Friday, September 8, 2023

"In U.S.-China AI contest, the race is on to deploy killer robots "

From Reuters, September 8:

Alongside Sydney Harbour, engineers are working on a submarine that will be powered by artificial intelligence and will have no human crew. The project is being driven by a contest between the U.S., its allies and China to develop AI-controlled weapons that will operate autonomously, including warships and fighter jets. The outcome of this competition could determine the global balance of power.

To meet the challenge of a rising China, the Australian Navy is taking two very different deep dives into advanced submarine technology.

One is pricey and slow: For a new force of up to 13 nuclear-powered attack submarines, the Australian taxpayer will fork out an average of more than AUD$28 billion ($18 billion) apiece. And the last of the subs won’t arrive until well past the middle of the century.

The other is cheap and fast: launching three unmanned subs, powered by artificial intelligence, called Ghost Sharks. The navy will spend just over AUD$23 million each for them – less than a tenth of 1% of the cost of each nuclear sub Australia will get. And the Ghost Sharks will be delivered by mid-2025.

The two vessels differ starkly in complexity, capability and dimension. The uncrewed Ghost Shark is the size of a school bus, while the first of Australia’s nuclear subs will be about the length of a football field with a crew of 132. But the vast gulf in their cost and delivery speed reveal how automation powered by artificial intelligence is poised to revolutionize weapons, warfare and military power – and shape the escalating rivalry between China and the United States. Australia, one of America’s closest allies, could have dozens of lethal autonomous robots patrolling the ocean depths years before its first nuclear submarine goes on patrol.

Without the need to cocoon a crew, the design, manufacture and performance of submarines is radically transformed, says Shane Arnott. He is the senior vice-president of engineering at U.S. defense contractor Anduril, whose Australian subsidiary is building the Ghost Shark subs for the Australian Navy.

“A huge amount of the expense and systems go into supporting the humans,” Arnott said in an interview in the company’s Sydney office.

Take away the people, and submarines become much easier and cheaper to build. For starters, Ghost Shark has no pressure hull – the typically tubular, high-strength steel vessel that protects a submarine's crew and sensitive components from the immense force that water exerts at depth. Water flows freely through the Ghost Shark structure. That means Anduril can build lots of them, and fast.

Rapid production is the company’s plan. Arnott declined to say, though, how many Ghost Sharks Anduril intends to manufacture if it wins further Australian orders. But it is designing a factory to build “at scale,” he said. Anduril is also aiming to build this type of sub for the United States and its allies, including Britain, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and customers in Europe, the company told Reuters.

A need for speed is driving the project. Arnott points to an Australian government strategic assessment, the Defense Strategic Review, published in April, which found the country was entering a perilous period where “China's military build-up is now the largest and most ambitious of any country since the end of the Second World War.” A crisis could emerge with little or no warning, the review said.

“We can’t wait five to 10 years, or decades, to get stuff,” said Arnott. “The timeline is running out.”

This report is based on interviews with more than 20 former American and Australian military officers and security officials, reviews of AI research papers and Chinese military publications, as well as information from defense equipment exhibitions.

An intensifying military-technology arms race is heightening the sense of urgency. On one side are the United States and its allies, who want to preserve a world order long shaped by America’s economic and military dominance. On the other is China, which rankles at U.S. ascendancy in the region and is challenging America’s military dominance in the Asia-Pacific. Ukraine’s innovative use of technologies to resist Russia’s invasion is heating up this competition.

In this high-tech contest, seizing the upper hand across fields including AI and autonomous weapons, like Ghost Shark, could determine who comes out on top.

“Winning the software battle in this strategic competition is vital,” said Mick Ryan, a recently retired Australian army major general who studies the role of technology on warfare and has visited Ukraine during the war. “It governs everything from weather prediction, climate change models, and testing new-era nuclear weapons to developing exotic new weapons and materials that can provide a leap-ahead capability on the battlefield and beyond.”

If China wins out, it will be well placed to reshape the global political and economic order, by force if necessary, according to technology and military experts.

Most Americans alive today have only known a world in which the United States was the single true military superpower, according to a May report, Offset-X, from the Special Competitive Studies Project, a non-partisan U.S. panel of experts headed by former Google Chairman Eric Schmidt. The report outlines a strategy for America to gain and maintain dominance over China in military technology.

If America fails to act, it “could see a shift in the balance of power globally, and a direct threat to the peace and stability that the United States has underwritten for nearly 80 years in the Indo-Pacific,” the report said. “This is not about the anxiety of no longer being the dominant power in the world; it is about the risks of living in a world in which the Chinese Communist Party becomes the dominant power.”

The stakes are also high for Beijing. If the U.S. alliance prevails, it will make it far harder for the People’s Liberation Army, or PLA, as the Chinese military is known, to seize democratically governed Taiwan, control the shipping lanes of East Asia and dominate its neighbors. Beijing sees Taiwan is an inalienable part of China and hasn’t ruled out the use of force to subdue it.

The Department of Defense had no comment “on this particular report,” a Pentagon spokesperson said in response to questions. But the department’s leadership, the spokesperson added, has been “very clear” regarding China as “our pacing challenge.” Regarding a possible attack on Taiwan, the spokesperson said, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and other senior leaders “have been very clear that we do not believe an invasion is imminent or inevitable, because deterrence today is real and strong.”

China’s defense ministry and foreign ministry didn’t respond to questions for this article.....

Killer robots