“Automation” has become a bit of a hot button topic here in the United States. Many industry leaders and experts alike agree that the world of the near future will likely involve significantly fewer factory jobs for human employees, and a far more robotic workforce taking hold, raises concerns about employment and even tax revenue… but one aspect of the impending automation revolution often left out of the conversation is how it will affect war.
China, which is one of the two global powers the United States military has an eye on as it transitions toward training for nation-level conflicts, has always been at the forefront of manufacturing solutions. In recent years, they’ve combined that with an emphasis on expanding and modernizing their military, allowing the nation to field a fleet of F-22 knock off J-20 fighter jets, for instance, extremely quickly. To date, China has already built 28 of the 5th generation fighter based off of stolen F-22 plans, meaning that despite starting years behind, they’ve already managed to produce nearly a third of America’s F-22 fleet.
As valuable as advanced fighters are to a war effort, all the platforms in the world can’t win the day without ammunition – and China is well aware of that. According to Xu Zhigang, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Shenyang Institute of Automation and a lead scientist with China’s “high-level weapon system intelligent manufacturing program,” China has already begun transitioning toward a fully automated ammunition manufacturing process.
Nearly a quarter of China’s ammunition factories have already replaced the majority of their workers with “smart machines” equipped with “hands and eyes” that allow them to assemble simple munitions like rifle rounds, artillery shells and rockets at a rate humans can’t match, but the more advanced systems have already begun building more complex weapons of war, like guided bombs.
What does that mean for China’s ability to wage war? According to their experts, the machines work at approximately five times the rate of their human workers. In fact, their biggest issue with the robotic workforce is finding logistical solutions to keep them supplied with raw materials quickly enough to keep them working. The robotic workers aren’t only more efficient, they’re also more accurate, dramatically reducing the quality assurance aspect of manufacturing, reducing costs and timetables for delivery.
All of this technological progress equates to predictions that within the next few years, China will have tripled its bomb and ammunition production as they continue to transition more than 60 munitions factories around the country onto the automated system.
Of course, according to Chinese officials, this rapid expansion of their munition manufacturing footprint is simply a by-product of technological progress and nothing more. As far as the Chinese government is concerned, the influx of investment into the industry is intended to create jobs for the future, and they can’t quite be bothered to address what they may need the increase in production for.
“It’s not like our nation is gearing up for a war and filling its armories at breakneck speed,” Xu said, and to be fair, he’s right – the robots don’t have necks at all.
Image courtesy of the Associated Press