British Army soldiers preparing for drill

AI engine used by British Army during live-firing drill

Image credit: PA PICTURE DESK

AI has been used by the British Army for the first time during a live-firing drill in Estonia, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has announced.

The tool was used by soldiers from the 20th Armoured Infantry Brigade during Exercise Spring Storm, as part of Operation Cabrit. Operation Cabrit is an annual Nato exercise which involves British soldiers working in conjunction with French, Danish and Estonian counterparts to tighten Euro-Atlantic security.

During the event, held this year in Estonia, an AI engine was used by soldiers to carry out live-fire drills. The engine can rapidly process data to provide information about the environment and terrain, almost instantly providing useful insights to incorporate into planning.

Major James McEvoy, who used the engine during the event, commented: “This was a fantastic opportunity to use a new and innovative piece of technology in a deployed environment. The kit was shown to outperform our expectations and has clear applications for improving our level of analysis and speed at which we conduct our planning.

“I’m greatly looking forward to further opportunities to work with this. In future, the UK armed forces will increasingly use AI to predict adversaries’ behaviour, perform reconnaissance and relay real-time intelligence from the battlefield.”

According to the MoD, the technology can be used via the cloud or operate in “independent mode” (on the edge).

Major General John Cole, director of information for the British Army, said: “The deployment was a first of its kind for the Army. It built on close collaboration between the MoD and industry partners that developed AI specifically designed for the way the Army is trained to operate.

“The lessons this has provided are considerable, not just in terms of our support to deployed forces, but more broadly in how we inform defence’s digital transformation agenda and the best practices we must adopt to integrate and exploit leading-edge technologies.”

The MoD plans to invest £6.6bn over the next four years in defence R&D, covering areas including AI, cyber, space and directed energy systems. AI tools have previously been used in British military activities, including in the Future Combat Air System.

While AI tools are already well-established in many armed forces, there is considerable controversy surrounding the automation of lethal weapons systems, which have been dubbed 'killer robots'. In their most extreme form, these weapons systems could lock onto a human target, make a decision about whether they are 'hostile' and fire to kill, entirely without human intervention.

Efforts to introduce an international treaty banning the development and deployment of lethal autonomous weapons systems, similar to those outlawing chemical and biological weapons, have so far been fruitless, in large part due to the refusal of the US and Russia to give up research into these technologies.

Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles