The future of quicker threat response: AI


When the U.S. military conducts a missile test, it generates so much data that there’s more information to be processed than there are people to process it.

“When you look at the amount of data we pull from a test, let’s just pick a [ground-based anti-ballistic missile] test — terabytes of data,” U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Jon A. Hill, director of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), said recently.

Analyzing those terabytes might best be undertaken by using artificial intelligence (AI), Hill said at the 2021 Space & Missile Defense Symposium in Huntsville, Alabama, according to an August 12 Department of Defense News story.

So how vast is a terabyte?

One terabyte is the equivalent of 50,000 trees made into paper and printed, while 10 terabytes equal the printed collection of the U.S. Library of Congress, according to the University of California Berkeley School of Information.

That’s so much information that important data may not be apparent.

“With machine learning and artificial intelligence, you can go into that whole vast amount of data and you can start to see interesting attributes rise, and we’re seeing that now once we start to institute artificial intelligence and machine learning,” Hill said, according to Department of Defense News.

One definition of AI comes from IBM, which said in a June 2020 online report: “Artificial intelligence leverages computers and machines to mimic the problem-solving and decision-making capabilities of the human mind.”

Beyond missile testing, there also are operational concerns, such as threat detection and engagement. A priority for the MDA, Hill said, is helping those who protect the U.S. from missile threats.

“The more artificial intelligence capability/machine learning that comes in to make the load easier — to get rid of some of these tedious tasks in the planning thing — that takes advantage of the brain of our Sailors, our Soldiers, our Airmen, our Guardians — that allows them to think about fighting the battle, not fighting the system,” he told DOD News.

As faster and more maneuverable threats emerge, Hill said, defense becomes even more difficult.
Traditional ballistic missiles, whether in the U.S. arsenal or those of potential adversaries such as Russia and the People’s Republic of China, are being superseded by more advanced systems such as hypersonic weapons, Hill noted in a talk at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., according to an October 2019 story in National Defense magazine. Hypersonic weapons are those that can travel at five times the speed of sound — or faster.

“With the kind of speeds that we’re dealing with today … there’s no other answer other than to leverage artificial intelligence,” Hill said, according to National Defense.

AI also could enable the U.S. military to reduce the probability of human error, Hill said.

“The problem we’re trying to solve really is … reaction time,” he said. “But the balance there is how often do you, and must you, have an operator in the loop just given the rules of engagement?”