Developing robots for warfare

Israeli research sees the future battlefield dominated by robots and unmanned devices.

The man, who was among of the throngs of people who filled the event hall of the luxury hotel in the Middle Eastern Arab capital, on a rainy afternoon in January, 2036, did not notice the fly. The fly advanced silently, accurately, and with determination, towards the target. Someone said something from the podium. In the background, applause was heard, some people smiled and clinked full glasses of fine champagne. The little insect did not waste any time on the sweet refreshments. Thats not what he came for. He hovered a few seconds over the man whom Israel had marked as one of its main targets: an arch-terrorist who was responsible for planning and executing a string of attacks on its citizens.

The man, wearing a fine suit, was confident in the company of the people surrounding him, and he felt secure. At that moment, he did not sense the fly that was taking a DNA sample from him, as the final stage of cross-checking the targets data, as pre-defined. Just a few more seconds, and the data was analyzed. The fly was not confused. He knew well what he needed to do: one little nip on the nape of mass-murderers neck, to inject a deadly toxin that had been secretly developed in the defense departments laboratory. The fly lifted off, and disappeared into one of the luxury hotels air-conditioning ducts, as the terrorist suddenly collapsed, unconscious, with no pulse. The doctor who was called to the scene did not have much to do other than pronounce his time of death.

As wildly fantastical as it sounds, it is possible that in 20 years this scenario will be a template for nations seeking to execute what is politely referred to today as targeted prevention, AKA, eliminating a wanted person.

30 experts from various public policy related fields took part in a large-scale research study, led by Israels Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), over the past two years. The research team asked to present decision makers in government offices with a first-of-its-kind position paper, in attempt to plan budgets and priorities for military and civil defense for 2035. The bottom line of the grand project was that any army that wishes to continue to function as an army in the future will need to rebuild itself and to adapt its manpower, its chain of command, and its combat strategy to a situation in which the real field work is executed by swarms of unmanned devices.

The robots will operate on land, at sea, and by air, and will gather intelligence, tend to ongoing security tasks, and attack targets in broad battle applications. Though there will be different types of robots, thanks to artificial intelligence (AI), they will also be able to communicate amongst themselves, and to share information, analyze it quickly, repair themselves if they are damaged, and if they receive the correct command in advance, to open fire on very precise targets.

The study, which was revealed to the public at the INSS conference in Tel Aviv this week, was led by the futurist Prof. David Passig and Ofer Morgenshtern of Future Code. The research project was headed by Yoav Zacks, with the participation of many other researchers.

Though the topic naturally evokes images from science fiction movies, the research team, led by Liran Antebi, went out of its way to make it clear that they were not dealing in gimmicks or some other cool thing that would sweep away fans of the genre. As far as Antebi is concerned, it is best for this study to be a work paper, laid on the desks of the Prime Minister, and the Ministers of Science, Finance, Economy, and Defense.

She rightly believes that people in charge of setting the budget for technological education, R&D, procurement of weapons, and even policies such as the distribution of the social burden, need to understand how the military and civil landscapes will look not so far down the line.

Based on the results of technological forecasts, the research team formulated three main conclusions regarding the roles of the unmanned devices in 20 years: it will be possible to plan almost any military operation using autonomous unmanned devices; it will be possible to carry out most military operations using such devices, and unmanned devices will operate in swarms. In other words, hundreds of devices, of different kinds, will communicate with one another in real time, will react to the changing reality, and will attain the desired outcome on the battlefield, with no human presence on the scene.

The research methodology is based on a set of central technologies, by assessing the rates and directions in which they will be developed over the next 20 years. This includes technologies such as: AI, robotic automation, general awareness, communication, survivability and information security, energy resources, and more. Alongside these, future capabilities that would enable unmanned devices to repair themselves, to replicate, to change shape, to camouflage effectively in broad daylight, to operate with stealth and invisibility, and more, were accounted for as well. There is no doubt: these abilities, even if only some become reality, will change the landscape of the battlefield, and, moreover, will change the role of humans in warfare.

It is Antebis opinion that such a trend will change the manner in which armies and the way those who serve in them are perceived - beginning with the question of what types of people will be drafted, the nature of the service, and on down to the number of soldiers that modern armies will need. Questions surrounding the need for basic training as it exists today will arise. It is possible that there will still be basic training, but with the goal of bringing soldiers into the military framework, and for organizational discipline. That said, it is not certain that physical ability will be relevant for the needs of most soldiers. It is altogether uncertain what the importance of peak physical condition will be in an era of unmanned devices. Armies will be called upon to place strong emphasis on other qualifications among conscripts, such as high cognitive abilities, because they will serve in organizations that employ a great many robots in the battlefield, Antebi told Globes.

With no human intervention

The use of unmanned devices is not new to Western armies, and the IDF is considered a world leader in the field, thanks largely to R&D, and great enterprise on the parts of the defense companies. The IDFs longstanding use of these devices is not limited to drone aircraft. In recent years, the IDF has employed unmanned vehicles along borders, and unmanned boats routinely aid the Navy in day-to-day operations. However, the researchers believe that current capabilities of land- and sea-based unmanned devices are significantly inferior to those of the air-based devices. They are inadequately equipped to perform certain tasks, such as detecting explosives in open areas, or operating in an urban environment.

This perception led the experts who participated in the study to conclude that the performance of these devices today is at the level that home computers were in the 1980s. In twenty years, according to the expert analysis, there will be a dramatic leap in the performance of autonomous devices, in the degree of faith in them, and in their ability to execute intelligence gathering and patrolling tasks, detect explosives, and more. They will be improved beyond recognition, and they will become much simpler to operate.

Alongside these improvements, experts project that, by 2033, swarms of robots will be able to collaborate with practically no human involvement - 200 items, made up of 50 different kinds of devices, will be highly effective and reliable. 75% of the experts who participated in putting together the forecast estimated that, by 2028, technology will have reached the point that there will be self-healing materials; 72% believe that in that same year, unmanned devices will have the ability to fully camouflage themselves in daylight; and 66% believe that some of the devices will be able to change shape in order to fulfill missions that they have be programmed to perform.

Antebi told Globes that she believes that in two decades, unmanned devices will be capable of performing 70-80% of classic military tasks. It wont happen all in one day. We will get there over the course of a long process, just as unmanned devices have gradually taken over more and more of the Air Forces activity, she said.

The spirit of the research also suggests that the future IDF Chief of Staff will need to command robots that will conquer a target, or fulfill other important tasks. The army will still need flesh and blood warriors, but many fewer than it has today. We will need human fighters in this era too, says Antebi, but they will serve within very specialized frameworks, and will be trained to execute specific tasks that have been determined to be better for humans to execute, and this is because of morals and ethics. It is reasonable to assume that by then there will be an organized system of considerations based upon which it will be decided whether to allow a machine to decide in real time whether to open deadly fire on a human being, or whether it is preferable, in such a situation, to deploy a force of human soldiers. It is possible that this will happen in the framework of urban warfare, and not because the unmanned devices wont know how to execute the task in accurate way. It is not inconceivable that at the same time there will be international agreements that will limit the ability of men to allow machines to take another human beings life. It is not inconceivable that at that point there will be a complete ban on fully autonomous, armed, unmanned devices. But, in such circumstances, the devices will know how to supply the best intelligence to the human forces, and to improve their capabilities.

Unprepared for the future

No fewer than 20 recommendations were written as part of the study, all of which are intended to rate the decision makers in Israel. The recommendations include developing policies, combat strategies, and abilities to handle an array of unmanned devices operating against it at the hands of enemy nations or organizations; to prepare for broader and deeper integration of unmanned devices in the field of intelligence gathering; to apply concepts, processes, and methodologies that will allow for rapid integration and implementation of these devices in army units; to develop education and training programs that support the various aspects of the field of unmanned devices; to utilize its advantages in the military realm to become a central player in the field, and also in the civilian unmanned device market; to allocate dedicated resources in the defense budget for this deployment by reducing the budget of manned systems, and in parallel to develop the fields of defensive cyber and electronic warfare as means of dealing with terror based on unmanned devices in enemy hands.

Advanced capabilities in the cyber realm are meant to give Israel the ability to respond in the case of a future attack by an army of robots. In such a situation, cyber-attackers will need to destroy the navigation and operating abilities of enemy robots.

The researchers believe that the more unmanned device systems the IDF employs, the more significant the change in IDF service profiles will be. The reserve service model is liable to change entirely, or even be eliminated, because high-manpower systems will in any event be replaced with robots, and many jobs will be cancelled. The IDF will also have the option of drafting many fewer professionals, in a manner that should encourage thought about changing the concept of service already today, including the possibility of a professional (non-conscript) army. Yes, the researchers believe that this trend necessitates proposals for new educational and technological training infrastructures, in a manner that will enable future soldiers to operate in an army in which most tasks will be performed by robots.

According to the researchers, the large investment involved in building the infrastructure for an army of robots is expected to pay for itself over time through the reduction in necessary manpower, the partial or complete elimination of the reserve duty program, and other expensive programs that today require a lot of manpower. But the researchers have given Israel a fairly low grade, at least at this stage, for the manner in which they are preparing for the future: Companies tend to conduct technological forecasts when considering whether or not to develop a product, says Antebi, Countries dont do this; it is an omission that is impossible to understand. Just like no one predicted the invention of the Internet, or Facebook. It is the same thing here. In Israels case, it is the country that does not take notice of the importance of, and the capabilities it has, in the field of unmanned devices, and we see that instead of leading the field with policy and planning, its response is lagging and reactionary on the subject.

And this is not only happening on the military front. In recent weeks, Amazons vision for a drone delivery system has made headlines, along with Googles self-driving car, giving us a peek into the future direction. The civilian market for unmanned devices will continue to develop and grow in coming years, and Antebi warns that, without clear policies, Israel will miss the train, be it manned or not. Robots will be an inseparable part of our lives and Israel is not there, this at a time when it has knowledge, and its defense companies are leading operations that have turned it into the country that exports the most drones in the world.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on December 18, 2013

Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2013

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