A few days ago, according to a report on the website of the U.S. Naval Research Institute, the U.S. Royal think tank, the Congressional Research Service, released a report, which comprehensively elaborated the potential application of six new military technologies, including artificial intelligence, autonomous lethal weapons, hypersonic weapons, directed energy weapons, biotechnology and quantum technology, in the future battlefield, as well as the development status of the United States and other countries in related fields.
the report points out that at present, artificial intelligence has been widely used by “the United States and its competitors” for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, logistics, network operations, command and control, as well as semi-automatic and automatic driving and other military purposes.
compared with the human operation system, AI system has faster response speed and can handle exponential growth of data volume; at the same time, AI technology has created new operational concepts such as unmanned aerial vehicle cluster operation. However, AI system is also faced with the problem of algorithm deviation, which may be used by adversaries and lead to the failure of military operations. In recent years, the application of AI in the “deep fraud” of pictures, audio and video has attracted more and more attention. It can be used to forge news reports, interfere with public opinion and carry out “information war”.
according to the report, the U.S. Department of defense is operating more than 600 AI projects, and its public investment in AI technology has increased from more than $600 million in fiscal 2016 to $927 million in fiscal year 2020. According to, the US military has established a joint artificial intelligence center to accelerate the military application of AI technology. In 2021, the U.S. military plans to invest up to $800 million in jaic and the intelligent image processing project code named “Maven.”.
according to the report, there is no internationally recognized definition of lethal autonomous weapon system. The U.S. Department of defense directive defines it as “a weapon system that can independently identify targets and use airborne weapons to attack and destroy targets without control.”. Compared with the traditional weapon system, laws can distinguish hostile targets, make engagement decisions and guide weapon attacks by computer algorithms and sensors when the communication is not smooth or even cut off.
some experts believe that laws “allow weapons to strike military targets more accurately and reduce the risk of collateral damage or civilian casualties.”. Some analysts also believe that laws lacks manual control and faces risks such as hacker attacks, enemy manipulation and software errors, which may lead to a larger number of accidental attacks and civilian casualties. At present, about 25 countries and 100 non-governmental organizations have requested international legislation to prohibit the development of laws.
at present, there is no evidence to show whether the United States is studying or preparing to study laws, but it is certain that the United States has not banned the research, deployment or use of laws.
the report mentioned that many countries, including the United States, Russia and China, are developing hypersonic weapons. It can be divided into two categories: one is the hypersonic glider launched by rocket and then glided to the target without power; the other is the hypersonic cruise missile powered by high-speed engine in the whole flight process. Hypersonic weapons do not follow parabolic trajectory, and can maneuver in flight, which increases the difficulty of adversary defense.
analysts differ on the strategic significance of hypersonic weapons. Some experts believe that hypersonic weapons have high flight speed and reduce the reaction time of opponents; however, the unpredictable flight path of hypersonic weapons increases the uncertainty of attacking targets and increases the risk of misjudgment or accidental escalation in conflicts. Other experts believe that the strategic impact of hypersonic weapons is negligible, because ballistic missiles are also sufficient to suppress the opponent’s anti missile systems.
at present, the U.S. Department of defense is developing hypersonic weapons through the conventional rapid strike program. In 2021, the U.S. military plans to invest $3.2 billion in hypersonic weapon related research, including more than $200 million in hypersonic weapon defense system.
according to the report, the US Department of defense defines directional energy weapons as the use of concentrated electromagnetic energy “to incapacitate, damage, maim or destroy enemy equipment, facilities or personnel”. Directional energy weapons can be used in short-range air defense, anti UAV, anti rocket, artillery and mortar missions. In theory, compared with conventional systems, directional energy weapons can effectively defend against missile salvo or UAV cluster, and can also be used for missile interception in boost phase.
the United States began to study directed energy weapons in the 1960s. At present, the U.S. Army, Navy, air force and DARPA are all carrying out research and development projects of anti UAV directed energy weapons. In 2021, the US Navy and army plan to deploy laser weapons with a power of 60 kW and 50 kW respectively. The US military hopes to launch a laser weapon capable of intercepting cruise missiles with a power of 300 kilowatts in 2022.
according to the report, the development of biotechnology has an obvious impact on US military and international security. According to the assessment of the U.S. Department of defense, the State Department, and the Department of homeland security, biotechnology, such as low-cost gene editing tools, has the potential to change or create genes to “modify” animals, plants and humans, which can be used to improve the combat capability of military personnel, while the proliferation of synthetic biological technology aggravates the threat of biological and chemical weapons. At the same time, biotechnology can also be used to produce adaptive camouflage, stealth devices and lighter, stronger, potentially self-healing protective armor.
at present, DARPA has many biotechnology projects dedicated to military medicine, diagnosis and prediction, and its “safe gene program” aims to “protect military personnel from accidental or intentional abuse of gene editing technology”. In addition, the US military is also developing new bio based materials and sensors. According to other reports, the United States is studying or has studied the use of biotechnology to improve the combat ability of soldiers to make them stronger, smarter, more capable and more endurance.
the report points out that quantum technology can have a significant impact on military communication, encryption and stealth technology in the future. Quantum communication can develop secure communications that the United States cannot intercept or decrypt. Quantum computing may allow the enemy to decrypt sensitive information from the United States. Quantum radar can identify targets more accurately. Quantum sensing technology can significantly improve submarine detection and make the ocean more “transparent”. However, quantum technology is not mature, and its wide application needs to make great progress in material science and manufacturing technology.
the U.S. Defense Science Council’s quantum technology application evaluation Working Group believes that quantum sensing, quantum computing and quantum communication are the most promising application fields of quantum technology in the US military. What’s more, the US Department of defense is required to formulate a research and investment plan for quantum technology, and submit an evaluation report on the use of quantum technology in military use by the United States and other countries to Congress before December 31, 2020. At present, the US military has funded a series of quantum technology research projects.