Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Drones, human-machine teaming, strategic influence and mass warfare

Mick Ryan
Greetings from the Australian National University, where former Major General Mick Ryan, is speaking on "Thinking About Future War: Drones, Mass, and Other Trends". His first slide had as a backdrop a map showing how to invade Taiwan (from a WWII study), but then went on to talk about Ukraine. This seminar is part of a series associated with research funded by the Australian Department of Defence (the audience has a who's who of modern military thinking, here for discussions). He pointed out the amount of time between being detected and attacked had been reduced to about two minutes, requiring very mobile forces. However, war still doesn't happen quickly. He asserted that no military trains its personnel to "partner" with machines, and that this will become more important, when there are many more autonomous systems than personnel. He also suggested we have not seen the use of drones yet (swarm countermeasures were one topic at the Navy Warfare Innovation Workshop 2020 which I helped with).

Mick went on to talk about integrating political, and military objectives, and operations. He asked for new ideas for Australian defence. He pointed out that some of Russia's new ideas have "not worked out that well". He contrasted this with Chinese new thinking, and suggested Australia needs do this. He suggested organizing the defence force differently, as current battalions are based on old Russian legions. 

I suggest one thing the Australian military can do is make better use of universities, as industry are. Each semester, ANU has about 200 students working on group computer projects and 50 interns. Some of these people work on defence and security projects, mostly in companies contracted to the Australian Government. Examples are testing new radar for missile defence (an Australian system Ukraine has asked for), and testing cyber security of software for government.  Universities across Australia are working on AI, cyber security, drones, and all that stuff. 

In answer to a question about the potential for war over Taiwan, Mick Ryan suggested drone submarines would be more useful than nuclear powered ones. Another interesting point was what is the legal liability of civilians who help with defence online. Some seem reasonably clear to me: if you report a military aircraft going over, you have become a target. A great question from a public servant in the audience was what does a mass AI western influence operation look like? The first part of the answer surprised me: NATO (as a political influence organisation). The second part was to teach children that not everything on the Internet is true. 

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