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Drones, artificial intelligence and quantum technology are considered a way to bridge American advantage in conventional weapons, and moreover, they give the Chinese People’s Liberation Army a chance to take a place in the forefront of the upcoming revolution in the way of waging war.
In the case of work on artificial intelligence (AI), China is second only to the US. This applies, for example, to the number of patents being submitted and granted.
According to CB Insights and the European Patent Office, in 2017, Chinese entities were granted 641 AI patents. American entities received only 131 patents. The situation in the field of learning systems looks slightly different. In the same 2017, 882 patents in this field were granted to Americans, 771 to Chinese. The number of published scientific articles about SI seems to be a dubious indicator, but it gives a picture of general trends. In 2017, more texts on the subject were published in China than in the US, while at the Annual Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, Chinese scientists reported the same number of articles as the American ones. Even more significant is the fact that the competition organized by the government agency Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity won the facial recognition system presented by the Chinese start-up of Yitu Tech. Companies working on the AI receive enormous support from state-owned enterprises and private companies such as Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent. This puts artificial intelligence in the role of the so-called dual-use technology, civil and military, and the border between the two is unclear across the industry.
The share of companies related in a different way to the IT industry in the work on AI is nothing new. Even Google, both civilian and military, is very active in this field. A special novelty is a special study program initiated on October 28, 2018 by the Beijing Institute of Technology (BIT) in cooperation with the Chinese armaments giant Norinco. After an acute selection from over 5,000 27 students and 4 high school students were selected as candidates for the four-year experimental program focusing on ‘intelligent weapon systems’. The basic criteria of choice were “brilliance, creativity, aggressiveness, perseverance and patriotism”.
The program of studies envisages directing students after the preparatory semester to laboratories conducting research in three areas: general engineering, electronics and weapon design. This will provide the opportunity to acquire both knowledge and practical experience. Each student will be educated under the supervision of two specialists in a given field, one working academically and one working in the armaments industry. BIT does not hide the fact that graduates are expected to take up doctoral studies and create from them a future elite of researchers working on the military use of AI.
Drones and cruise missiles
Currently, work on artificial intelligence is associated with the development of drones. Chinese companies have made great progress in this field and have won a large group of foreign clients, including even US allies (Iraq, Jordan and Saudi Arabia). Work on unmanned aircraft includes not only flying apparatus. NORINCO has constructed the equivalent of the American robot L3, and the Yunzhou Tech Corporation unmanned freezer. Chinese ambitions, however, go much further. In August 2017, the first trial use of the drone swarm was announced. The test was conducted on June 11, 2017 by the state-owned corporation CETC. As many as 119 minidrons were used in the trial, breaking the record established in October 2016 by the Americans with the use of bdezzakiem aircraft (bsp) Perdix. However, the difference between the two flights is essential. U.S. military forces carried out a test involving 103 microdrons cooperating with three F / A-18F Super Hornet fighters. In turn, in China, reprogrammed commercial drones X-6 Skywalker, costing about USD 150 per piece, were used. It is seen here that the progress of the Chinese drone program operating in the swarm is still lower, but also the potential of adaptability to the military objectives of widely available bsp.
In the case of drones operating in the swarm, however, software is of the greatest importance, and artificial intelligence will play a decisive role in the future. AI is to ensure more efficient communication between unmanned aircraft forming part of the swarm, the ability to act in the absence of communication with the command position, distinguish between targets, and finally to decide on a “lethal” or “non-lethal” attack. The latter gives the opportunity to conduct asymmetrical activities in the “gray zone” below the “threshold of war”, where it is difficult to assess what is the act of aggression, and consequently conventional forces do not know how to react.
The possibilities of using “unmanned loyal wingmen” are also examined. Chief engineer and drama designer Shi Wen CH family, said on April 2, 2018 at a press conference in Beijing about the work on artificial intelligence, enabling the development of bsp operating together with manned aircraft. Shi remarked that a lot of data used in the development of drones and artificial intelligence is obtained from countries operating the CH family machines.
This is not the end of possible uses of the AI seen by the Chinese military. As early as 2016, CAIC announced that the next generation maneuvering missiles will use artificial intelligence. The general assumptions provide for the use of a plug and play approach to ensure a more flexible adaptation to specific missions. The AI-equipped missiles will be able to perform a wider range of more complex missions. Chinese constructors predict two modes of operation: continuous communication with the command post or “fire up and forget”. AI can also be used in the training and assessment process of the commanding staff. PLA lacks combat experience, and the use of artificial intelligence in the training process can put officers ahead of more unforeseen situations and, as a consequence, force them to think outside the box and think creatively. There are also suggestions for the use of augmented reality in command systems.
Command systems and augmented reality
It is unofficially known that work is underway on the use of this solution in the command and control systems of nuclear submarine combat. It was decided for a simple reason: the crews of such units operate in extreme conditions, stress caused by a long stay in a confined space can negatively affect the decision-making process. The idea of creating a support system using AI was born in the Chinese Navy. In general, the system is to reduce the workload of the nuclear commander of the submarine. This does not mean transferring the command of artificial intelligence, it is always treated as an auxiliary solution and not to reduce the crew.
Similarly to other systems using augmented reality, AI is to support the decision-making process. One of the tasks in the case of submarines is to take into account the influence of salinity and water temperature on sonar readings. Artificial intelligence can also recognize and identify threats more quickly, helping the commander to assess the risk. The ambition of Chinese programmers is to create a system capable of suggesting solutions that will not come to a human’s mind. However, the military are less extravagant, but the greatest possible reliability. Another major challenge is to provide the greatest possible immunity to conditions in the marine environment.
The increased data transfer in military networks, caused by the increasing use of drones and AI, also gave rise to the need for a new approach to information coding. In June 2017 in the Science magazine, a group of Chinese scientists led by Mr. Jianweia published the results of their research on the transmission of information coded in a beam of light. The information was to be transmitted via a satellite between two terrestrial points 1200 km away from each other. The experiment was carried out by the QUESS satellite launched in August 2016. Until now, information was only sent over distances up to a hundred kilometers, and the perigee of the Chinese satellite is 500 kilometers. As Mr. Jianwei admits, it is not yet known what impact on the transmission will have light and solar activity, lighting of cities, or the speed of the satellite. QUESS circles the earth in ninety minutes, and the photon beam itself must hit the receiving telescope exactly. The next breakthrough took place on September 29, 2017. A “quantum conversation” was conducted at the Beijing-Vienna route. Her time was 75 minutes.
Quantum technology is used in this case to code information, then sent in a beam of light to Earth. The advantage of this solution is the destruction of information in the event of attempts to intercept the photon flux. After reaching maturity, quantum technology can mean a revolution in encryption and data transmission, the road to full success, despite the successes mentioned, is still far, but the results of the research to-date must be encouraging. The city authorities of Jinan announced in September 2017 the creation of a quantum communication network. A venture managed by a private company is to enable safe telephony and data transfer to local authorities and party officials. Information goes hand in hand with the growing interest in quantum technology in China.
With time, it turned out that in September 2017 experimental Beijing-Shanghai quantum communication line began. The results had to be satisfactory because in November 2018 the Hefei-Wuhan line joined them. Both lines are connected and form the nucleus of the future network. In both cases, we are dealing with projects directed by the central authorities, intended for government and military communication. Another advantage of quantum connectivity, especially from a military point of view is the ability to communicate and transmit data in real time.
It is possible that in the field of quantum communication and computers, China has already become a global leader. Quantum computers seem to be the best way to provide adequate computing power for artificial intelligence. One of the scientists working on the AI system for Chinese submarines compared the pursuit of maximum efficiency and reliability, while at the same time limiting the space occupied by computers to “squeeze an elephant in a shoebox.” Similar research is conducted, among others in the USA, Australia and Japan also include communication devices for submarines. The Rite-Solutions, working for the US Naval Undersea System Command, runs a Chinese-like research on the AI-assisted command system for submarines. The president of the company Joe Marino even claims that in the future the center of gravity of the underwater arms race will shift from the limitation of detection, development of weapons and sensors to the use of AI.
The faster development of modern technologies has led to the creation of a new faction in the PLA ranks. According to this “new school”, the construction of aircraft carriers, fighters of next generations and submarines is a waste of resources. The challenge for the United States is to be dropped where the potentials of both sides are more balanced, so emphasize state-of-the-art technology, such as drones and artificial intelligence. The informal leader of this group is Wang Weixing, who is responsible for the avant-garde research projects of the Chinese armed forces. He wrote an article published in June 2017 in People’s Liberation Army Daily where he presented the concept of “asymmetric, comprehensive hybrid war” conducted using unmanned aerial vehicles. Wang teaches the twilight of traditional weapons and the advent of “light warfare” driven by the development of technology. Here the analogy is given to the hordes of Attila and Genghis Khan, a mass of light cavalry attacking unexpectedly in one place were able to defeat a stronger and more technically advanced opponent. Wang’s concepts are connected with Beijing’s great interest in cyberspace activities and have already received resonance in the supreme command. According to the Chinese attack on the island revealed in 2013 by the Taiwanese Ministry of Defense, the first phase of the operation is a hybrid war involving broad propaganda and intelligence activities, cyber attacks, as well as terrorist attacks against civilians and island authorities.
A new arms race
There are many indications that artificial intelligence will become the field of the next arms race. The introduction of autonomous systems into the weaponry is sometimes referred to as the third, after firearms and nuclear weapons, a revolution in the field of military. In the work on the military use of AI and cybernetic weapon systems, the United States has been the undisputed leader so far. The situation, however, is changing rapidly. A report written in 2017 by Govini, the government analyst, in cooperation with former Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work, beats the alarm. According to the authors, Chinese and Russian works on “deadly automated weapon systems” (LAWS) are so advanced that they threaten to lose the edge (US edge) by US armed forces. The report concludes that the Pentagon will “lead the revolution or become its victim”.
Chinese and Russian work on the military use of the AI led to the launch of similar programs by other countries. The most comprehensive program was initiated in spring 2018 by the Republic of Korea. Hanwha Systems and Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) set up a research institute that will start with four projects: a command system based on artificial intelligence, a navigation system for unmanned submarines, a flight training system and object tracking techniques. In February, a special AI Task Force appointed the Government of India. The team’s task is to check the civilian and commercial uses of the IS and its possible use by the armed forces. As potential areas for the use of artificial intelligence, Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman mentioned: border surveillance, cyberspace and space security, monitoring of chemical and nuclear threats. Research on the military use of artificial intelligence has also been launched in Germany and Japan, although little is known about them.
Revolution or evolution?
The “new school”, however, encounters more conservative military resistance. Another problem is also the change of training programs. Already in official reports there are complaints that soldiers are often unable to cope with more and more technically advanced weapons. Another obstacle is the relatively weak development of SI, quantum technologies and swarms. Military requirements go further than an autonomous car, participating in everyday road traffic. In spite of making impressive progress, the road to suitably efficient and reliable solutions is still far away. Finally, aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines and modern aircraft remain a symbol and tangible proof of the power and status of the power that China aspires to. In such conditions, a gradual evolution is always prepared, as always, rather than a radical revolution in the way of conducting war.
Artificial intelligence in the army
1. Observation and surveillance systems
2. Autonomous unmanned systems: air, land, water and underwater. In the near future, reconnaissance and observation tasks, ultimately combat systems
3. Command and supporting systems for decision making
4. Systems for guiding maneuvering missiles
5. Data analysis
6. Intelligence and combat operations in cyberspace
|Country||Type||Number (data uncertain)|
|Algeria||CH-3, CH-4||No data|
|Saudi Arabia||Wing Loong II, CH-4||Perhaps over 300, production under license|
|Egypt||Wing Loong I/ID, CH-4B||Over 32|
|Indonesia||Wing Loong I||4|
|Pakistan||Wing Loong II, CH-4||Order for 48 Wing Loong II, CH-4 – no data|
|Serbia||Wing Loong II||6|
|Uzbekistan||Wing Loong I||No data|
|United Arab Emirates||Wing Loong I/II, CH-4||No data|
The publication was created thanks to the financial support of the Center for Studies in Poland and Asia.
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