China, in its ongoing quest for military modernization, has claimed to have recently tested a smart artillery weapon that incorporates artificial intelligence (AI) and has shown promising results. The development marks a significant milestone for Beijing and its goal to enhance its targeting capabilities using advanced technology while potentially cutting future costs.
Artillery munitions, in particular, are considered to be the backbone of the strike capability of the People’s Liberation Army – Ground Force (PLA-GF). Along with China’s modernization plan, the service seeks to acquire a smart variant of these weapons to keep up with its ambitious program and simultaneously increase lethality and precision against other advancing superpowers like the United States.
Earlier this month, a team of researchers led by Professor Wang Jiang from the Beijing Institute of Technology published its recent findings on integrating AI into laser-guided artillery to improve strike precision in a peer-reviewed journal.
Reportedly, trials on the AI-powered munition began in July last year. The scientists working for the PLA conducted multiple tests under various conditions and later determined that the long-range artillery could hit human-sized targets as far as 16 kilometers (9.9 miles).
Moreover, Jiang’s team claimed that the smart artillery exceeded their expectations, achieving high precision and being more capable than any big guns in the service’s arsenal.
“Artificial intelligence is evolving quickly. More researchers are applying the technology to trajectory planning problems,” said Jiang via Acta Armamentarii, published on April 6.
Currently, armed forces worldwide use traditional and guided artillery shells, which the former can reach as far as 100 meters (328 feet) or more. At the same time, the latter can make course adjustments mid-flights—a feature that most militaries now seek to field today’s modern warfare.
Smart artillery, also known as precision-guided munitions, began to see significant use in modern warfare in the 1990s during the Gulf War, demonstrating its effectiveness in destroying enemy targets while minimizing collateral damage to nearby civilian areas. Since then, it has become widely used in modern warfare.
However, achieving high accuracy with these weapons has been challenging. It requires significant real-time data, which can be demanding for the computing system using traditional mathematical models. Not to mention that various flight variables, including wind, temperature, and air pressure, among many others, can limit the precision of an artillery shell. These factors can impact its trajectory, causing it to miss its target by a few or even tens of meters. Thus, according to Jiang and his team, these issues would be reduced, if not eliminated, by integrating AI.
AI vs. Traditional Mathematical Model
One of the main differences between AI and traditional mathematical approaches in computing is that the former makes decisions based on machine learning algorithms, while the latter relies on mathematical equations and formulas.
An AI model offers precision-guided artillery a far more flexible and adaptable feature capable of processing data faster, delivering more reliable predictions, especially in difficult situations, than using a traditional mathematical approach.
As a smart shell needs to quickly collect, analyze, and come up with a decision in real-time, all under a restricted minute, its computer chip must have all the necessary features to keep up with the demand. In addition to the extreme heat and shock of artillery fire, it has to endure. With this, engineers often remove valuable raw data to keep up with time pressure, which can have a negative impact on the overall accuracy of the munition when using a traditional mathematical model.
This, however, is not the case for AI-powered computer chips, as they can easily accomplish the necessary calculations using all available data collected in real-time flights or laboratory experiments, subsequently bypassing the demanding processes.
The Chinese-based researchers added that AI models could provide more advanced trajectory adjustments mid-flights through its machine learning algorithm, improving strike accuracy.
Can Potentially Be Used Against Taiwan
Many experts consider fine-tuning the accuracy of artillery fire unnecessary. Nevertheless remains a subject of debate. For one, the munition relies on heavy shell blasts, which alone can already inflict damage on targets standing at least a hundred meters away—although not everyone shares this view. The PLA, for example, reportedly considers high-precision lethal projectiles very useful, particularly in an attack on Taiwan.
According to an anonymous defense industry engineer based in Beijing, AI-powered artillery could efficiently destroy enemy units or vehicles concealed “in buildings with more efficiency than traditional firepower, and at a lower cost than missiles” in urban warfare scenarios.
“It will help reduce civilian casualties and damage to surrounding buildings. It will make reunification and reconstruction after the war easier,” he told the South China Morning Post.
The research and evaluation on the AI-powered laser-guided artillery arrived amid the ongoing tensions between Taiwan and China, which many have speculated the latter might use in a potential future invasion.
In recent months, Beijing hasn’t shied away from reiterating the importance of bolstering its precision strike capabilities, stressing that it would become a vital weapon in shutting down the Strait’s command and control.
Check out Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Warfare: The USA, China, and strategic stability by James Johnson here and gain a groundbreaking insight into the AI arms race between the US and China, what the future of military technology holds, and its impact on global security.
There are on this article.
You must become a subscriber or login to view or post comments on this article.