AUKUS is Moving to Intelligent Drone Swarms

From nuclear submarines to hypersonic weapons, AUKUS is now developing AI-powered drone swarms and target identification capabilities.

Breaking Defense reported that the UK Ministry of Defense (MOD) announced the first-of-its-kind AI and autonomy trial for aerial and ground vehicles occurred last month, with several claimed “world firsts” at the event showcasing AUKUS Pillar 2’s capabilities.

AUKUS is moving to intelligent drone swarms

AUKUS is moving to intelligent drone swarms

AUKUS’ advanced technology-sharing follows a two-pillar framework. Pillar 1 is a trilateral effort focused on supporting Australia to build a nuclear attack submarine (SSN) fleet.

In contrast, Pillar 2 focuses on accelerating cooperation in several high-tech fields such as cyber capabilities, artificial intelligence, quantum computing, hypersonics and counter-hypersonics.

Breaking Defense notes that the event was spearheaded by the UK’s Defense Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), which included “live retraining of models in flight and the interchange of AI models between AUKUS nations.”

The same report mentions that AUKUS teams developed AI models and directed each other’s air and ground systems tasked with target identification.

Intelligent drone swarms used line-of-sight lasers to transmit data among each other, sharing targeting and flight data instantaneously between individual drones and effectively making the swarm autonomous.

Such intelligent drone swarms can work with manned stealth aircraft, extending the latter’s sensor range while maintaining electronic silence, thus drastically increasing the latter’s target acquisition capabilities.

They could also flood enemy radars with multiple targets, forcing the enemy to use limited air defense missiles and ammunition on expendable targets while manned stealth aircraft move in for the kill.

AUKUS is moving to intelligent drone swarms

AUKUS is moving to intelligent drone swarms

Machine learning and AI also enable drone swarms to look at targets from multiple angles, cross-check various targeting data streams and suggest the best attack.

For example, such capability may allow drone swarms to attack specific points on a warship, such as missile launchers, radars and engine compartments.

The US Department of Defense (DOD) has launched a low-profile program called “Autonomous Multi-Domain Adaptive Swarms-of-Swarms” (AMASS) to develop drone swarms that can be launched from sea, air and land.

AMASS aims to develop the capability to command autonomous drones working together to destroy enemy air defenses, artillery pieces, missile launchers and command centers.

Australia may already be deeply involved in US drone swarm projects. For example, Australia’s 2023 Defense Strategic Review mentions that collaboration with the US on the MQ-28A Ghost Bat should be a priority, with the drone capable of flying autonomously or with manned aircraft while being an expendable asset.

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