U.S. Military Seeks A.I. “Quarterback” to Call Plays for The Internet of Battlefield Things

By Nicholas West

Similar to its civilian counterpart, The Internet of Things, the military has been trying to increase the integration between physical objects, data collection, data analysis and autonomous decision making into The Internet of Battlefield Things.

Several years ago, the Army issued a solicitation that summarized what they were seeking:

The ability of the Army to understand, predict, adapt, and exploit the vast array of internetworked things that will be present of the future battlefield is critical to maintaining and increasing its competitive advantage. The explosive growth of technologies in the commercial sector that exploits the convergence of cloud computing, ubiquitous mobile communications, networks of data-gathering sensors, and artificial intelligence presents an imposing challenge for the Army. These Internet of Things (IoT) technologies will give our enemies ever increasing capabilities that must be countered, but commercial developments do not address the unique challenges that the Army will face in using them.

Virginia Tech’s ECE explained the mission further:

The project, entitled “Optimal Placement of Things in an Adversarial Internet of Battlefield Things,” will focus how, when, and where to strategically deploy and operate a number of different smart devices in an integrated IoBT.

“This research will marry notions from data analytics, information theory, game theory, and distributed learning, ” said Saad. “But in order to craft a strong deployment strategy, we have to juggle a number of complex variables.”

Currently, however, the military is finding that it has been much easier to develop a vast fleet of drones and robots than it is to have them communicate with one another.

At the heart of the problem — again, much like our version of the Internet of Things — is bandwidth and range limitations: essentially, physics. Whereas the IoT is placing its future in 5G to offer the speed and capacity to usher in new services and applications, the military needs its own network to share data and eventually be able to centrally control all of these war devices.

According to a report by Defense One, this is being seen as the ultimate challenge:

“The thing that keeps me up at night — well, nothing keeps me up at night, but the thing I think about often is the network,” Gen. John “Mike” Murray, the commanding general of the Army Futures Command, told reporters on Monday. “It’s not problems within the network, it’s that we’re relying on the network for so much”

Jeff Langhout, who runs the Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Ground Vehicles Systems Center, said that the Army recently ran an experiment in which two Bradley Fighting Vehicles were outfitted to command four roboticized M113 armored personnel carriers. While these are experiments show how far the Army and technology has come, he, too, has real worries about the network.

“There are some huge autonomy challenges,” Langhout said, “but I still think one of the greatest challenges we’re going to have is the network. On the ground, when you have robots wanting to talk to other robots, wanting to talk to ground vehicles and you go behind the hill, you go behind the rock, you go down in the gully; you’re in a city and you go around the corner of the building… Hey, we’re right here in Washington, D.C., how well does your cell phone work 100 percent of the time?” he asked.

The parallels between what we are seeing with weapons of war and our daily smart gadgets is unnerving. The military is admitting that they have essentially developed a range of “products” that may never live up to their full potential and promise due to network limitations.

Of course, in the consumer realm, we ultimately have a choice about the products we use and even if we accept or reject 5G technology altogether. There has been some cost passed on to taxpayers via government infrastructure, but it pales in comparison to the impact upon the taxpayer who is funding what might wind up being the all-time greatest boondoggle in the long history of military overspending.

The Army has had bad luck trying to institute large-scale data standards. Case in point: the Joint Tactical Radio System program spent $6 billion in a fruitless attempt to buy a single radio to serve all of its communications needs. In 2013, the U.S. military mandated the Commercial Mobile Device (CMD) Implementation Plan — essentially an effort to lower its data-transfer costs by using commercial networks for unclassified data. But as the current debate over 5G networking shows, even commercial cellular providers are having trouble getting ahead of what they see as future demand.

“This is commercial technology that everyone uses and relies on and so we are trying to take some of that and pass full-motion video in some cases. This is a big technological challenge and everyone is going to say, ‘I’ve got a radio that will do it.’ Fine, as long you’re 100 feet apart and can see each other. So that’s going to continue to be our biggest challenge because we just haven’t fixed the physics yet,” Langhout said.

Despite reading between the lines even further to see that the Internet of Battlefield Things is nowhere near dependable (or secure?) enough, the Army seems undeterred. Another report from Defense One, cites Project Quarterback, an initiative to place A.I. at the helm of the military team to communicate with commanders about the data it has received and analyzed from the vast array of sensors and weapons systems.

Yet again, we see what appears to be a vast chasm between the desires of those who aim to centralize and control, and the limits of technology and, maybe (or we hope?), physics. Nevertheless, they flat-out state that the Quarterback A.I. will “select the most appropriate strategy” for how to wage war.

Quarterback, in other words, would help commanders do two things better and faster, understand exactly what’s on the battlefield and then select the most appropriate strategy based on the assets available and other factors.

Just the first part of that challenge is huge. The amount of potentially usable battlefield data is rapidly expanding, and it takes a long time to synchronize it.

“Simple map displays require 96 hours to synchronize a brigade or division targeting cycle,” said Kevin McEnery, the deputy director of the Army’s Next Generation Combat Vehicle Cross Functional Team, said on Thursday at an event at the National Robotics Engineering Center. One goal is to bring that down to “96 seconds, with the assistance of AI,” he said.

“All the vast array of current and future military sensors, aviation assets, electronic warfare assets, cyber assets, unmanned aerial, unmanned ground systems, next generation manned vehicles and dismounted soldiers will detect and geolocate an enemy on our battlefield. We need an AI system to help identify that threat, aggregate [data on the threat] with other sensors and threat data, distribute it across our command and control systems and recommend to our commanders at echelon the best firing platform for the best effects, be it an F-35, an [extended range cannon] or an [remote controlled vehicle],” McEnery said.

It appears that the military is content with its ongoing experimentation despite that all indications only show additional costs to the economy and human lives.


Nicholas West writes for Activist Post. Support us at Patreon for as little as $1 per month. Follow us on Minds, Steemit, SoMee, BitChute, Facebook and Twitter. Ready for solutions? Subscribe to our premium newsletter Counter Markets.

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