Some takes on artificial intelligence (AI) can be over the top. Russian President Vladimir Putin believes AI is key to world domination. SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk thinks it will be more dangerous than nuclear weapons. Others warn that a dystopian future scenario of killer robots is closer than we think.
A more measured view, and one that I share, is that AI is an “enabler” rather than a weapon. When it comes to national security and defense, AI is best thought of as a suite of technologies and applications that can help militaries solve concrete challenges across a broad range of missions.
One of the most important challenges facing the U.S. military is urban warfare. American forces have seen their share of urban fighting — in Manila, Hue, Mogadishu, Fallujah, Ramadi, Baghdad, and, most recently, as part of the coalition campaign against the Islamic State in Mosul and Raqqa. But as urban warfare experts have pointed out, the U.S. military still needs to improve how it trains, equips, and organizes for operations in dense urban areas. Moreover, as cities grow even larger and more complex, these contested and congested environments will strain the U.S. military’s ability to maintain its technological and operational advantage. Urban settings, therefore, present a good test case for evaluating the benefits, risks, and implications of AI on the battlefield.
AI will amplify the existing characteristics of urban warfare rather than alter them. A closer look into how AI applications for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), command and control, force protection, logistics, and sustainment manifest on the urban battlefield bears this out. The speed of high-tempo combat engagements characteristic to urban warfare will likely increase due to AI-enabled ISR and rapid command and control. At the same time, advances in robotics and AI that improve force protection and sustainment are likely to draw out urban campaigns. With countries around the world increasingly investing in military applications of AI and a growing share of conflicts fought in cities, we are likely headed for faster fights but longer wars.
Read the full article in War on the Rocks.