Military AI/machine learning speeds decision-making and efficiency for warfighters

Much of the public thinks of artificial intelligence (AI) and summons images of machines hunting humans or monitoring their every move. Unfortunately, fear and paranoia often accompany tech revolutions – think heavier-than-air flight or commercial drones.

The extreme claims put forth by some that AI will someday destroy the human race? Silly: Life isn’t a Terminator movie. AI is coming and is necessary. Technology today has moved beyond the human capacity to keep up with it.

Gabriel Prado, product marketing manager for SparkCognition in Austin, Texas, put it succinctly to me: “Adopting AI is a journey that solves problems and evolves business models to be more efficient and cost-effective.” SparkCognition develops predictive analytics solutions for companies based on AI/machine learning (ML) algorithms for defense in industrial applications.

AI and ML will benefit the military industry both on the plant floor and on the battlefield. “AI/ML will impact the defense industry from a capability perspective as it combines autonomy with computer vision, for example. Efficiency benefits will come from predictive analytics that can lower long-term costs,” says Jim Fitzgerald, director of Aerospace and Manufacturing at SparkCognition; Jim is a former Navy fighter pilot and Top Gun graduate. “AI/ML codifies the tribal knowledge; instead of seeking out a supervisor or a junior maintainer the AI system can determine the best practice for fixing a problem.

“Military customers have similar requirements when it comes to predictive analytics as they do for other applications, the difference being the stakes are higher in the military with the focus on the warfighter,” he continues.

Network communications will also benefit from this technology. “Cognitive systems are getting a big push within the defense industry, especially in network communications,” Sarah Yost, senior product marketing manager for Software Defined Radio at National Instruments, explained to me at NI Week in Austin in May. “For example, AI will be a differentiator on 5G networks when it comes to network slicing. AI will enable the automation of network slicing. We still need to get the algorithms in place to do that as now it is all done manually. AI will also provide a way to separate mission-critical functions within a network, providing more control to users.”

On the battlefield, AI will ease the burden of absorbing all the data the warfighter faces during every mission.

“When it comes to the battlefield, AI and ML enable more sensor fusion and data filtering, reducing the workload for operators, such as those who watch feeds of drone sensor data for eight or 10 hours a day,” Fitzgerald says. “AI will do similar things for fighter pilots, who with each new generation of fighter jet have more and more information to absorb while in the cockpit. “AI will ease that burden by acting as a filter, providing the most relevant information to the pilot.”

AI and machine learning have helped “drive many major results improving inferencing and learning within complex systems and environments – the domain of the soldier,” says Rajgopal Kannan of the Army Research Lab in our Special Report on AI. “AI and machine-learning algorithms can really exploit the massive amounts of data – historical and real-time – available to soldiers.”

From an embedded computing standpoint, AI will enable “space-time adaptive processing (STAP) radar and cognitive electronic warfare (CEW),” says VITA Chairman Ray Alderman in his guest blog titled “Artificial intelligence (AI) … and artificial stupidity (AS).” “Our enemies are very good at jamming our radar signals on the battlefield. With AI-based STAP, we can overcome their jamming techniques and find the targets. AI-based CEW is just the same problem in reverse: we can better jam or spoof our enemy’s radar.

“And all those platforms will feed information into the mother of all AI machines: The Master War Algorithm,” Alderman says. “[U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense] Bob Work started that process with his memo in April 2017, establishing the ‘Algorithmic Warfare Cross-Functional Team’ (Project Maven). All the data, coming from all the platforms and soldiers in the battle, is fed into the War Algorithm machine, and that machine will tell the generals what to do next to defeat the enemy. That’s the plan.”

That is the plan, but will it be the reality? And if yes, how soon? Despite all the buzz around AI and its benefits to the warfighter, the U.S. defense acquisition process continues to be glacial. It must speed up for the U.S. to keep up with this technology. We can’t just outspend our adversaries like we did with the race to the moon. Our warfighters deserve better: Maybe AI can help improve the process.