The US Army’s Big Six and the Future of Autonomous Warfare

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September 10, 2018 | Originally published by Date Line: September 10 on

The US Army’s Big Six modernisation programme is beginning to take shape, with autonomy very much at the fore. But how much artificial intelligence can we expect and what impact will it have on military readiness? The Big Six programme, announced in October 2017, looks to revamp and future-proof armour, artillery, aviation, air and missile defence, networks and soldiers. For vehicles the initiative will begin with the M2 Bradley troop carrier and later include the M1 Abrams tank.

If you haven’t been paying meticulous attention over recent weeks you would be forgiven for thinking US defence, like many other functions of state in the US and around the world, is continuing to face financial challenges. That’s true, or at least it was. Although the US continues to spend more than any other nation on its defence, since the start of the decade that spending has stagnated – arguably a cut in real terms.

However, analysis by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s arms and military expenditure programme recently found constraints were easing, with funding set to rise this year, up from the annual $610bn for the past seven years.

That news chimes with recent comments made by the US Secretary of the Army, Mark Esper. “You fix your roof when it’s sunny out, and right now it appears to be sunny for the next couple of years,” he said, addressing the Heritage Foundation earlier this year.

Esper said the US Army was looking at how it could best find the funding for priority programmes, namely those aimed at modernising the force.

Some recent GAO reports related to U.S. Army modernizaton:

Artificial Intelligence: Emerging Opportunities, Challenges, and Implications for Policy and Research; GAO-18-644T: Published: Jun 26, 2018. Publicly Released: Jun 26, 2018.

Weapon Systems Annual Assessment: Knowledge Gaps Pose Risks to Sustaining Recent Positive Trends; GAO-18-360SP: Published: Apr 25, 2018. Publicly Released: Apr 25, 2018

Technology Assessment: Artificial Intelligence: Emerging Opportunities, Challenges, and Implications; GAO-18-142SP: Published: Mar 28, 2018. Publicly Released: Mar 28, 2018

Army Weapon System Requirements: Need to Address Workforce Shortfalls to Make Necessary Improvements; GAO-17-568: Published: Jun 22, 2017. Publicly Released: Jun 22, 2017

Defense Acquisitions: Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs; GAO-17-333SP: Published: Mar 30, 2017. Publicly Released: Mar 30, 2017

Personal Protective Equipment: Army and Marine Corps Are Pursuing Efforts to Reduce the Weight of Items Worn or Carried in Combat; GAO-17-431: Published: May 5, 2017. Publicly Released: May 5, 2017

Unmanned Aerial Systems: Air Force and Army Should Improve Strategic Human Capital Planning for Pilot Workforces; GAO-17-53: Published: Jan 31, 2017. Publicly Released: Jan 31, 2017

Army Training: Efforts to Adjust Training Requirements Should Consider the Use of Virtual Training Devices; GAO-16-636: Published: Aug 16, 2016. Publicly Released: Aug 16, 2016