An #ADFRAS2040 Primer: Write now for an effect by 2040

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If the 2004 ADF Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Roadmap foresaw the requirement for a tiered UAS capability to be realised by 2020, then a Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) Roadmap will bring similar opportunities in 2040, and your contributions are sought today.

Let’s briefly reflect on the UAS roadmap that has brought UAS capability to the sealand and air. It provides an excellent contemporary case study for thinking about the next wave of technology to be introduced at scale to the domains of war. The 2004 ADF UAS Roadmap foretold a future in which human-in-the-loop, unmanned capabilities were limited to a ratio of one operator, one UAS. As it is being fully realised, a new roadmap is needed to identify systems that will be human-on-the-loop (or even off-the-loop), autonomous, and exploit one operator to many systems – that’s why #ADFRAS2040 is a discussion at the moment.

Australia is moving fast to adopt Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning. The CSIRO foresees changes in the future workforce, and the 2019 CSIRO Roadmap for AI is a handy reference for authors to consider before submitting their ideas. Core interrelated technologies, examples of high potential AI areas, and recognised science domains are defined in this roadmap, and those who might touch on ethics should refer to this Ethics Framework from Data61.

For military applications, it seems that catalysts are required to inspire an accelerated introduction of these technologies. As an example, UAS had been experimented with since 1917, but it was not until the Balkan and Global War on Terror conflicts that the joint force was ready for a UAS such as the MQ-9A Reaper. I contend that we face a different paradigm for RAS and AI: commercial interests will drive this latest chapter in the revolution of military affairs. As the smart phone accelerated an explosion in commercial technologies which leveraged digital technologies, some of which were then introduced to service, the industrial market will forge some military applications which will be adapted from our everyday use.

I’d suggest that you think along two lines for submissions to the #ADFRAS2040 call for submissions:

Firstly, what do you use or see today that can be scaled for the mid-term, the 2030’s? Your smart phone already tells you the fastest or cheapest route, recommends entertainment feeds and streamlines communications. Your car can maintain a lane and brake for obstacles. There are smart homes today, and smart cities being developed for tomorrow. These are the devices, networks, vehicles and infrastructure that we must scale up for the joint force of the 2030s.

Secondly, think bold for 2040: What tech is around the corner? What’s the next step? It might not be completely robotic warfare, but what will Human Machine Teams (HuM-T) look like? How will robotic swarming and air/land/sea wingmen be employed and enabled? For UAS, airworthiness regulations need to drastically change to allow one operator to many controlled UAS,  with human-on-the-loop monitoring of automated operations and human-out-of-the-loop autonomous operations. Robotic CASEVAC operations should allow the evacuation of the wounded without a supervising medic. There are already discussions about the laws of armed combat and ethical implications of autonomous systems, and science fiction has been bold with ideas that inch closer to realisation.

The 2020’s are set to yield a fully layered unmanned aerial system ISTAREW force for the ADF: the 2040’s hold this potential for RAS influencing all areas of the battlespace and the Force Exploration Hub offers an opportunity for you to suggest a vision for the future of ADF RAS. 

What do you think? Submit your thoughts to Grounded Curiosity, The Central Blue or The Forge over the next month and have the editorial teams work with you to pitch a brave vision for #ADFRAS2040. See the brief here.

Lieutenant Colonel Keirin Joyce, CSC is an Australian Army officer who has been supporting UAS technology development within the ADF for the last 14 years. The opinions expressed are his alone and do not represent the views of the Australian Army, the Australian Defence Force, or the Australian Government. Follow him as @keirinjoyce on Twitter.