Gold Coast (Australia). US Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks announced in a speech on Monday that her country’s military plans to start using thousands of autonomous weapon systems over the next two years in response to China’s growing might. America’s Replicator initiative aims to coordinate with defense and other technology companies to mass-produce affordable systems for all branches of the military.
Over the past decade or so, military systems capable of independent operations at various levels have become increasingly common. But the US announcement makes clear that the future of warfare has changed: the era of combat robots has arrived. It’s time to turn ideas into reality In the past decade, there has been a significant development of advanced robotic systems for military purposes. Many of these are based on modified commercial technology, which itself has become more efficient, cheaper and more widely available.
Recently, attention has turned to experiments on how best to use them in combat. Russia’s war in Ukraine has shown that the technology is ready for real-world deployment. Robotic aerial vehicles have been widely used to detect and attack armored vehicles and artillery. Ukrainian Navy attack drones have paralyzed Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, preventing its warships from leaving port. There used to be some thought about military robots, but now their time has come.
In his speech, US Deputy Secretary of Defense Hicks underlined the urgent need to change the way wars are fought. He announced that the new Replicator program will introduce thousands of responsible autonomous systems across multiple domains within the next 18 to 24 months. ‘Autonomous’ means a robot that can carry out complex military operations without human intervention. ‘Attributable’ means that the robot is cheap enough to afford to risk and lose it on a high-priority mission. Such a robot is not designed to be completely degradable (disposable), but it would be very economical so they could be purchased in large numbers and offset war losses. ‘Multiple domains’ refers to the deployment of robots on land, in the sea, in the air and in space. In short, robots can be deployed everywhere for all types of tasks.
For the US military, Russia is a ‘serious threat’, but China is also an ‘increasingly rapid challenge’ against which it must strengthen its military capabilities. China’s People’s Liberation Army has more people, more tanks, more ships, more missiles, etc. America may have better quality equipment, but China wins in terms of numbers. The Replicator Program will now enable the United States to quickly build thousands of ‘attributable autonomous systems’ that will help the United States win major future wars. There is a possibility of tension turning into conflict due to China’s stance regarding Taiwan. In such a situation, robots can be decisive for America in repelling any major Chinese attack. Replicator is also looking ahead, and aims to institutionalize mass production of robots in the long term.
a brave new world?
A major concern about autonomous systems is whether their use can be consistent with the laws of armed conflict? Optimists argue that robots can be carefully programmed to follow rules because in the heat of battle and confusion, they can follow the rules better than humans. Pessimists object, saying that not all situations can be predicted and that robots may make mistakes in understanding and attacking, which should not happen. It is important. Among earlier autonomous military systems, the Phalanx close-in point defense gun and the Patriot surface-to-air missile both performed poorly to the point of loss.
a global change
The US may be the first country to deploy autonomous systems in large numbers, but other countries will be far behind. China cannot be underestimated, which has expertise in artificial intelligence and combat drone production. Much of the technology for autonomous military drones has been developed for civilian purposes, so it is widely available and relatively inexpensive. Autonomous military systems are not just for the superpowers, but may soon be fielded by many medium and small powers as well. There are reports of autonomous weapons systems being deployed by Libya and Israel and some other countries. Turkish-made drones have proven vital in the Ukraine war. Australia also has a keen interest in the possibilities of autonomous weapons. The Australian Defense Force is today building the MQ-28 Ghostbat autonomous fast jet air vehicle, armored vehicles with robotic systems, robotic logistics trucks and robotic submarines. He is using the BlueBottle robotic sailboat for maritime border surveillance in the Timor Sea. An Australian company ‘SYPAQ’ is sending several of its cheap, cardboard-made drones to Ukraine.
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