The Evolving Battlefield: How AI And Drones Redefine Modern Warfare

Tyler Durden's Photo
by Tyler Durden
Thursday, Mar 28, 2024 - 03:00 AM

Authored by Jon Sun and Sean Tseng via The Epoch Times,

As the Russia-Ukraine conflict unfolds, drones have transcended traditional weaponry, emerging as pivotal agents of change in modern combat. Their deployment has not only diversified tactics on the battlefield but also heightened concerns over the potential for autonomous drones to elude human oversight, posing unprecedented risks to global security. Experts underscore the necessity for stringent human control and regulatory oversight over AI-equipped drones and other autonomous lethal armaments.

The utilization of drones in the Russia-Ukraine conflict has been widely documented, showcasing scenarios where drones, after identifying and locking onto targets such as tanks, execute self-destructive attacks. These aerial devices also execute high-altitude bombings, targeting trenches and other military installations. Both Russian and Ukrainian forces frequently publish such footage, underscoring the drone’s instrumental role in shaping contemporary warfare dynamics.

In a column titled “How the Drone War in Ukraine Is Transforming Conflict,” published by the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations in January, the transformative impact of drones was highlighted. The commentary emphasized how small, potent, and user-friendly drones have demonstrated their strategic superiority on the battlefield, prompting a global surge in drone adoption within military strategies.

Military commentator Xia Loshan, in a discussion with The Epoch Times, remarked on the strategic advantages of drones, stating, “A cost-effective, portable quadcopter drone, equipped to deliver ammunition, can penetrate deep into enemy lines without risking soldier lives, offering precision and efficiency.”

In this aerial image, people inspect destroyed Russian military vehicles by the side of a road in Dmytrivka, Ukraine on April 21, 2022. (Alexey Furman/Getty Images)

Mr. Xia further noted the expanding utility of unmanned technologies across various domains, including aerial, maritime, underwater, and terrestrial operations, underscoring their revolutionary impact on future military engagements.

“A drone costing just a few thousand dollars can effectively neutralize an advanced tank worth over 5 million dollars,” Mr. Xia said, illustrating a remarkable disparity in warfare economics.

Drones’ ease of manufacture, low detection and radar interception rates, and precision targeting via satellite data further accentuate their tactical viability. Importantly, drones facilitate offensive operations without compromising soldier safety, marking a significant evolution in how military objectives are pursued.

The Emergence of AI Weapons: A Dual-Edged Sword for Humanity

The rapid advancements in artificial intelligence and drone technology have ushered in a new era of warfare, raising profound ethical and existential questions. Among the most pressing concerns is the potential for the development of AI weapons capable of autonomously making lethal decisions.

Geoffrey Hinton, a British-Canadian computer scientist renowned for his contributions to AI and often dubbed the “godfather of AI,” has voiced his apprehensions about the trajectory of AI development.

British-Canadian cognitive psychologist and computer scientist Geoffrey Hinton, known as the 'godfather of AI' speaks with technology journalist and CEO of The Atlantic Nick Thompson (R) during the Collision Tech Conference at the Enercare Centre in Toronto, Canada, on June 28, 2023. (Geoff Robins/AFP via Getty Images)

In a recent dialogue with Japanese media, Mr. Hinton elucidated the dual-edged nature of AI’s evolution. He underscored the danger inherent in AI systems that, if tasked with grand-scale objectives like climate objectives, might identify humanity itself as the problem. Furthermore, Mr. Hinton highlighted the inevitability of AI systems growing more sophisticated as they engage in competition, potentially leading to scenarios where they could manipulate human actions to avoid being disabled.

Alarmingly, Mr. Hinton speculates that within the next decade, we could witness the advent of AI weapons capable of independently targeting and eliminating humans. He draws a parallel with the history of chemical warfare, suggesting that the international community may only seek to restrict AI weapons following catastrophic consequences, mirroring the reactive measures taken after World War I.

Echoing Mr. Hinton’s concerns, military expert Mr. Xia points out that AI’s potential threat to humanity is not a new concept. He references the AI program “AlphaGo’s” victories over human champions in Go as an early indicator. However, the integration of AI into weapon systems presents an immediate and grave danger.

Mr. Xia argues that AI’s capability to enhance weapon system efficiency, coupled with advances in sensor, communication, and computing technologies, is pushing us toward the deployment of fully autonomous AI-controlled weapons.

“What people are really worried about is that one day AI might control and even enslave humans,” Mr. Xia added.

The United States has adopted a cautious stance on this issue, insisting on the inclusion of human oversight in any decision-making process involving lethal force. It has also launched a global initiative to establish ethical guidelines for AI use.

Yet, the lack of unanimous agreement among nations, with significant powers like China, Russia, and North Korea abstaining, poses a formidable challenge. The partial adherence to these ethical principles, Mr. Xia warns, could lead to a perilous lack of constraints on AI in military applications, posing a significant risk to global security and humanity’s future.

A Ukrainian serviceman of an air reconnaissance squad of the 45th Brigade prepares to launch a Leleka reconnaissance UAV on a position in Donetsk region of Ukraine on June 27, 2023. (Genya Savilov/AFP via Getty Images)

The Surge in Small Drone Demand: A New Era in Warfare

In a notable development earlier this year, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced the creation of a specialized drone department within the Ukrainian military. This initiative aims to domestically produce 1 million drones within the year, highlighting the growing reliance on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in modern conflict zones.

Ukraine’s commitment to enhancing its drone capabilities is evident, with over 200 companies currently engaged in drone production. The war effort has even seen civilian-crafted drones being deployed to the front lines, with estimates suggesting a demand of 10,000 drones per month to sustain operations.

The escalation of drone production in Ukraine, which saw a 16.8-fold increase following the Russian invasion, mirrors a broader trend in military technology. Russian President Vladimir Putin has also emphasized the strategic importance of drones, advocating for the accelerated development of dual-use UAVs. This focus on drone technology is indicative of the changing dynamics of warfare, where unmanned systems are playing increasingly critical roles.

A military operator walks past DJI Matrice 300 reconnaissance drones, bought in the frame of the program 'The Army of Drones' set up ready for test flights prior to being sent to the front line in the Kyiv region on Aug. 2, 2022. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP via Getty Images)

At a recent defense industry exhibition in Singapore, which ranks among Asia’s largest, military representatives from around the globe were briefed on the latest advancements in drone technology. American manufacturers showcased the Switchblade 300, a compact drone designed for kamikaze missions, which has been supplied to Ukraine by the United States.

The drone, capable of destroying targets up to 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) away through a suicide attack, exemplifies the tactical versatility and demand for UAVs capable of precision strikes.

An Israeli innovation that captured attention at the exhibition was a “next-generation” drone by Elbit Systems, capable of autonomous flight up to 24 hours. This development underscores the global appetite for advanced drone capabilities, with calls for new features growing louder.

The conflict in Ukraine has served as a catalyst for nations worldwide, including the United States, Europe, Japan, and China, to accelerate their drone development programs and integrate UAVs into their strategic planning. Japan’s Self-Defense Forces, for instance, have analyzed drone usage in Ukraine to devise countermeasures and anticipate a future where drones could potentially replace manned combat helicopters.

Professor Seigo Iwamoto from Kyoto Sangyo University describes small drones as “the poor man’s air force,” highlighting their affordability and accessibility. He notes the proliferation of drones among various armed groups, equating their impact on warfare to that of firearms. This democratization of aerial technology could lead to increased casualties in escalated conflicts.

Amidst growing tensions, Mr. Xia remarks on the strategic positioning between the U.S. and China, with the Pentagon’s “Replicator” program aiming to utilize a multitude of small, intelligent, and cost-effective platforms. This initiative seeks to counterbalance China’s numerical superiority in ships, missiles, and personnel, showcasing the strategic pivot towards leveraging drone technology in global military strategies.