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Military race to develop autonomous and intelligent missiles and missile swarms to strike targets in anti-access, area-denial environment

Artificial intelligence is a branch of computer science dealing with the simulation of intelligent behavior in computers. A computer system able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages. Machine learning is a subset of AI.  AI has a clear edge over humans in areas such as super-fast decision-making required in repetitive tasks and combining multiple data inputs from various sensors to throw up options for decision-making and even making some of these decisions by itself.


The promise of AI—including its ability to improve the speed and accuracy of everything from logistics and battlefield planning to human decision-making—is driving militaries around the world to accelerate research and development. Global race has started between countries led by US, China and Russia to take a lead in this strategic technology.


AI is also enabling autonomous military missiles that can identify and strike hostile targets without human decision.

Guided missiles work by tracking the moving target’s location in space by specific methods (e.g. using a radar or following its heat signature), chasing it down, and finally hitting it with accuracy. Guidance systems in missiles can be of various types, which serve different operational purposes.


Homing guidance systems control the flight path by employing a device in the weapon that reacts to some distinguishing feature of the target. Homing devices can be made sensitive to various energy forms, including RF, infrared, reflected laser, and visible light. In order to home on the target, the missile must determine at least the azimuth and elevation of the target by one of the means of angle tracking methods.


With escalating cost of a missile and the potential damage that an intruding aircraft can cause, there is a need to improve the single-shot kill probability of a missile to hundred percent. Present Guided missiles using conventional algorithms like proportional navigation algorithm and its variants are optimal when the speed of missile is very high and the maneuvering capability of the target is low.


However, the efficiency of missiles may be degraded in the battlefield due to many reasons like in the case of highly maneuverable fifth-generation aircraft with speeds between Mach-2 and Mach-3. The radars data link is also vulnerable to jamming by the adversary, therefore, autonomous missile is highly effective in such scenarios.


Missile guidance systems using the Proportional Navigation (PN) guidance law is limited in performance in supporting wide class of engagement scenarios with the varying mission and target parameters.  However, as the weapons and equipment involved in combat become more and more complex, more and more information and control parameters need to be collected by the command and control system, resulting in an increasingly heavy system load. After the command and control system completes the binding of the missile launch instructions, it needs to perform real-time online route planning and decision-making on penetration actions based on battlefield information provided by other platforms (such as satellites, drones, radars, and seekers) to avoid enemy reconnaissance and firepower attack. Faced with so many entities and control parameters, the traditional classical control methods seem to be powerless. Therefore, countries are also seeking more intelligent missiles and weapon systems to replace existing design solutions.


Recent advances in distributed Artificial Intelligence such as deploying intelligent agents (lA) hold the promise of improving the performance and decreasing the misdistance (distance between the target and the closest point of approach of the missile to a small value). Intelligent agents are software entities that come under the category of distributed Artificial Intelligence, and are associated with problem-solving functions. They are characterized by some general attributes like autonomy, social ability etc.


Missile penetration technology is a technology that uses all detection and interception methods to guide missile to pass through the interception zone of the enemy’s antimissile defense system without damage. Missile penetration technology is an important indicator for measuring the tactical and technical performance of missile systems and the level of weapon development.


The ultimate missile intelligent penetration can be simply summarized as the missile can achieve complete autonomy from detection, tracking, seeking, interception to the final destruction of the target. In the course of intelligent missile penetration, missiles can autonomously process various perceived information, analyze, judge, and reason about the external environment, target characteristics, and changes, so that they can make correct decisions and responses.


Military Race to develop autonomous and Intelligent Missiles

The U.S., Russia and China, the world’s leading military powers are all applying artificial intelligence to missiles, drones and other deadly devices.


US Autonomous Missiles

According to US Navy, “As the air and missile defense capabilities of potential adversaries rapidly advance, the ability of the U.S. Armed Forces to employ short-range precision-guided weapons such as Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs) will be increasingly challenged. China and Russia are also increasingly fielding sophisticated electronic warfare systems that can jam the GPS and other communication links.


In June 2021, The U.S. Army demonstrated a launcher designed to autonomously fire missiles at maritime or ground-based targets, Defense News reported. The wheeled Autonomous Multidomain Launcher rolls out of transport aircraft then fires missiles, like an autonomous counterpart of the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System. The demonstration took place Wednesday at Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona to exhibit how AML would contribute to multidomain operations. Brig. Gen. John Rafferty, who leads the Army’s efforts to modernize long-range precision fires, said the 18th Field Artillery Brigade ran the demonstration for over an hour. The system fired seven rockets to simulate the range of the future Precision Strike Missile.


The LRASM is a long-range precision-guided, anti-ship standoff missile designed to meet the needs of U.S. Navy and Air Force warfighters in anti-access/area-denial threat environments. The LRASM boasts a range of well over 200 nautical miles, a payload of 1,000 pounds, and the ability to strike at nearly the speed of sound.


With a range of at least 200 nautical miles, LRASM is designed to use next-generation guidance technology to help track and eliminate targets such as enemy ships, shallow submarines, drones, aircraft and land-based targets.  The LRASM is designed to detect and destroy specific targets within groups of ships by employing advanced technologies that reduce dependence on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms, network links and GPS navigation in electronic warfare environments.


What really makes LRASM stand out is that all of this is completely autonomous. Human beings tell the missile where the enemy fleet is, which ship to strike, and provide it with a continuous stream of data—the missile takes care of everything else. Using artificial intelligence, the missile takes data and makes decisions all on its own. Using AI and datalinks, multiple LRASMs can launch a coordinated attack on an enemy fleet, writes Kyle. Autonomous guidance algorithms should allow the LRASM to use less-precise target cueing data to pinpoint specific targets in the contested domain. According to the Pentagon, this means that though targets are chosen by human soldiers, the missile uses artificial intelligence technology to avoid defenses and make final targeting decisions.


LRASM is first guided by the ship that launched it, then by satellite. The missile is jam-resistant and can carry on even if it loses contact with the Global Positioning System. As part of the targeting system, the missile can be set to fly to a series of waypoints, flying around static threats, land features, and commercial shipping. LRASM can detect threats between waypoints and navigate around them. If it decides it would be entering the engagement range of an enemy ship not on the target list, LRASM will fly around the ship, even skipping waypoints that might lie within enemy range and going on to the next one.


After locating the enemy fleet, it dives to sea-skimming altitude to avoid close-in defenses. LRASM then sizes up the enemy fleet, locates its target, and calculates the desired “mean point of impact”—the exact spot the missile should aim for, taking into account the accuracy of the missile—to ensure the missile does not miss. In most instances that is the exact center of the ship, with the angle of the ship in relation to the missile taken into consideration, reported Kyle Mizokami in PM.


China’s next-gen cruise missiles shall have high-level of artificial intelligence

In August 2016 Chinese daily reported that China’s aerospace industry was developing tactical missiles with inbuilt intelligence that would help seek out targets in combat. The new Chinese weapon typifies a strategy known as “remote warfare,” said John Arquilla, a military strategist at the Naval Post Graduate School in Monterey, Calif. The idea is to build large fleets of small ships that deploy missiles, to attack an enemy with larger ships, like aircraft carriers. “They are making their machines more creative,” he said. “A little bit of automation gives the machines a tremendous boost.”


China is looking to create a new generation of cruise missiles, which will have a high level of artificial intelligence, will be multifunctional and reconfigurable based on modular design according to a senior designer from China’s Aerospace and Industry Corp. The Chinese military is looking to adapt its technology with the belief that future combat missions will require weapons to be both cost-efficient and flexible.


“We plan to adopt a ‘plug and play’ approach in the development of new cruise missiles, which will enable our military commanders to tailor-make missiles in accordance with combat conditions and their specific requirements,” Wang Changqing of the China Aerospace and Industry Corp told China Daily newspaper. Meanwhile Wang Ya’nan, the editor in chief of the Aerospace Knowledge magazine, said that missiles will be multi-functional. He mentioned that their payload can be changed, while they will also be suitable for striking targets both on land and at sea.


“Moreover, our future cruise missiles will have a very high level of artificial intelligence and automation,” he told China Daily. “They will allow commanders to control them in a real-time manner, or to use a fire-and-forget mode, or even to add more tasks to in-flight missiles.”


Russia’s Military developing highly autonomous missile for its stealth fighter

Now Russia has claimed to be developing new missiles and drones that will use artificial intelligence to think for itself, according to weapons manufacturers and defense officials, in a bid to match military might against the United States and China.


Tactical Missiles Corporation CEO Boris Obnosov said in July 2017 that the new weapon, which he did not name, would be released within the next few years and would take inspiration from Russia’s greatest military rival, the U.S. Speaking at the annual Zhukovsky-based MosAeroShow (MAKS-2017), Obnosov told attendees that he studied the U.S.’s use of the Raytheon Block IV Tomahawk cruise missile against Russia’s allies in Syria and sought to emulate its advanced technology, such as the ability to switch targets mid-flight, in an upcoming weapon


Earlier in 2017 General Viktor Bondarev, commander-in-chief of Russia’s air force, discussed equipping such smart missiles to the proposed next-generation Russian stealth fighter, the Tupolev PAK DA. What the PAK DA lacks in supersonic speed, it would reportedly make up for in stealth, electronic innovations and the artificial intelligence-capable missile, which Bondarev said was already in the works as of February.


“It is impossible to build a missile-carrying bomber invisible to radars and supersonic at the same time. This is why focus is placed on stealth capabilities. The PAK DA will carry AI-guided missiles with a range of up to 7,000 kilometers (about 4,350 miles) Such a missile can analyze the aerial and radio-radar situation and determine its direction, altitude and speed. We’re already working on such missiles,” Bondarev told Russia’s official Rossiyskaya Gazeta newspaper in comments translated and analyzed by The Aviationist.


Israel Unveils Long-Range Autonomous Missile System

In Jun 2021, Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. unveiled Sea Breaker, a fifth-generation precision-guided autonomous missile system capable of hitting a range of marine and land targets. According to Rafael, the “high subsonic” missile can hit a stationary or moving target up to 300 kilometers (186 miles) away.


The missile’s advanced IIR (Imaging Infrared) seeker allows it even to strike targets in “advanced Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) arenas,” Rafael claims. The Sea Breaker can engage targets in “littoral or brown water, including archipelago, as well as for engagements in which previous generation RF-seeker-based missiles are not effective.” Additional characteristics include the missile’s resistance to electronic countermeasures and jamming due to its ability to fly close to the surface of the water.


The system can launch missiles from various naval platforms, include ing fast attack missile boats, corvettes, and frigates. The land version of the missile uses Rafael’s “highly mobile” SPYDER launchers. The Sea Breaker carries a 113-kg (250-lb) “penetration, blast, and fragmentation warhead,” which the developer claims can destroy a frigate-sized ship in a single strike. The all-weather missile uses artificial intelligence to engage in deep learning and “big data-based scene-matching” for target acquisition and target recognition.



M.S Vinoth and others from Department of Computer Sciences Vellore Institute of Technology Tamilnadu , India have proposed  incorporating an IA system on-board a missile that will enhance the kill probability or even achieve the most coveted fire and forget capability.


The on-board radar based sensors on the missile will detect any hostile ground or air activity the missile will directly break from the wireless ground based link and then the control is shifted to the intelligent agent and the series of counter moves will be affected to shoot down the enemy intruder. By this modification the already airborne missile will have much lesser reaction time compared to the traditional radar based and ground stationed SAM(surface to air missile entities) , there by effectively saving the time and increasing the kill probability of the missile. The missile needs to have a much higher speed advantage or to use a combination of artificial intelligence and modern control algorithms, authors say.


Hypersonic Missile Swarms

In March 2021, it was reported that Chinese researchers are working to network hypersonic weapons into a smart swarm for coordinated attacks. Such swarms would be far more dangerous than the individual missiles that comprise them, multiplying the power of the high-speed weapons. Hypersonic missiles, cruise missiles that travel inside the atmosphere at more than five times the speed of sound (over 4,000 mph) are shaping up as the next wave of military innovation.


A new study from the Beijing Institute of Technology titled ‘Network for hypersonic UCAV swarms’ seeks to multiply the power of hypersonic weapons by having them work together. UCAV is short for Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle, a term usually employed for armed drones, but applied in this case because they are more than missiles – the members of the swarm will carry sensors and communications.


The benefits are a shared situational awareness, for example alerting other swarm members where defenses are located, being able to simultaneously hit targets with multiple weapons coming from different directions, and co-operatively searching for elusive or moving targets. A swarm could comprise several waves, with each one advising the next which targets have already been destroyed or where holes have been made through defenses.


Ultimately the swarm will make its own decisions about where to go and how to attack. “The hypersonic UCAV swarm provides rewarding and long-desired tactical utility,” notes the paper. “It can carry out missions such as saturation attacks, situational awareness sharing, distributed cooperative guidance, cooperative path planning, cooperative searching, and eventually, the cooperative autonomy.”



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