Algorithmic Warfare: Russia Expanding Fleet of AI-Enabled Weapons

By Yasmin Tadjdeh

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Russia — which has made no secret of its artificial intelligence ambitions — is building a cadre of AI-enabled, autonomous weapon systems that could one day threaten the United States.

“The Russian military seeks to be a leader in weaponizing AI technology,” Lt. Gen. Michael Groen, director of the Pentagon’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, told National Defense.

The JAIC — which has been working to facilitate AI adoption across the Defense Department since 2018 — recently commissioned a report by CNA, a research organization based in Arlington, Virginia, to examine Russia’s developments.

The report — titled “Artificial Intelligence and Autonomy in Russia” — identified more than 150 AI-enabled military systems in various stages of development, Groen said in an email in June. Key areas of interest include autonomous air, underwater, surface and ground platforms.

The nation wants to use AI for electronic warfare, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and strategic decision-making processes as leaders pursue information dominance on the battlefield, Groen said.

While Russia is not a leader in commercial and academic AI research — as the United States and China are — it would be a grave mistake for the Pentagon to take its eyes off the threat, he said.

“Russia was not a major leader in the development of the internet or computer networking, but Russia has become a leader in weaponizing those technologies for advanced cyberattacks and cybercrime capabilities,” he noted.

The Russian military has taken significant steps to reform and improve the organization of its research and development enterprise, he noted. This was done in part because Moscow believed its previous structures were stifling innovation in technology areas such as AI.

The scale of these reforms — such as creating a new advanced R&D organization modeled on the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency — demonstrates the nation’s seriousness about fielding an AI-enabled fighting force, he said.

Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Hyten noted that Russia has invested enormous resources into the development of artificial intelligence, big data and software technologies.

The country is moving quickly across many areas, including nuclear weapons, space and cyber, he said during remarks at the Defense Department’s AI Symposium in June. Embedded in each of those elements is new software, processing and artificial intelligence systems.

“Russia is a significant threat, especially in the near term,” he said. “It is a challenge to not just keep up with them but stay ahead of them.”

Like the United States, Russia is working to digitize its military. Its Ministry of Defense recently announced it intends to create a specialized department to develop AI, according to the CNA report. It is even working on developing a military information sharing structure that resembles the Pentagon’s joint all-domain command and control, or JADC2, effort.

JADC2 has become a buzzword in the Defense Department and is intended to better link the armed forces’ sensors and shooters on the battlefield. Russia’s version is known as the automated control system, or ACS, the report said.

“ACS is not new, but the concept is the basis for how the Russian military is conceptualizing and using AI and autonomy to make Russian forces more efficient and more lethal,” the study said.

The Russian military has conducted real and simulated events implementing an ACS environment, according to the report. For example, during a 2019 Caspian Fleet drill, Russian air, land and sea forces were combined into a single information space.

“Data on detected targets were loaded into the system in real time and depending on the target type, the command chose the best attack methods,” the report said. “All information was received in real time and analyzed using an automated command-and-control system with AI elements.”

However, despite Moscow’s deep interest in AI, the nation faces challenges in developing the most cutting edge platforms, said two authors of the report, Jeffrey Edmonds and Samuel Bendett, who are both Russia experts at CNA and the Center for a New American Security.

Within Russia’s AI ecosystem, the leading companies are state sponsored, Edmonds said. The Russian private sector lacks an environment that’s conducive to risk-taking and entrepreneurship in AI, autonomy and innovation, he added.

In the United States, some of the most important technologies started as U.S.-government projects, such as the internet and mobile communication systems, Bendett said. But after those systems were developed, the government moved out of the way to allow companies to further mature them.

“Russia doesn’t really have a high-tech private sector in the same sense” as the United States, he said. “Some of those private initiatives are only now starting to” be developed.

The country does not have an equivalent tech hub to Silicon Valley, Bendett said. There was the intention that the Skolkovo Innovation Hub — which was launched in 2010 — would emulate that model, but that vision has not come to fruition.

“It did for some companies and individuals, but probably on the whole it didn’t,” he noted.

Skolkovo includes five “research clusters” focusing on information technologies, including artificial intelligence, energy, nuclear, biomedicine and space, according to the report.

However, Bendett noted that the lion’s share of the nation’s AI-related activity comes out of three universities including Moscow State University, Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, and Moscow Higher School of Economics.

Topics: Cyber, Cybersecurity, Robotics and Autonomous Systems, Robotics

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