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Autonomous Functions of Unmanned Aircraft with Artificial Intelligence in Large Scale Combat Operations


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Unmanned aircraft will continue to be critical to the defense of the United States. The National Defense Strategy prioritizes investments in artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and autonomous functions in order to maintain a competitive military edge. This research is based on the rigors of large-scale combat operations (LSCO), and the need to act decisively as well as ethically when developing technologies that leverage AI. The study uses qualitative research to analyze four types of autonomous unmanned aircraft that exist in technological developments and operational concepts. It uses an unclassified case study of U.S. and China military capabilities and applies several forms of analysis including professional qualitative interviews. While the analysis found utility in all four types of autonomous unmanned aircraft, it recommends prioritizing fully autonomous munitions and semi-autonomous human on the loop technologies in order to meet Joint force planning timelines centered on 2035. The findings also suggest that improvements need to be made to collecting and processing data, cloud and meshed based networks, and the security of data and network systems. The research also found that AI and autonomous functions have the potential to enhance human performance and decisions and that maintaining a mix of manned and unmanned aircraft enables the U.S. to manage combat risk and preserve the mission statement of the Department of Defense: to deter war and ensure our nation's security.



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