Voices from Accenture Public Service


Technology is advancing at a staggering pace, having a profound effect on the way militaries operate.

However, military supremacy won’t be achieved through the interplay of advanced capabilities alone; it will be achieved through the ability to capture and synthesise content to make better decisions, faster than an adversary.

The art of war is therefore knowing more than your opponent and employing intelligent systems to provide a calculative advantage – strategically, operationally and tactically.

By intelligent systems, I mean those powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI) which use the entire information ecosystem to make assumptions, test them, learn autonomously, predict events and provide recommendations.

A host of new challenges

Greater chaos, complexity and competition in today’s environment means that militaries will begin to test other actors and compete in the ‘grey areas’. That is, the space between war and peace, in which militaries deploy innovative technologies that depart from traditional conventions and create new non-linear and less predictable effects.

Given these challenges, the allied community has begun investing more in the development of AI. These initiatives aim to enhance operational advantages on and off the battlefield, improve the accuracy and confidence of decisions, and enhance certainty over outcomes. The idea being that AI may tame the nature of war.

Project Maven, led by the US Department of Defence, involves the deployment of AI to process drone footage in the fight against terrorism. Now in its second year the project is yielding incredible results, demonstrating that AI is rapidly maturing as a powerful technology with seemingly limitless applications. It has proven its ability to automate routine tasks while also augmenting human capacity with new insight.

The Royal Australian Airforce’s own experimental capability, the Loyal Wingman, is another great example. Semi-autonomous drones are intended to provide a force multiplier by projecting power forward and keeping manned platforms safe. Whilst still under development it’s planned that the Loyal Wingman will maintain AI-powered capabilities that self-calibrate to support intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and electronic warfare missions.

With great power comes great responsibility – the crux of the issue

AI has raised many concerns particularly around ethics and legalities. For AI to become responsibly integrated into force posture, it needs to be accompanied by the right measures and safeguards.

For this reason, Explainable AI (XAI) has become the popular topic in 2019. XAI is defined as the ability of AI to be transparent, interpretable and explainable. The intent of XAI is to produce more explainable AI models while maintaining a high level of performance. Moreover, it’s to enable human users to understand, appropriately trust, and effectively manage the emerging generation of AI partners. This premise is outlined in  Technology Vision 2019.

It goes without saying, that this territory is largely uncharted.

New intelligent systems will impact the future operating environment and it’s our responsibility to make sure they are accompanied by strong frameworks – especially when decisions over human life is involved. Prudence is required so that our servant doesn’t become our executioner.

Taking a step forward

At Accenture we’re developing AI which is transparent in its strengths and weaknesses and can provide confidence in its future behaviour. We’re producing more explainable and contextualised models and are committed to fostering innovation that drives the development of 5th generation capabilities for Australia and our allies.

The new art of war is about harnessing the entire information ecosystem to help military commanders apply the right solution to the right problem at the right time, in real time. Because intelligent systems that can win in the decision space will likely prevail in the battlespace.

I believe this will be a game changer. If new intelligent systems stand up to the most rigorous scrutiny, they will allow militaries to prevent conflicts when possible, keep others winnable when not, and as technology alters the strategic calculus, make better decisions in the ‘grey areas’.

A bumpy road ahead

We haven’t found a silver bullet yet for managing, let alone integrating the vast amount of sensor data from legacy platforms into new intelligent systems This will be a key challenge moving forward. Personally though, I look forward to the challenges ahead, and especially in achieving mission focused outcomes for our clients Down Under and across the Five Eyes.

I’m keen to hear your views on AI and its applications, so please leave a comment.

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