Australia and the United States team-up on AI

By Lieutenant Colonel Lachlan Simond

14 June 2024

A team of autonomous uncrewed systems fly over Northern Virginia.

On board, Artificial Intelligence (AI) controls the team’s movements as they search for targets on the ground.

As one of the team identifies a potential target, another flies over to confirm.

The uncrewed team passes confirmed target information to a human commander on the ground.

From a safe location, the commander issues the command to destroy the target.

What seems like a scene from a science fiction movie became a reality during a recent activity with the Australian Army and the US Marine Corps (USMC) at the Marine Corps Base Quantico in the US.

Australian Army’s AI technical director Lieutenant Colonel Adam Hepworth said activities like this demonstrated ways autonomous systems and AI can be used in modern battles.

“This type of operationally relevant experimentation is essential to understand how we employ AI in a responsible, safe and legal way into the future,” Lieutenant Colonel Hepworth said.

The activity employed a variety of Australian and US emerging technologies including autonomous uncrewed aerial systems (UAS), loitering munitions and low-earth orbit satellites facilitating real-time communication and information sharing.

The Australian Army, in partnership with Phantom Works Global and Insitu Pacific, deployed an Australian-developed uncrewed aerial surveillance and reconnaissance system.

During the activity, this system successfully located and classified all threats. The Australian commander received real-time information about the classified threats, prompting the USMC commander to launch a strike on the targets.

The activity brought together military and industry, as well as science and technology professionals to observe the art of the possible.

Minister Counsellor Defence Science and Technology at the Australian Embassy in Washington, Darren Sutton, highlighted the opportunity to explore operational use-cases and inform the development process during the activity.

“Today is important from a science perspective because it enabled the demonstration of advanced AI capabilities in an operational realistic environment, being used by warfighters, to explore the operational utility of those capabilities and provide refinement for advanced technologies going forward,” Dr Sutton said.

“AI is going to be incredibly important in the future because it will enable us to move the warfighter further away from the interface between themselves and the opposition. It also enables us to counter the mass that potential large adversaries would have, relative to a smaller force like the ADF.”

Major Steven Atkinson, USMC activity lead and Branch Head for Robotics and Autonomy at the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab, saw a clear reason for the use of autonomous systems into the future.

“[As a pilot,] I love flying. It is a great opportunity, a great career, but at the end of the day it is about what makes more sense for the Defence community,” Major Atkinson said.

“If you can reduce risk by putting a drone rather than a human in that scenario where they are inside of a weapons engagement zone or a threat, I would much rather put the drone out there.”

Protecting the warfighter through the application of cutting-edge technologies remains a shared interested between Australia and the US, Lieutenant Colonel Hepworth reinforced.

“It is important for us to protect our soldiers. The use of these technologies allows us to effect threats without placing our soldiers in harm’s way,” he said.

“By working with our allies and partners, we can seize opportunities, anticipate and respond to current and emerging threats, and deliver the capability Army needs now and in the future.”

The USMC will travel to Australia in late 2024 to conduct further experimentation on our shores.


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John Pike