How satellites, drones, and artificial intelligence helped Ukraine’s counterattack

As Ukraine turned 10 days ago with a military attack Who took back lands from Russia, billionaire ex-CEO of Google Eric Schmidt was meeting with top Ukrainian officials. He was on a 36-hour visit to the country Exploring the role of technology In the war.

“What I was interested in was what the tech industry did to help?” he is at a press conference Organized by George Washington University, the photo is from a private plane returning from an undisclosed European country.

Schmidt traveled to Ukraine not only as a former CTO, but as a CEO Billionaire investor in military tech startups who has served on influential federal councils advising the US government on adapting more AI. He has prominently advocated for the US Department of Defense to integrate new technology, and his trip was a reminder of how much integrated advanced technologies and new uses of existing technologies have influenced Ukraine’s approach to this war.

Satellites, drones, artificial intelligence, and electronic capabilities have been central to the war since the early days of the Russian invasion. New technologies work in concert with traditional military equipment, enabling Ukraine’s resistance to Russia. No wonder NATO has Launched A €1 billion investment fund for innovation. Ukraine’s senior minister appealed to Elon Musk via Twitter early, for guidance Starlink satellites Which provides high-speed internet across the country to keep the country connected even if the infrastructure on the ground is destroyed. “Elon Musk is a real hero here,” Schmidt said.

Probably the most important factor in Ukraine’s progress has to do with Unprecedented military aid packages provided by the United States. This assistance puts Ukraine on a par with the top 20 countries around the world by military spending. The United States alone has sent more than $14 billion in security aid since the invasion of Moscow, according to senior U.S. defense official Sacha Becker, who last week confirmed Ukraine has been “innovative in integrating capabilities” from the United States and other allies.

A Defense Department spokesman said the United States would not get ahead of the Ukrainians in detailing their technology. We know that the United States, for example, sent 700 Virginia-made Switchblade drones AeroVironmentThe BlackHorse Electronic Company contractor To provide Ukraine’s mission, but it is not yet clear how much significant US assistance will go to the Internet and artificial intelligence. Tracking all those contracts “is a whole project, in a fair world, that a team of people will sum up in real time,” says Jack Paulson, founder of the nonprofit tech watchdog Tech Inquiry.

But experts and former military officials said there are many firsts to this conflict, and one of those things has to do with the outsized role of relatively cheap commercial technologies such as Musk satellites and small drones. For American experts, Ukraine is a case study for understanding how these new technologies work in a conventional ground war alongside all the other weapons sent by the West.

Futurist Peter Singer, co-author of the book Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War. “It’s very clear that technology, and in particular, new technologies are important, and they have been very important, but is it the only thing that matters? of course not.”

Technology at War: Satellites, Drones, Artificial Intelligence, and the Internet

Former US defense officials tell me that much of the advanced technology Ukraine uses are commercial and available — in other words, useful innovations you don’t need to be a military leader to buy.

This may not sound revolutionary, but it contrasts with the Pentagon’s attempts to integrate already developed products or technologies, sometimes frustrated by the organization’s complex bureaucracy and Tech workers protests against empowering the military. “We’re actually seeing this relationship happening in Ukraine and we’re seeing it in real time, so you have commercial companies working to provide assistance,” says Jim Mittery, director of the International Security and Defense Policy Program at the RAND Corporation. .

Satellites are nothing new, but microsatellites are a major emerging space for venture capital and new startups. And they contributed to Ukraine’s ability to do so Understanding the movements of Russian forces And the Track potential war crimes Through extensive collection of open source data.

Small commercial drones have been an important part of Ukraine’s story as well, doing everything from finding Russian forces, providing target-quality data to artillery strikes, and conducting battle damage assessments. Both Ukraine and Russia deploy idling munitions — small armed drones that can hover in the air for hours and then drop explosives on a target — and in some cases have been used in swarms. Much has been said of the success of the Ukrainians in the use of lightweight weapons Bayraktar TB2 Drone; Turkish company that manufactures it He refuses To sell an unmanned aerial vehicle to Russia.

The use of artificial intelligence in warfare is incredibly controversial, but it is undoubtedly progressing. When Reuters reported that the facial recognition company Clearview AI It was introduced its technology to Ukrainethe company’s critics pointed out the dangers And the Possible misuse.

Although facial recognition is used in limited ways in Afghanistan, it is now widely used by Ukraine. “This is the first major conventional conflict where you see facial recognition pervasive,” Singer, who co-runs Useful Fiction, which advises the US Air Force and major military contractors, told me. “Start thinking of putting on your sci-fi hat.”

Another example of artificial intelligence playing is the context of new applications that can be used in information processes, such as a tool from Primer . company It can do voice recognition, transcription and translation services, and can be used to analyze intercepted Russian communications.

Many analysts have predicted that the conflict between Russia and Ukraine could lead to militant cyber attacks. However, the fact that nothing major has gone down may be in large part due to the work of cyber advocates behind the scenes, in commercial companies and in Western governments. “There was an incredible amount of cyber activity, which is unbelievable,” says Singer. The example he mentioned is the hacking of Ukrainian hackers Electric car charging stations in Moscow And put on display an anti-Putin slander. That was nice, says Singer, “However, what really matters is that in addition to distorting the screen, they shut down charging station operations. They hit the Internet of Things. They used digital means to physically change the world.” Countries have used this ability covertly before (as in Israel Stuxnet attack in the mid-2000s over Iran’s nuclear infrastructure), but this is the first time this has probably happened in a conventional conflict.

Large-scale military equipment remains an unclassified weapon of Ukraine, but even this works in a larger technological context. Candice Rondo, a researcher at the Washington New America Research Center, points out that combining these technologies in certain ways was unique. It acknowledges the central importance of the High Mobility Artillery Artillery System (HIMARS), a Lockheed Martin-made precision missile launcher the United States has sent to Ukraine to defend against Russia, but adds that it is by itself not enough. It is a targeting system that requires good information and intelligence. “For this information to flow, you have to have communication platforms, the means by which you can communicate securely where things are, and when you want to hit them,” she said.

“It’s not HIMARS that is winning the war for Ukraine, nor are they traditional artillery duels,” said Mitter, who served as a senior defense official until earlier this year. “It’s their ability to process information more quickly than the Russians that have a huge impact here.”

The breadth of information operations led Brendan McCord, the hedge fund manager who had previously developed the Department of Defense’s first artificial intelligence strategy, to describe this conflict as the first broadband war. “We’ve had network wars for a while, but always in the narrow sense,” he told me. Instead of relying on small bandwidth and low-speed data transfers, Starlink Ukraine gave “this amazing advantage”, especially in terms of high-quality video transmission.

“Ukraine feels as if we have half a generation ahead of us in incorporating the technologies it uses into new concepts of war combat,” he added.

What does that mean for the United States

All newly forged communications between the private sector in the United States and Ukraine. And the US corporate rally is clearly not exactly altruistic.

“If you were a defense company, what you hope is that the Ukrainian generals will ask the U.S. military to provide them with your capabilities,” Gregory Allen, a researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told me. “And this is just a degree of intimacy between a resource and a warrior across nations, and it’s kind of unprecedented.”

That intimacy appeared in June, when First CEO to visit Ukraine Since the invasion of Russia, Alex Karp, CEO of Palantir, the military contractor and data analytics intelligence agency, has been. “There has long been a relationship between the defense industry complex and private companies, but it is possible that the rise of CEOs has been remarkable,” says Margarita Konayev, a researcher at the Georgetown Center for Security and Emerging Technology.

Executives of major US defense contractors have splurge About how they profit from arming Ukraine. Silicon Valley Companies Jump into the mix. And in an unusual move, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will do so Keynote speech at the US Military Contractors Conference Talk directly to US arms makers.

Going forward, experts are watching how advanced technologies are used on the battlefield to understand lessons that may apply to US policymakers. Lindsey Gorman, a fellow at the German Marshall Fund who recently served in the Biden administration at the National Security Council, says most of Washington’s focus is on how the Russian invasion relates to China’s military power and possible scenarios for an attack on Taiwan. Others noted how quickly Ukraine could adapt new technologies and whether the United States could follow suit.

For Schmidt, the lesson so far is the urgent need for government to make room for technology. The Verkhovna Rada, for example, Soon the law changed At the beginning of the war to put all the information of the Ukrainian government in the cloud. “They should have done it before,” he said, “but the point is, the war gave everyone a political excuse to do the right thing.” Schmidt too confirmed The importance of dealing with hackers who rely on the masses in the country.

But some experts have been more skeptical about the technology’s prominence in Europe’s first great conventional war in more than a generation. “What is the role of tomorrow’s technology in today’s war?” Konayev asked. “To some extent still very limited.”

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