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Militaries race for Land Robotic and Autonomous Warfare by developing strategy, tactics and capabilities

The nature of war refers to the aspects of war that are enduring across time and the change in weapons, states, and societies. It is widely agreed that war has been and will remain a violent act of force, subordinated to policy, determined by human will and used to achieve national interests. Friction, uncertainty, chance, and fluidity are some of the other factors that are inherent to the nature of war.


The character of war, on the other hand, changes over time based on the military, political, social, technological, and economic interests of the opposing states at the time. The character of war relates to the conduct of war, or warfare–how a war is waged.  Change in the character of war, however, is nonetheless important because victory is achieved by those states that foresee and adapt to change before an adversary introduces transformational technology in a strategic surprise. The ability to recognize and adapt to disruptive change in warfare faster than the opponent bestows a significant relative advantage in combat. The character of war is changing with the adoption of emerging and disruptive technologies.


The nexus of robotics and autonomous systems (RAS) and artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to change the nature of warfare

Robotics will alter the character of war by introducing new combatants on the field of battle, or by augmenting human soldiers so that new kinds of missions, which were deemed too risky or technically infeasible before, can now be accomplished. The advantage of new technology from the Robotic Age on warfare will be the yield of autonomy for human warfighters.


Policy is the articulation of goals or objectives to achieve and maintain national interests, such as resources, power, and prestige. States that react slowly to the changing character of war in terms of making relevant policy, then its service members might be placed at a relative disadvantage in combat. Strategy concerns the relationship between force and policy. One of the most widely invoked definitions came from Basil Henry Liddell Hart who described strategy as, “The art of distributing military means to fulfill the ends of policy. Strategy,
therefore, is inherently tied to the application of military power.  Policy guides the formation of strategy, but strategy provides feedback to inform policy.


Doctrine follows strategy. Doctrine provides approved guidance for the military’s method of organization and conduct of war. Doctrine is
authoritative, but it is not directive or binding in all cases because of the variety and innate differences in how conflicts unfold and armed forces fight. An operating concept is a precursor to doctrine. Unlike doctrine, concepts are not authoritative. Instead, they provide the earliest basis for experimentation with new equipment and techniques, at times even before the materiel technology is readily available to the military. The value in developing concepts is to conceive of new ways for a military to fight and or operate in the future, which then
drives the requirement to procure new capabilities and weapons. The more mature a concept becomes through testing, the more it will eventually be accepted as doctrine, especially if it survives the test of fire and assured success and victory.


Disruptive military innovation changes the character of war by introducing a new warfare style. A disruption is therefore a change in warfare, or a distinctly new way to conduct battle. A disruptive innovation occurs when a new concept proposes to employ the components in a novel way to create a new combat arm. Disruptive innovations do not arise from the technology alone, but rather from the concepts and doctrine that combine ways and means together.


Robotics includes all things robot-like. Robot is a powered machine capable of executing a set of actions by direct human control, computer control, or both. It is composed  of a sensors, processors, software, effectors,  platform, and a power source.   Robotics, therefore, can range from independent autonomous systems, to dependent remotely piloted vehicles, to enabling technology that augments human performance, such as exoskeleton suits, and other complementary fields that make robotics function.


Unmanned systems are one example of robotics that operate in all physical domains–space, air, land, at sea, and underwater. An unmanned system contains sensors, processors, effectors, and a power source, but the artificial intelligence is weak or non-existent.


Autonomous systems are another example of robotics in which artificial intelligence that is strong enough to accomplish tasks independently, mitigating  the requirement for a human operator in the loop. Fully autonomous and adaptive, or learning, systems would make a robotic system not just an extension of a human operator, but a credible partner too. Autonomy refers to a spectrum of automation in which independent decision making can be tailored for a specific mission, level of risk, and degree of human-machine teaming.


RAS can be viewed as the application of software, artificial intelligence and advanced robotics to perform tasks as directed by humans. Simply “autonomy is the ability of a machine to perform a task without human input. Thus an autonomous system is a machine, whether hardware or software, once activated performs some task or function on its own”.


The Robotic Age will introduce an array of technologies that ranges from independent autonomous systems to ones that offer human-robot integration. The most apparent development will be the advent of autonomous systems that are capable of sensing, processing, and taking action independent from human control. The remaining challenge to field these systems, however, is the lack of artificial intelligence strong enough to deal with a complex environment.


Governments, businesses, universities, and laboratories are advancing robotic systems for use in all the domains where conflict occurs–land, sea, air, and space. In many cases the technology is available commercially off-the-shelf and to the non-state actor for relatively low cost. Robotics and associated technologies will not replace humans, but rather empower human warfighters with a greater sense of autonomy.


Maneuver is about exploiting weaknesses while avoiding strengths through movement, maintaining a relatively faster tempo of operations, and physically out-maneuvering the enemy to turn his flank or encircle him.


The advancement of  Robotics and Unmanned systems have set a stage of  Robotic warfare or Robots on battlefield and in combat. The defense forces are primarily interested in mobile robots or unmanned vehicles in air, land and sea domain. The mobile robots or unmanned systems have transformed warfare as evidenced by thousands of them been deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan and in Pakistan, that have supported the armed forces in targeting, disarming roadside bombs, clearing land mines, surveying intelligence collection etc. Unmanned Systems have also proved very effective in fast response to catastrophic and unexpected incidents, including natural or civil disasters like fires, floods and earthquakes.


Further as both artificial intelligence and autonomous systems advance at an astonishing rate, scientists and military leaders alike are working through the complexities to determine the best ways of implementing them on the modern battlefield preparing for Robotic and autonomous warfare. Further the accelerating arms race in Artificial Intelligence and the diffusion of cheap, technologically advanced military systems among state and non-state actors, compel countries to adopt robotic and autonomous systems (RAS) for defense and security. Robotic and Autonomous Warfare highlights the physical (robotic) and cognitive (autonomous) aspects of these systems.


RAS offers the possibility of a wide range of platforms—not just weapon systems—that can perform “dull, dangerous, and dirty” tasks—potentially reducing the risks to soldiers  and possibly resulting in a generation of less expensive ground systems.  China is attempting to become the world leader in artificial intelligence by 2030. Artificial intelligence is a national priority in China, whose government has established an Artificial Intelligence Innovative Platform. China’s military is already using some artificial intelligence technology, including the use of drones and military robotics that feature extensive autonomous capabilities.


On today’s battlefield, UGVs serve as weapons, logistic carriers, medical evacuation vehicles and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) tools. Based on its application, unmanned ground vehicles will generally include the following components: platform, sensors, control systems, guidance interface, communication links, and systems integration features. Priority technologies for  autonomous ground vehicles (PC-AGVs) include mobility, navigation, tactical behaviors, health maintenance and learning/adaptation technologies


US, Russia and China race to develop Robotic Warfare capabilities

Countries like US, Russia and china are racing to deploy combat robots and drones on the battlefield and are investing in their research and development to have a military edge over other countries. Various militaries are fielding unmanned systems for surveillance, intelligence, logistics, or attack missions to make their forces or campaigns more effective.


In recent years, the Russian military has achieved major breakthroughs in the development of unmanned systems. Russian investments in artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies will help their soldiers counter the physical, cognitive, and operational challenges of urban warfare and perform better in future conflicts.


In fact, Russia’s Military Industrial Committee has approved plans to derive 30% of Russia’s combat power from remote-controlled systems and platforms enabled by artificial intelligence by 2030. Russia is currently working on two tank-like combat systems referred to as Shturm (Storm) and Soratnik (Ally). According to the Russian defense manufacturer Kalashnikov, “Robot tanks do not need crews. Robots without human intervention will detect enemy weapons, destroy them, and issue target designations.”  This certainly indicates Russia’s intent to develop unmanned combat systems without need for a human in the decision loop.


Military robotics is a top priority for Russia’s military future, given the length of the Russian border and the need for military operations in places unsuitable for humans, like the Arctic. Recently, the chief of the General staff of the Russian armed forces, General Gerasimov, stated that Russia seeks to completely automate the battle, and perhaps soon we will witness robotic groups independently conducting warfare.


According to Russia’s deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin, the robots will save lives: “We have to conduct battles without any contact, so that our boys do not die, and for that it is necessary to use war robots,” he said. The idea was backed by Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu, who urged engineers to make robots combat ready by 2015-17, instead of initially scheduled 2020.


“The Russian Defense Ministry approved the concept of combat use of robotic systems and complexes of various types and purposes for the next 10 years, until 2025,” – said O.Martyanov, who directs the interdepartmental working group on the development and application of robots. According to the document, the expert said, the proportion of robotic agents in the overall structure of arms and military equipment (AME) should be about 30%.


With near-peer adversaries aggressively pursuing RAS development, the US DoD is investing heavily in land robotics which are becoming ever more crucial for gaining overmatch in possible high-intensity conflict.


In response rapid development of killer drones by Russia and China, Pentagon officials have planned to develop and deploy automated killer machines in US military within ten years. The Pentagon top officials believe that it will allow the US not to be behind Russia and China militarily. A report from the Defence Science Board in the US concluded that there are both benefits and dire negatives in using cyborgs to fight their battles, but the country needs to act quickly if it does not want to be left behind any further. The report said “there are both substantial operational benefits and potential perils associated with its use.” Robots on the battlefield will be more efficient, result in less casualties and could ultimately be cheaper.


Major Kenneth Rose of the US Army’s Training and Doctrine Command outlined some of the advantages of robotic technology in warfare: Machines don’t get tired. They don’t close their eyes. They don’t hide under trees when it rains and they don’t talk to their friends … A human’s attention to detail on guard duty drops dramatically in the first 30 minutes … Machines know no fear.


As the capacities of military robots expand from semi-autonomous machines to potentially fully autonomous, future robots are even expected to replace soldiers in combat roles. “Intelligent robotic weapons – they’re a reality, and they will be much more of a reality by 2030,” former UK intelligence officer John Bassett said. “At some point around 2025 or thereabouts the US Army will actually have more combat robots than it will have human soldiers,” he added, mentioning upcoming robot trucks that would drive themselves and be more effective on the road than an ordinary manned vehicle.


Robotic Warfare Challenges

All countries are working on three major research areas to improve the effectiveness of robotic ground systems. These systems have been on the battlefield for 100 years but have not delivered a game changing capability. Compare this to the aircraft that from first flight to proof of concept only took 10 years to change the character of warfare. These three research focus areas are: Mobility in complex terrain; requirement outpaces what current autonomous cars are capable of, communication in a contested electromagnetic spectrum, and the ability to collaborate and coordinate with humans in the loop.


However Robotic and Unmanned systems are also vulnerable. The remote controlled unmanned systems depend on communications between remote operators and robots which can be intercepted by  the adversary COMINT systems. Further the unmanned systems use variety of systems for situational awareness and navigation such as  laser ranger, lidar, radar, etc. which also emit electromagnetic radiation and vulnerable to detection. Further they are vulnerable to electronics warfare such as jamming of command and control links. They can also be physically captured.


Modern robots have also become sophisticated and costly hence demand protection. however currently fielded robots lack protective features.  They do not have sufficient armor like Manned platforms like tanks. Some critical elements do not often have bullet resistance such as outside monitoring elements,  or missile containers.


A major aspect of robot protection is the principle of active control of all elements and systems that keep or restore the operability in conditions of a hostile impact. Complex protection needs artificial intelligence to implement the algorithm of actions. It will help, firstly, analyze incoming information, determine threat parameters, and transmit the decision for the execution by the protection system.


It also requires combination of soft and hard kill mechanisms. The command system chooses the type of actions according to the assigned target and current situation, forecasts the result of actions, and initiates command to act. Secondly, analyze the result of actions and fulfil the task by several methods while continuously learning in the process; and fourthly, operate effectively in coordination with human operators. Artificial intelligence is the backbone of the system. It provides adaptivity, self-learning, and intuition (ability to decide on the basis of incomplete information).


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