Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Why AI revolution could defeat US air superiority and hence strategic hegemony

Pictured The Russian Brahmos II hypersonic cruise missile now under development by Russia and India.
The Bhahmos I is a supersonic anti ship cruise missile already deployed

The news that the Alpha AI programme can defeat human fighter pilots in simulated air combat ( BBC) shows that within the lifetime of the F-35 (the hideously expensive, frequently delayed, fighter bomber tasked with replacing half the US arsenal) unpiloted combat aerial vehicles will become the 'top guns' of air combat maneuver.

Not only will UCAVS be able to pull Gs no human body could withstand (which they can do now) they will also be able to outfly human rivals tactically. Add to that the ability to build vehicles without the need for a cockpit and all that opens up for stealthy design and you have a potentially new calculus for air superiority.

Fascinatingly the Alpha AI jet pilot programme does not require a huge computer to run on. In fact the average 2015 desktop will do. Or a high end cellphone. But most important Alpha is a learning machine. It doesn't just run through a bunch of routines. It accepts feedback and recalibrates. It can practice against people or it can practice against itself. Moreover it can practice against itself without burning any fuel or doing anything to the environment.

If you put AI at the core of your air combat vehicle you change the entire basis for air warfare. For a kick off you can afford to lose "pilots". Training is no longer an investment of thousands of flight hours and years of professional development. It's a case Ctrl-C Ctrl-V. Done! Each one is simply a software instantiation you can clone in seconds.

Instead of planes like the F-35 all you need is a Matroyschka doll of missiles. The long range "bus" rocket delivers a pair of Air Combat Manouver drones to the combat zone whether it is 2,000 or 12,000 miles away at hypersonic speeds. The air combat manouver drones use missiles to achieve air superiority until it's time to self destruct. Then they find targets on the surface and fly into them at 8,000km/h. Boom! The obvious targets: other air superiority asset bases - air force bases and carriers.

The ACM drones can be scramjet or rocket powered, carbon-fibre stealthy and a fraction the size of conventional aircraft. Delivered by missile they could easily be far faster than any conventional aircraft. Conventional fighters would be outperformed, outfought and ultimately uneconomic.
Transport aircraft could also provide a "mother ship" role for ACM drones for situations where an IFF problem might arise.

Consider the economics of this. Right now the F-35 is the most expensive weapons system programme in history, having cost US$1.5 trillion. It is $163 billion over budget and 7 years late. Nice for Lockheed Martin but not so great for its customers. When it's finally delivered the F-35 will have a max speed of almost 2,000km/h, a range of 650nm and be able to pull 9Gs. It will be able to carry 6 missiles and have a gun with about 3 seconds of firing ability.

Most of the time the F-35 will be flown in training missions. That is it will be used to programme its pilots. Only America really has the economic power able to sustain a large full time air force that trains so much. But that is a very slow and very expensive upgrade cycle compared to an AI system which never stops training and has uniform and immediate performance duplication.

Building UAVs and rockets is surprisingly cheap. The Brahmos I missile costs $2.1m each but if the Brahmos II with AI ACM took down a plane and a ship the ROI is over 100:1  Larger nations with reputations for military innovation such as Russia and Israel will see the implications in Alpha immediately. The technology is not beyond nations such as China, Iran, Turkey, India, Germany, France, Sweden, Japan, Korea, Australia, Singapore etc either. Even nations as small as New Zealand can build fast rockets.

Obviously the US will want to invest the most in this technology, just as it does in many things. But US military investment - as we have seen with the F-35 - is neither efficient, nor all that nimble. The US has nothing to match BrahMos even now. The Americans are good at reliable - even downright slow - programme development. But US manufacturers thrive on the political infighting over specifications changes, mission changes etc. The list of programmes US services have started but been forced to kill because of budget blowouts is an embarrassingly long one. This means that American programmes are wildly too expensive and embedded in the institutional excesses of their military agencies.

But what happens when America wakes up one day to find that Russia has an ICBM deliverable airforce of hypersonic robot fighters able to wipe out its carrier and ground wings in the air? Or over the next fifteen years a dozen countries develop hypersonic ICBM delivered AI fighter swarms? Yes, laser weapons are a potential defence for her carriers and air bases but the ability to contest the skies themselves will hugely change the status of the US as the nation with the world's greatest air force. Her ability to defend will remain but her ability to strike at will be drastically curtailed.

It is too early to say what the future holds exactly, but one thing is for sure. The F-35's viable lifetime just got a lot shorter.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Gerry Brownlee joins long list of defence bullshitters

Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee's latest justification for extending the tour of 143 New Zealand troops in Iraq - the massacre in Orlando Florida - demonstrates the flagrant contempt the defence establishment has for the intelligence of those who pay its bills.

The Orlando murderer Omar Mateen was a closet gay bar loiterer who clearly had mental health issues connected to his sexuality. Like many from ultra masculine cultures (including the military) he struggled to reconcile his sexuality with his culture and the result was a self-loathing hate crime that cost 49 others their lives.

The only connection with ISIS was a claim in a 911 call that he was acting on behalf of the extremist Wahabi army in Iraq and Syria. ISIS will take credit for any act of violence undertaken in its name as a matter of policy.

In short Minister Brownlees justification for extending the tour is bullshit, as is the whole suggestion that New Zealand politicians have any control at all over our own defence force.


18 June 2014  John Key rules out troops being sent to Iraq

25 June 2014 John Key shifts stance

The whole deployment was driven by the US and there is little point pretending otherwise. Gerry gets told to jump and the only question is "how high".

The use of a group of largely incompetent

idiots with weapons in Iraq and Syria who are no existential threat to anyone but themselves as a justification for vast military spend ups and adventurism is simply not credible.

What New Zealand taxpayers have to ask themselves is just what benefits we expect to see from this nonsense?

For the fact is Iraq and Syria are no longer the nations defined by France and Britain under the secret Sykes Picot Agreement. And the illusion of both nations is more damaging than admitting the possibility that the UN should recognise the power realities in the region. That is the only way that peace can prevail. That, and sanctions against the main regional aggressor - Saudi Arabia ( like that will ever happen).

There was a time when New Zealand was admired for its independent diplomatic stance on military matters. That time seems to be drawing to a close and under National we appear to be returning to the role of suck up. For a nation which is pushing Helen Clarke for General Secretary of the United Nations it is obvious that "New Zealand" today is nothing more than a US puppet.

New edition of defence website

Over the years I have written two defence oriented websites, criticising the NZ Defence Force.

In the first one I looked at the "all hazards" risk to New Zealand of various threats ranging from earthquakes to invasion and tried to develop a benefit cost ratio (BCR) approach for investing in defence. It found that unless half of the resource was devoted to civil defence there was no justification for a defence force the size we had. The site compared the actual defence assets we had with an alternative and suggested the alternative was better.

That was before the Christchurch earthquakes (from 2011). What became clear from that experience was that the defence force was a drop in the bucket compared to the enormous resources of the civilian population. Without any particular hostile force involved civilian agencies were perfectly capable of supplying the construction machinery, helicopters and logistics chain needed to sustain a devastated city. My second website took a new approach, again based on all hazards. It looked at the depreciation curves of defence assets and recommended both a change of structure (to reduce costs) and a new course in defence planning.

That site was the precursor of the new one. For what has become increasingly apparent to me is this
  1. The defence force actually has very little to offer in civilian emergencies compared to civilian agencies. Indeed it has used this argument to justify things which are wildly too expensive compared to comparable civilian operations. The result is a deadweight cost to the economy that a small nation does not need.
  2. The defence force in a modern setting is more of a super-national policing agency because in an age of asymmetric warfare the enemy will always hide amongst the civilian population or be armed civilians. There is no point training a regiment of light infantry to refight world war two battles. Nobody has fought that way since the Korean War.
  3. Nations that operate a defence force fall into one of three categories: i) serious investors in weaponry and regional power (e.g. Australia and Singapore) ii) national armies of unity whose main function is to prevent rebellion and ceding (Indonesia and until recently China) iii) small nations whose military are essentially police and civil defence, and a sop for unemployment (New Zealand and the Philippines).
  4. Most industrial nations leverage defence into an industrial development policy. Singapore's state owned STengg is a major defence contractor. Australia has managed to boost Austal catamarans into a major international manufacturer to the US Navy. The New Zealand defence force has done extremely poorly in providing this reciprocal benefit to taxpayers and there are a number of opportunities to reduce costs or add value to civilian life which are not being pursued.
  5. New Zealand's defence force is disproportionately expensive for the size of the risk which is due in part to i) self serving decision making by all three arms of the force and ii) a deliberate strategy of propaganda by the defence force to avoid questioning by invoking nationalism iii) reckless disregard for the cost of the impost the defence force makes on the lives of ordinary New Zealanders compared to the benefit particularly by defence staff.
  6. Civilian reviews have been pathetic in their pandering to defence staff and have clearly been either bullied or captured
  7. A yardstick is needed so that taxpayers can see in context the extent of the ripoff.
To my utter astonishment however the Government has announced a $20 billion spend up over the next 15 years. This may seem small compared to the US spend up of $600 billion approved by the Senate recently but it actually isn't. On a population basis it is twice the US spend and that's before we even talk about New Zealand's GDP/Capita being a third less than the United States.

In short New Zealand is embarking on a military policy of subsidising large foreign military manufacturing companies. A policy we cannot afford. At the same time some of our own companies receive significantly less support than they deserve from military spending.

This is all fully explored on .