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UK hosts inaugural AUKUS AI and autonomy trial

The first AUKUS Pillar 2 Artificial Intelligence (AI) and autonomy trial was held in the UK in April, with the aim of rapidly driving these technologies into responsible military use. The Australian Army, DSTG and two Australian suppliers, Boeing Defence Australia and Insitu Australia, took part alongside the UK’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) and Defence Artificial Intelligence Centre (DAIC), US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and US Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM).

The trials saw experimental work by 70 Australian, UK and US personnel on detecting and tracking military targets. In addition, vehicles were ‘retrained’ in flight to adapt to changing mission situations. The three partners showed a shared focus on adhering to safe and responsible artificial intelligence activity

The work saw the initial joint deployment of Australian, UK and US AI-enabled assets in a collaborative swarm to detect and track military targets in a representative environment in real time. Accelerating the development of these technologies will have a massive impact on coalition military capability, says the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD).

“This trial demonstrates the military advantage of AUKUS advanced capabilities, as we work in coalition to identify, track and counter potential adversaries from a greater distance and with greater speed,” said UK Deputy Chief of Defence Staff, Military Capability, Lieutenant General Rob Magowan. “Service personnel, scientists and engineers from our three nations combined to develop and share critical information to enhance commanders’ decision making.

“Accelerating technological advances will deliver the operational advantages necessary to defeat current and future threats across the battlespace. We are committed to collaborating with partners to ensure that we achieve this while also promoting the responsible development and deployment of AI.”

The trial, organised by DSTL, achieved world firsts, including the live retraining of models in flight and the interchange of AI models between AUKUS nations. AUKUS is looking to rapidly drive these technologies into military capabilities.

The AUKUS Advanced Capabilities Pillar, known as Pillar 2, is pursuing a trilateral programme of work on a range of leading-edge technologies and capabilities to promote security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. Through Pillar 2, Australia, the UK, and the US have collaborated to accelerate collective understanding of AI and autonomy technologies, and how to rapidly field robust, trustworthy AI and autonomy in complex operations, while adhering to the shared values of safe and responsible AI.

By sharing AI – and the underpinning data to enable it – with one another, the Australia, UK, and US militaries can access the best AI, reduce duplication of effort, and ensure interoperability.

“The AUKUS AI and Autonomy trial in Salisbury Plains demonstrated algorithms working in a mission-tailored adaptive capability,” said Australia’s Deputy Secretary, Strategy, Policy and Industry, Hugh Jeffrey. “I was impressed to see AI models rapidly updated at the tactical edge to incorporate new targets, which were immediately shared among the three partners to deliver decision advantage and meet changing mission requirements. This cooperation under AUKUS Pillar II will deliver a capability greater than any one country could achieve alone, and this really is the rationale for the AUKUS partnership at work.”

The trial used a variety of air and ground vehicles to test target identification capability, including: Blue Bear Ghost (UK) and Boeing/Insitu CT220 (AUS) uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs), Challenger 2 tank, Warrior armoured vehicle and Viking uncrewed ground vehicle (UGV), along with a commercially hired FV433 Abbot self-propelled gun and former Eastern Bloc BMP OT-90.

The trilateral teams collaborated to develop joint machine-learning (ML) models, apply test and evaluation processes, and fly on different national UAVs. The ML models were quickly updated to include new targets and shared among the coalition and AI models retrained to meet changing mission requirements.

Other organisations participating in the trial were the US Office of The Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering (OUSD R&E) and UK suppliers Blue Bear and Frazer-Nash Consultancy.

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