June 8, 2021, 03.00 PM
AI-driven swarm technology will soon hit the battlefield AI-driven swarm technology will soon hit the battlefield

Other militaries took note.

"Since the conflict, you could definitely see a certain uptick in interest in loitering munitions," said Franke. "We have seen more armed forces around the world acquiring or wanting to acquire these loitering munitions."

Drone swarms and 'flash wars'

This is just the beginning. Looking ahead, AI-driven technologies such as swarming will come into military use — enabling many drones to operate together as a lethal whole.

"You could take out an air defense system, for example," said Martijn Rasser of the Center for a New American Security, a think tank based in Washington, D.C.

"You throw so much mass at it and so many numbers that the system is overwhelmed. This, of course, has a lot of tactical benefits on a battlefield," he told DW. "No surprise, a lot of countries are very interested in pursuing these types of capabilities."

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The scale and speed of swarming open up the prospect of military clashes so rapid and complex that humans cannot follow them, further fueling an arms race dynamic.

As Ulrike Franke explained: "Some actors may be forced to adopt a certain level of autonomy, at least defensively, because human beings would not be able to deal with autonomous attacks as fast."

This critical factor of speed could even lead to wars that erupt out of nowhere, with autonomous systems reacting to each other in a spiral of escalation. "In the literature we call these 'flash wars'," Franke said, "an accidental military conflict that you didn't want."

Experts warn that AI-driven systems could lead to 'flash wars' erupting beyond human control Experts warn that AI-driven systems could lead to 'flash wars' erupting beyond human control

A move to 'stop killer robots'

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