robots during all phases of preparing and conducting combat operations involving them is needed. In the most general terms, the main stages include the following: mission acquisition; information gathering; planning; taking initial positions; continuous assessment of the tactical situation; combat; interaction; withdrawal from battle; recovery; and redeployment. In addition, the task of organizing effective semantic interaction between humans and combat robots and between combat robots of different types (from other manufacturers) probably also needs to be solved. It requires conscious cooperation between manufacturers. If combat robots cannot actively exchange information on the battlefield because their "languages" or technical parameters of information transfer do not match, then no joint application will be possible. Accordingly, the definition of common standards of programming, processing, and information exchange is also one of the main tasks in creating full-fledged combat robots.

Human rights activists and robots

The development of military robotics raises technical issues and social, legal, ethical, and philosophical aspects. For example, if a robot kills civilians, or if a robot kills its soldiers due to a fault of the program - who will be held responsible: the manufacturer, the programmer, the commander, or someone else? Technological advances in the military are worrying for human rights activists. The UN is initiating consideration of these issues at its meetings and calling for a ban on combat robots with artificial intelligence (AI) in warfare. It is proposed to prohibit using of lethal autonomous systems. This type of military system can find and engage targets without human involvement, based on a library of images embedded in the base. In other words, this system can use weapons without an operator's command. Today, AI in the military sector does not make such decisions by itself. The system can detect and recognize a likely target and suggest options to the operator. It is believed that a human being gives the commands, although it is virtually impossible to verify whether the machine actually acted without autonomy. Several international non-governmental organizations support the calls of the UN, and public and religious figures propose to create an international treaty with a preventive ban on autonomous weapons. The ban was supported by more than 20 countries, mainly African and Latin American states, where military developments of this kind are not carried out. Countries where there are serious developments, such as the United States, China, Russia, Israel, India, and so on, did not support this initiative. Many countries today are developing autonomous systems, and for some reason, it is almost impossible to convince them to give this up. For example, creating a verification system to monitor compliance with such a ban is complicated. But the main obstacle is the atmosphere of deep mistrust and geopolitical rivalry. It leads not to agreements but ultimately to the exact opposite - a global autonomous arms race. Nevertheless, positive trends in this direction are present. For example, participants in the group of governmental experts formulated some principles that countries should adhere to in developing autonomous military systems. The main thing: any weapon must be under human control; a human being is responsible for it.