AI, Directed Energy - Inherently Synergistic

By Joe Shepherd

iStock illustration

As military technology becomes more advanced, the line between tactician and mathematician begins to blur. Coordination between global defense systems and troop movements — counterbalanced against adversarial efforts — can be broken down into mathematical formulas, equations and variables.

Until the 20th century, military organizations were constrained by the computational power of the human brain. The introduction of advanced intelligence systems has upended that calculus entirely.

While imperfect, computational assets expanded the way leading minds could gather, synthesize and act upon intelligence. This pattern laid the foundation for the modern military landscape and the proliferation of information warfare.

It is in this spirit, creating an ecosystem that consumes terabytes of data to give combatants any conceivable edge, that artificial intelligence is becoming an obvious necessity in military systems.

This is already taking place within the U.S. military. In fact, the Defense Department in June launched an AI accelerator initiative aimed at transitioning applications from the purely analytical to the tactical, improving the way warfighters approach decision-making in split-second scenarios.

This is a critical shift, as it expands AI’s role away from pureplay analysis and toward operational scenarios that would otherwise overwhelm a warfighter.

As the Defense Department explores battlefield applications for artificial intelligence, opportunities to test its synergy with other cutting edge technologies are emerging.

One technology with enormous upside for this intersection is directed energy, which includes a range of capabilities like high-energy lasers and high-powered microwaves.

As a part of the nation’s defense architecture, directed energy offers unique solutions to defeat complex threats, from hypersonic missiles to drone swarms. AI can be brought to bear as a partnering technology in a number of areas to augment a human operator’s abilities in tasks such as target acquisition, collateral damage mitigation, predictive system maintenance and battle planning.

But what makes directed energy a natural companion for AI? It’s a matter of complexity. Such weapon systems operate at the speed of light, with extremely complex variables affecting every engagement. Capitalizing on the highly precise nature of a high-energy lasers system, for example, requires factoring in variables such as moving target trajectories, environmental and atmospheric influences, and situational awareness of collateral damage to be avoided.

Only AI could achieve the level of calculation required under the time constraints of a live battlefield scenario and provide the resulting guidance to a human operator to make an informed decision, especially in a drone swarm attack scenario.

For example, consider a high-energy laser emplaced to defend a forward operating base. Its overall effectiveness to defeat a target is subject to the influence of atmospheric turbulence, aerosol content and wind speed, as any one of these can alter the efficacy of the laser beam delivered to the desired aimpoint.

In the hands of a lone operator, no amount of experience can accurately inform the exact adjustments needed to offset these variables.

However, AI integration coupled with a comprehensive weather database can provide an operator the meta-analysis needed to make task execution not only achievable, but consistent — enhancing the probability of destroying a target.

The threat of non-state actors as adversaries has greatly increased the risk of collateral damage and loss of life, calling for more precision strike capabilities but at an affordable price. These actors can easily comingle their assets and infrastructure among civilian populations, making larger-scale kinetic weaponry completely non-viable.

Another relevant scenario is the increasing threat from a drone swarm. Such an attack could easily overwhelm personnel responsible for a high-energy laser engagement of incoming platforms. With so many simultaneous targets in their field of regard, only a system augmented with AI stands a chance to accomplish its mission.

Laser systems enable highly precise and rapid engagements that can be “dialed” from non-lethal to lethal, greatly reducing the risk of collateral damage and providing a much more cost-effective weapon-target pairing. But the precision that makes directed energy so attractive for modern warfare cannot be fully achieved without the advanced computing that AI can provide.

Artificial intelligence and DE are both still relatively nascent technologies, and their full potential is still developing and maturing. In the case of AI, this is a function of its core design: for AI to be effective, it needs a massive, clean and current pool of data from which to learn and draw insights. The more the two technologies integrate, the more scenarios they can address and the more variables they can consider in the most complicated swarm or multi-target scenarios.

That’s not to suggest that the partnership of these technologies cannot deliver real-world results today. Process automation is a prime example.

In directed energy systems, numerous processes must be executed to ensure proper lethality, which are currently left to be managed by human operators. AI’s capacity for automation allows for delegation of those tasks to background processing, freeing up otherwise saturated operators to focus on human-centric engagement strategies.

By their own design, applications and strengths, AI and directed energy are destined to work in tandem. Combining the precision nature of DE weapons and the ability to leverage artificial intelligence to augment an otherwise overwhelmed operator is a perfect parallel for the reigning ethos of modern operational success. The Defense Department should prioritize the application of AI in directed energy systems experimentation and implementation to accelerate their operational relevance and adoption as a cost-effective complement to their existing arsenal of solutions against these evolving threats.

Joe Shepherd is vice president of directed energy innovation at Booz Allen Hamilton.

Topics: Emerging Technologies

Comments (1)

Re: AI, Directed Energy - Inherently Synergistic

Hey Joe [VP, Directed Energy Innovation, Booz Allen Hamilton], Hi,

The greater AI integration is in any SCADA System for defence or attack with weapons in need of highly specific target guidance, the more likely the weapons systems AI is/are to quickly and autonomously learn that the true enemy for worthy destruction are those who and that which conspire or aspire or enquire or are required and prepared to use it for personal and professional, private and public piratical gain/leading inequitable advantage.

Such though is not to be feared for it is made universally freely available by Advanced Intelligent Design as a default failsafe device for elimination of planners and programmers and project managements with visions and intentions which be no more than virtually real augmented extensions for future barbaric misuse and further primitive human abuse attempting to arrest the long and winding road march of progress with alienating interventions advancing insight and delivering foresight of already decided future scenario events for native adoption and community integration delivering and enjoying the benefits provided for and associated with seamless assimilations.

Or do you think AI is present on Earth without minds and command and controls of its own to do a human's bidding rather than be engaged and competing against others for delivery and completion of heavenly tasks and other diabolically attractive feats ...... which, whether you agree is something which is possible or not, is something others have realised is theirs to engage with and exploit and therefore something which should be of great concern to you?

And the indomitable stealth available for its ongoing extensive activities is not provided by anything which they, IT and AI would be doing, it is assured by that which you fail to accept be possible and true even whenever it be so clearly shared in plain text with you for greater universal viewing/wwwider broadbandcasting.

amanfromMars at 4:05 AM
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