World first as UK hosts inaugural AUKUS AI and autonomy trial 26052023 CREDIT MOD Crown Copyright
The trial involved experimental work by Australia, UK and US on detecting and tracking military targets (Picture: MOD).

Aukus looks to drive AI into military capabilities after 'world firsts' at UK-hosted trial

World first as UK hosts inaugural AUKUS AI and autonomy trial 26052023 CREDIT MOD Crown Copyright
The trial involved experimental work by Australia, UK and US on detecting and tracking military targets (Picture: MOD).

The Aukus alliance is looking to "rapidly drive" advanced artificial intelligence (AI) into military capabilities after a trial saw "world firsts" achieved with the technology.

In April, the first Aukus AI and autonomy trial was held at Upavon in Wiltshire, with the aim of "rapidly driving these technologies into responsible military use", said the Ministry of Defence (MOD).

The trial saw AI retrained to improve performance against known targets and to be able to identify emergent targets, involving vehicles including the UK's Blue Bear Ghost and Challenger 2 tanks.

Among the other equipment used were Warrior armoured vehicles, Viking unmanned ground vehicles and a commercially hired FV433 Abbot self-propelled gun and former Eastern Bloc BMP OT-90.

Joint machine-learning models were developed and also quickly updated to include new targets, the MOD said.

The MOD said that the trial, organised by the UK's Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) achieved "world firsts", and included "the live retraining of models in flight and the interchange of AI models between Aukus nations".

"The Aukus collaboration is looking to rapidly drive these technologies into military capabilities," said the MOD.

Watch: World first as UK hosts inaugural AUKUS AI and autonomy trial.

The Aukus Advanced Capabilities Pillar, known as Pillar 2, is pursuing a trilateral programme of work on a range of leading-edge technologies and capabilities to promote security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.

In the statement, the MOD said that "through Pillar 2, Australia, the UK, and the US have collaborated to accelerate collective understanding of AI and autonomy technologies, and how to rapidly field robust, trustworthy AI and autonomy in complex operations, while adhering to the shared values of safe and responsible AI."

The MOD highlighted that "autonomy and AI will transform the way defence operates", adding that with the strategic environment "rapidly evolving", they "must adapt our technologies at pace if we are to maintain our operational advantage".

"By sharing AI - and the underpinning data to enable it – with one another, Australia, UK, and US militaries can access the best AI, reduce duplication of effort, and ensure interoperability."

World first as UK hosted inaugural AUKUS AI and autonomy trial 26052023 CREDIT MOD Crown Copyright.jpg
Vehicles were retrained in flight during the trial to adapt to changing mission situations (Picture: MOD).

The event was attended by senior Aukus leaders Lieutenant General Rob Magowan (UK), Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff (Financial and Military Capability), Abraham (Abe) Denmark (US), Senior Advisor to the Secretary of Defense for Aukus, and Hugh Jeffrey (AUS), Deputy Secretary Strategy, Policy, and Industry.

Lt Gen Magowan said: "This trial demonstrates the military advantage of Aukus advanced capabilities, as we work in coalition to identify, track and counter potential adversaries from a greater distance and with greater speed.

"Service personnel, scientists and engineers from our three nations combined to develop and share critical information to enhance commanders' decision-making.

"Accelerating technological advances will deliver the operational advantages necessary to defeat current and future threats across the battlespace.

"We are committed to collaborating with partners to ensure that we achieve this while also promoting the responsible development and deployment of AI," he added.

Transform defence and security challenges approach

US Senior Advisor Abe Denmark recognised the "immense importance" of strengthening the collective national security of the nations.

He said: "The development and deployment of advanced artificial intelligence technologies have the potential to transform the way we approach defense and security challenges.

"This capability demonstration is truly a shared effort and is thus a critical step in our collective initiative to stay ahead of emerging threats."

He added: "By pooling our expertise and resources through our Aukus partnerships, we can ensure that our militaries are equipped with the latest and most effective tools to defend our nations and uphold the principles of freedom and democracy around the world."

World first as the UK hosted inaugural AUKUS AI and autonomy trial 26052023 CREDIT MOD Crown Copyright.jpg
The trial shared focus on adhering to safe and responsible artificial intelligence activity (Picture: MOD Crown Copyright).

Hugh Jeffrey said: "I was impressed to see AI models rapidly updated at the tactical edge to incorporate new targets, which were immediately shared among the three partners to deliver decision advantage and meet changing mission requirements.

"This co-operation under Aukus Pillar II will deliver a capability greater than any one country could achieve alone, and this really is the rationale for the Aukus partnership at work."

More than 70 military and civilian defence personnel and industry contractors were involved in the exercise in April, according to the MOD.

The Aukus partnership was first announced in 2021 as Australia sought to respond to China's actions in the Pacific.

Watch: The UK, US and Australia SSN-Aukus submarine deal explained.

Ties between the countries were reinforced as the UK published its updated integrated review of foreign and security policy, which highlights China's "more aggressive stance".

The deal caused a diplomatic rift with France, which had expected to supply diesel-powered submarines to the Canberra government.

It has so far involved a pact to deliver a new generation of nuclear-powered attack submarines, which would be in operation for the Royal Navy by the late 2030s under current plans.

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