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Former SEAL chief warns US falling behind with artificial intelligence on the battlefield

Mortar men with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division conduct a live fire exercise during Network Integration Evaluation 17.2, held in July at Fort Bliss, Texas. The Army RCO is using the operational exercise to gain Soldier feedback on its electronic warfare prototypes. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Maricris C. McLane, 24th Press Camp Headquarters/Released)
October 23, 2019

Artificial intelligence can be a powerful tool to help the United States military outthink its opponents, but some military officials are warning the U.S. is already falling behind the curve on implementing A.I. technology.

Retired Rear Adm. Brian Losey, the former head of U.S. Naval Special Warfare Command, raised both the prospect of effectively using A.I. technology on the battlefield  as well as concerns the U.S. has already fallen behind during a Tuesday panel discussion of the “The Promise and The Risk Of the A.I. Revolution” conference hosted by the U.S. Naval Institute, USNI News reported.

“We’re losing a lot of folks because of encounters with the unknown,” Losey said. “Not knowing when we enter a house whether hostiles will be there and not really being able to adequately discern whether there’s threats before we encounter them. And that’s how we incurred most of our casualties.”

Losey, who is currently a partner to the San Diego-based Shield A.I. technology firm, said, “The idea is can we use autonomy, can we use edge AI, can we use AI for maneuver to mitigate risk to operators to reduce casualties?”

A.I. can potentially decide for the countless variables and possible outcomes that can go into a single battlefield interaction and calculate the best course of action, according to Losey.

“If you don’t have your decision mapped out, you’re dealing with double digits of minutes to make decisions,” Losey said.

He suggested A.I. could handle both the minute-to-minute battlefield minutia as well as scale up to informing military and political leaders higher up handling the more strategic assessments of a military theater and monitoring emerging threats before they are able to cause lasting damage to the U.S. national defense.

With all the potentials of A.I. technology stated, Losey said the U.S. does not lead in developing that technology.

Losey said Russia is actively advancing its implementation of A.I. technology, while the Pentagon’s own procurement methods does not as easily facilitate technological improvements.

The U.S. currently uses some A.I. technology on the battlefield, including autonomous drones and robotics to assist special operations units clearing structures, but those instances are still limited, according to Losey’s assessment.

“If you’re concerned about national security in the future, then it is imperative that the United States lead AI so we that we can unfold the best practices so that we’re not driven by secure AI to assume additional levels of risk when it comes to lethal actions,” Losey said. “If we’re not in front then we will incur a tremendous amount of additional risk.”

China has also been identified as a major competitor in the race for A.I. developments. In March, the Pentagon briefed the U.S. Senate on where the U.S. stands against its competitors and how it plans to implement A.I. to stay proactive in maintaining an edge against China and Russia.