According to a report from the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College, published on April 9, 2018, the Department of Defense has requested over $9 billion for unmanned systems and similar technologies in next year’s budget. The department’s proposal includes funding for over 3,000 sea, ground, and air drones. This signals a significant expansion in unmanned systems spending, report authors claim.
The Pentagon’s tendencies have, at least in part, been confirmed by Aerospace engineer Dr. Mike Griffin. Griffin is the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering. He oversees the activities of the Missile Defense Agency, the Strategic Capabilities Office, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the DoD Laboratory enterprise, the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, as well as the Under Secretariate staff, focused on developing advanced technology and capability for the U.S. military.
Dr. Griffin spoke at the Future of War conference, hosted by the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C., on April 9. He did not hesitate to sound the alarm about America’s inability to deal with thousand-drone swarms. At the conference, Griffin posed an interesting question.
“Certainly human-directed weapons systems can deal with one or two or a few drones if they see them coming, but can they deal with 103? If they can deal with 103, which I doubt, can they deal with 1,000?”
This question — according to the Center for Public Integrity, an investigative news organization — came up during a conversation about lethal AI-infused weaponry. Mr. Griffin claims that the international artificial intelligence arms race may have already started. In any case, Dr. Griffin is of the opinion that the United States needs to join this race.
“In an advanced society, AI and cyber and some of these other newer realms offer possibilities to our adversaries to target others successfully and we must see to it that we cannot be surprised.”
In January this year, a swarm of drones attacked a Russian military base in Syria. As CNBC noted after the attack, Russia had managed to shoot down seven of them. Three drones “survived” the landing. Considered low-tech, and although the Russian bases didn’t suffer any casualties or damage, the attack may have demonstrated that the threat of lethal drone swarm attacks is far from theoretical.
The United States may not have joined the AI-infused arms race yet, as Dr. Griffin puts it, but China has. Earlier this year, the Drive published an extensive report detailing China’s efforts in this direction.
“Terrorist have shown the threat of swarm attacks is real,” Joseph Trevithick wrote, “but nations such as China can make them much more dangerous.”
Autonomous in nature, drones could significantly change how future wars are lead.
“It’s the saturation nature of the attack, the size of the attackers, and the fact that they work as a coordinated swarm, employing dynamic tactics to see as many in their company survive long enough to make their suicidal attack, that make them so deadly,” the Drive’s Tyler Rogoway explained.
Coincidentally or not thousands of Google employees signed a letter protesting the company’s involvement in a Pentagon program that uses artificial intelligence. According to the New York Times, the letter is circulating inside Google and it has garnered more than 3,000 signatures. Google employees, who believe their company “should not be in the business of war,” are refusing to assist the United States government. This question too was addressed at the Future of War conference; General Stephen W. Wilson, the Air Force vice chief of staff, downplayed the Google employees’ concerns.