AI technology strategic challenge tested

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has the potential to deter, shape and change the character of warfare.

CAPTIONWill Forker and Luis Leal demonstrate the EB-EBEE TAC during the Technical Cooperation Program AI Strategic Challenge 2023 at HMAS Creswell, Jervis Bay Territory. Story by Emma Thompson. Photos by Petty Officer Kayla Jackson

It presents great potential in the civilian and military domains. In the Defence context, allowing machines to perform certain tasks can free up personnel, reduce operator cognitive load and enable the ADF to focus the talents and experience of our people on the areas that matter most.

To help prepare Australia for the rapid, safe and ethical adoption of trusted AI into military capability, the Defence Science and Technology Group (DSTG) recently hosted The Technical Cooperation Program (TTCP) AI Strategic Challenge (AISC) in Jervis Bay, NSW.

More than 150 Defence scientists from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States took part in live experiments and demonstrations as part of a program aimed at pushing the bounds of emerging AI technology.

CAPTIONMalek Djaffri and Stephane Messier prepare the Defence Reconnaissance Autonomous Ground Observation Network (DRAGON) for exercise during the challenge at HMAS Creswell, Jervis Bay Territory.

Five broad experimental AI streams were featured throughout the challenge, designed to represent different missions and mission-systems.

This included AI applied to object detection and identification at the tactical edge, the cooperative employment of shared battlespace resources, supporting the situation awareness of dismounted soldiers, and adversarial AI.

The DSTG Director of Experimentation for the exercise, Chris Shanahan, said the challenge was more than just a demonstration of AI capabilities.

“The aim was to put AI solutions under stress in a representative operational environment and different mission scenarios to identify strengths and weaknesses in the technology, so that we can develop more resilient capabilities” he said.

Throughout the challenge, Dr Shanahan said there was a strong and continued focus on the responsible use of AI and on the legal and ethical aspects of implementing it into the battlespace.

“There’s a strong push to develop a common understanding in relation to the ethical use of AI,” he said.

A range of Defence groups, including Navy, Army and Air Force, were involved in the challenge, bringing end users in contact with AI to accelerate the transition of AI solutions into the hands of the warfighter.

CAPTIONFrom left, Michael Novitzky, Warrant Officer Richard Comfort, Lieutenant Colonel Charles O’Donnell and Squadron Leader Robert Morris discuss the SWARMS Sea Robotics unmanned vehicles capability at HMAS Creswell.

The involvement of international partners was also key with Australian scientists and ADF personnel exposed to a broad and diverse program of research in AI – particularly from the UK and US.

“The international, collaborative nature of the challenge meant that we are able to leverage coalition capabilities to progress Australian goals,” Dr Shanahan said.

The challenge afforded opportunity for forward planning and future thinking – with AI likely to be inserted and adopted into a large range of mission systems across Defence in the future.

DSTG’s Program Leader of AI and Quantum Information Sciences, Associate Professor Robert Hunjet, said addressing the challenges of AI adoption is a key driver for AISC.

“We have scientists working together to develop cutting edge technology, but we must remember that these systems are being used by human operators. The tech must be reliable and trusted and comply with legal and ethical frameworks. The AISC brings together great minds from five nations to collectively look at issues such as performance under adversarial conditions, trust, and responsible AI to address these issues,” he said.

“AI is here now. It’s time to leverage its efficiencies and build cohesive human-machine teams.”


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