Millennium Post (Kolkata)

US-China competitio­n for military drone swarms may spur global arms race

Both nations keep drone advancemen­ts secret; unclear who has edge


As their rivalry intensifie­s, US and Chinese military planners are gearing up for a new kind of warfare in which squadrons of air and sea drones equipped with artificial intelligen­ce work together like a swarm of bees to overwhelm an enemy.

The planners envision a scenario in which hundreds, even thousands of the machines engage in coordinate­d battle. A single controller might oversee dozens of drones. Some would scout, others attack. Some would be able to pivot to new objectives in the middle of a mission based on prior programmin­g rather than a direct order. The world's only AI superpower­s are engaged in an arms race for swarming drones that is reminiscen­t of the Cold War, except drone technology will be far more difficult to contain than nuclear weapons. Because software drives the drones' swarming abilities, it could be relatively easy and cheap for rogue nations and militants to acquire their own fleets of killer robots.

The Pentagon is pushing urgent developmen­t of inexpensiv­e, expendable drones as a deterrent against China acting on its territoria­l claim on Taiwan. Washington says it has no choice but to keep pace with

Beijing. Chinese officials say AI-enabled weapons are inevitable so they, too, must have them. The unchecked spread of swarm technology “could lead to more instabilit­y and conflict around the world,” said Margarita Konaev, an analyst with Georgetown University's Centre for Security and Emerging


As the undisputed leaders in the field, Washington and Beijing are best equipped to set an example by putting limits on military uses of drone swarms. But their intense competitio­n, China's military aggression in the South China Sea and persistent tensions over Taiwan make the prospect of cooperatio­n look dim. The idea is not new. The United Nations has tried for more than a decade to advance drone non-proliferat­ion efforts that could include limits such as forbidding the targeting of civilians or banning the use of swarms for ethnic cleansing.

Drones have been a priority for both powers for years, and each side has kept its advances secret, so it's unclear which country might have an edge.

It's not clear how many drones a single person would control. A spokesman for the defense secretary declined to say, but a recently published Pentagon-backed study offers a clue: A single operator supervised a swarm of more than 100 cheap air and land drones in late 2021 in an urban warfare exercise at an Army training site at Fort Campbell, Tennessee.

Not to be outdone, China's military claimed last year that dozens of aerial drones “self-healed” after jamming cut their communicat­ions. An official documentar­y said they regrouped, switched to self-guidance and completed a search-and-destroy mission unaided, detonating explosivel­aden drones on a target.

A year ago, CIA Director William Burns said Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping had instructed his military to “be ready by 2027” to invade Taiwan. But that doesn't mean an invasion is likely.

Just before he died last year, former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger urged Beijing and Washington to work together to discourage AI arms proliferat­ion.

‘The unchecked spread of swarm technology could lead to more instabilit­y and conflict around the world’

 ?? ?? US and China competetio­n in drone swarms may stoke arms race
US and China competetio­n in drone swarms may stoke arms race

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