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Military Applications Of Artificial Intelligence


1.         Artificial intelligence (AI) also known as machine intelligence (MI) is intellect displayed by computer system (or machine), in contrast with the natural intelligence (NI) displayed by humans and other animals. Given the complexity involved in application of AI in both military and civilian spheres, a working definition of AI is required. There is no one commonly decided definition, even among computer scientists and engineers, but a general definition of AI is the capability of a machine to perform tasks that normally require human intellect, such as visual perception, speech recognition and decision-making.

2.         To better understand the nuances of AI, it is important first to understand the difference between an automated and an autonomous system. An automated system is one in which a computer reasons by a clear if–then–else, rule-based structure, and does so deterministically, meaning that for each input the system output will always be the same (unless if something fails). An autonomous system is one that reasons probabilistically given a set of inputs, meaning that it makes guesses about best possible courses of action given sensor data input. Unlike automated systems, when given the same input autonomous systems will not necessarily produce the exact same behaviour every time; rather, such systems will produce a range of behaviours.

3.         While there are many parallels between human intelligence and AI, there are stark differences too. Every autonomous system that interacts in a dynamic environment must construct a world model and continually update that model. This means that the world must be perceived (or sensed through cameras, microphones and/or tactile sensors) and then reconstructed in such a way that the computer ‘brain’ has  an  effective  and  updated model of the world it is in before it can make decisions. The fidelity of the world model and the timeliness of its updates are the keys to an effective autonomous system.

4.         The advent of AI could fundamentally change the character of warfare, resulting in a transformation from today’s “informatized” ways of warfare to future “intelligentized” warfare, in which AI will be critical to military power.  AI can be gainfully employed to enhance future capabilities in following areas:-

(a)           Intelligent and autonomous unmanned systems.

         (b)            AI-enabled data analysis, information processing and intelligence analysis.

(c)            War-gaming, simulation, and training.

(d)           Defense, offense, and command information warfare

(e)           Intelligent support to command decision-making.

5.         AI provides disproportionate advantage to otherwise .technologically disadvantaged enemy as a disruptive technique. USA & China have emerged as leaders in the field of AI and are employing comprehensive resources for development of the same in view of their commercial interest and national security.


Overview of China & US AI Capabilities

6. China.        By 2020, China’s overall progress in technology and applications of AI are expected to keep pace with the world’s advanced level, while its AI industry becomes an important economic growth point. By this time, China hopes to have achieved important progress in next generation AI technologies, including big data, swarm intelligence, hybrid enhanced intelligence, and autonomous intelligent systems. At that point, the value of China’s core AI industry is targeted to exceed 150 billion RMB (over $22 billion) in value, with AI-related fields valued at 1 trillion RMB (nearly $148 billion). Concurrently, China is advancing in gathering top talent and establishing initial frameworks for laws, regulations, ethics, and policy.

7.         Next, by 2025, China plans to achieve major breakthroughs in AI to reach a leading level, with AI becoming a primary driver for China’s industrial advances and economic transformation. By then, China intends to become a leading player in research and development, while widely using AI in fields ranging from manufacturing to medicine to national defense.   China’s core AI industry should have surpassed 400 billion RMB (about $59 billion), with AI-related fields exceeding 5 trillion RMB (about $740 billion). In addition, China plans to have achieve progress in the creation of laws and regulations, as well as ethical norms and policies, along with the establishment of mechanisms for AI safety assessment.

8.         The Chinese leadership is advancing an “innovation-driven” strategy for civilian and military development, aiming to become the world’s “premier innovation center” in AI by 2030.Certainly, a range of challenges, including serious shortcomings in human capital, may inhibit progress, and China presently continues to lag behind the United States in cutting-edge research and development. However, China’s rapid rise and future trajectory in AI could be enabled by critical systemic and structural advantages, including likely levels of funding and investment, potential human talent resources, and massive amounts of data.  AI is a high-level priority within China’s national agenda for military-civil fusion and this strategic approach could enable the PLA to take full advantage of private sector progress in AI to enhance its military capabilities.

9. China’s recent advances in Swarm Intelligence—which involves autonomous cooperative behavior among masses of distributed robots—have been on prominent display in official media. In June 2017, China Electronics Technology Group Corporation, a state-owned defense conglomerate, successfully flight-tested a swarm of 119 drones—a new record. In a conflict, the PLA could use swarms to cheaply target high-value U.S. weapons platforms, such as aircraft carriers.

10.      USA - US Government is spending billions of dollars preparing for the next stage in warfare that it believes will be defined by advances in AI. Concepts like Motherships of drones releasing little baby drones from the air and the sea, infantrymen and women sporting exoskeletons and wearable electronics loaded up with combat apps, and lone mission commanders directing swarms of unmanned vessels to carry out operations are already being tested  at MIT’s Computer Science and AI Laboratory.

11.      On May 3, 2016 the US Administration announced the formation of a new National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) NSTC Subcommittee on Machine Learning and Artificial intelligence, to help coordinate Federal activity in AI.  This Subcommittee, on June 15, 2016, directed the Subcommittee on Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) to create a National Artificial Intelligence Research and Development Strategic Plan.  A NITRD Task Force on Artificial Intelligence was then formed to define the Federal strategic priorities for AI R&D, with particular attention on areas  of  national security that industry is unlikely to address.

12.      In the last few decades, one of the largest sources of funding for AI research came from the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA), which is agency of the Department of Defense of the United States of America responsible for the development of new technologies for use by the military. The DARPA  Virtual Machine Reality( VMR) system aids intelligence analysts in searching, filtering, and exploring visual media through the  use  of  advanced  computer  vision and  reasoning techniques. The goal of DARPA’s VMR program is to extract mission-relevant information, such as the who, what, where and when, from visual media captured from  adversaries and to turn unstructured, ad hoc photos and video into true visual intelligence.

13.      USA & China are currently engaged in developing military applications of AI & next section of the paper is focusing on the same.


Areas of Application of AI In Warfare

14.      It is evident that AI can be gainfully utilized to integrate C4ISR capabilities and works towards deeper fusion of systems and sensors across all domains of warfare. The results of informatization have created new challenges in the effective processing and utilization of data which in turn will enhance situational awareness and the speed of battle field decision making.  Few areas of military AI application are listed in succeeding paragraphs.

15.      Computational Military Reasoning (Tactical Artificial Intelligence)    Computational military reasoning is a computer solving human-level military problem and concentrates on tactical artificial intelligence or battlefield decisions. Tactical AI analyzes the battlefield and acts on that information by creating a set of coherent orders (commonly known as a Course of Action or COA) that exploit the weaknesses in enemy’s position that were found during  battlefield analysis. Many international labs have successfully demonstrated the hypothesis that an unsupervised machine learning program could also learn this skill and perform battlefield analysis that was statistically indistinguishable from analyses performed by Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). The said application of AI can be gainfully utilized for terrain analysis, war gaming and tactical training. TIGER and MATE developed by DARPA are the successful AI algorithms for battlefield analysis.

16.      Intelligent and Autonomous Unmanned Weapon Systems.    AI can be used in the development of Intelligent and Autonomous Weapons Systems, including unmanned aerial, surface and underwater vehicles, as well as military robotics and cruise missiles.  This type of weapon systems can utilizes AI to automatically pursue, distinguish, and destroy enemy targets and often composed of information collection and management systems, knowledge base systems, assistance to decision systems, mission implementation systems, etc.


17.      AI-Enabled Data Fusion, Information Processing, and Intelligence Analysis.   AI can be applied for effective processing of sensor data and raw intelligence which incorporates intelligent sensing and automation of multi-sensor data fusion to enhance situational awareness. Also introduction of deep learning algorithms into the analysis process for satellite imagery could greatly enhance the rapidity of processing. AI assisted information processing and intelligence analysis can be used for sub-conventional operations.


18.      Cyber Defense and Cyber Warfare.       AI can be leveraged to enhance the defense of critical military networks and information systems, to scale the effects of offensive cyber operations, and to inform command decision-making in cyber warfare Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks can be detected and mitigated through pattern matching, statistical analysis, machine learning and big data analysis. Software vulnerability analysis can be based on AI “fuzzing” technique that could be used in penetration testing for offensive or defensive purposes and Intrusion detection and prevention methods can be addressed by deep neural networks. In particular, given the speed of cyber operations, AI could serve as a critical enabler of rapid command.  AI applications in cyber domain can be used by non state actors.

19.      Cognitive Radio and Cognitive Electronic Warfare.    AI can employed in  development of Cognitive radio with dynamic spectrum management to enhance communications, while pursuing offensive capabilities in cognitive electronic warfare through the application of machine learning to learn and rapidly devise countermeasures for adversary systems. As the electromagnetic spectrum becomes ever more complex and contested, the introduction of AI will be critical to achieving an advantage

20.      Tactical Applications.        Few tactical applications of AI are as under:-

(a) Mine sweeping drone bots that can use feature maps to analyze and identify     mines, to deactivate them or carry them away.

               (b) Enemy segmentation detection - identify enemy tanks in different situations.

(c ) Combat simulations in terms of VR situations, can help train soldiers for a more

 realistic battle circumstance.

(d) Combat helmets with visors that analyze battle field environment or provide extra specific vision.

(e) Analyzing situation of Missiles fired, akin to satellite defense grid systems to shoot down the correct missile.

21.      Having familiarised with areas of military application of AI, details of progress made by India in the field of AI.

Existing National Infrastructure

22.      Indian AI research in defense is housed under the Defense Research and Development Organization, specifically within the Center for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (CAIR).  CAIR lists artificial neural networks, computer vision, and situational awareness as its areas of primary focus, mentioning two other products that are under development for network-centric operations and decision making using a vast knowledge base of battlefield tactics data. CAIR also lists civilian applications such as experimental robots, including a machine that can play chess by leveraging an AI-based decision engine.

23.      Key trends of AI commercial infrastructure are as under:-

(a)       Artificial Intelligence Industry in India is currently estimated to be $180 Million annually in revenues.

(b)       There are approximately 29 thousand AI professionals in India. The average work experience of AI professionals in India is 6.6 years.

(c)       University of Mumbai, BITS (Pilani), IITs (Kharagpur, Delhi, Mumbai, Kanpur, Roorkee),         University of Pune & Delhi University  are the top universities/ schools that are undertaking professional AI graduate /post graduate courses.


24.      While lack of physical infrastructure is certainly a major impediment, India’s AI development also suffers from the paucity of the necessary policy, which is key for advances from lab to commercial /military arena in AI.


25.      Strategic Challenge of AI. Strategic thinking on and advances in military applications of AI is the need of the hour. AI will eventually manifest in all dimensions of warfare.  As a nation, we should formulate mission oriented long term policy for critical strategic AI technologies. Beyond current initiatives, the govt should expand efforts to evaluate the range of short, medium, and long-term applications of AI in warfare.


26.      Public-Private Partnership in AI.    Since the locus of innovation has shifted to the private sector, the govt should facilitate to create closer public-private partnerships.

27.      Creation of working group.      The govt should create a working group involving military and technical experts, including from the private sector, national laboratories, and service research laboratories, to explore potential areas of the military employment of AI.

28.      Development of Human resource.     There is a need to train and cultivate human resource for military applications of AI.  Talented young generation needs to be targeted to transform the same into a potent force and remuneration should be attractive enough to render long term service.


            A comprehensive long-term vision of the strategic and military role of AI is the backbone of sustained AI research and development as well as innovation. The vision must cover the various strategic facets of AI, including autonomous weapons and the role of AI in cyber-defence, and formulate distinctive policies for each of them. It is not necessary that these policies be in line with either general international opinion or policy trends in other countries on these issues, as long as they adequately serve national interests. The development of such a comprehensive vision will help the Indian government optimise the allocation of its considerable research capabilities towards the development of specific AI capabilities that would most benefit the country.

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Deepak Kumar Gupta

Contact at: [email protected]
Deepak Kumar Gupta is serving director at IHQ of MoD.
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