Defense Technology Monitor No. 92

Related Categories: Arms Control and Proliferation; Europe Military; Military Innovation; Science and Technology; Warfare; SPACE; NASA; China; Gaza; Israel; Ukraine; United States

In an open letter, leading researchers have outlined the "profound risk to society and humanity" posed by the unregulated development of artificial intelligence (AI). There is a 10% chance, the experts state, that AI could cause a humanity extinction event if AI technology advances beyond the current capabilities of ChatGPT. Consequently, the letter calls for a pause in its development.

The missive is the latest in what has become an increasingly heated debate over the risks and rewards of AI. While nightmare scenarios (such as the humanity-hating "Skynet" from the Terminator movies) proliferate, some researchers have argued that plausible scenarios exist in which humans may not be a part of AI evolution. Another view holds that the greatest risk posed by AI lies in its use by a person or organization for nefarious purposes (such as the development of advanced pathogens or biological weapons that have no cure). Here, the open letter posits a solution, calling for more robust regulatory mechanisms to control the development of AI if a pause in development is not in fact feasible. (The Guardian, July 7, 2023)

The Chinese corporation LandSpace made history recently when it launched a rocket using a comparatively cleaner burning propellent: methane. The Zhuque-2 carrier rocket was launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center this summer and completed its intended flight mission. Methane-based rockets are considered cheaper, safer, and less polluting than traditional systems. China hopes to harness this achievement to bolster its lunar aspirations – and its emerging space race with the United States; notably, the successful test has allowed China's aerospace industry to achieve the methane-launched milestone faster than American space titan SpaceX, which has carried out test launches of methane-fueled boosters, but terminated them before they reached orbit. (, July 12, 2023)

The drone usage in recent months in Ukraine reflects a growing shift worldwide toward autonomous and networked warfare. Other countries are making advances in this arena as well. Israel's Elbit Systems, for instance, recently unveiled Legion-X, a networked architecture designed to showcase how data from numerous sensor systems can be linked to show a "digital battlefield." According to the company, Legion-X is "an autonomous networked combat solution based on robotic platforms and heterogeneous swarms." It is "[d]esigned to support a wide range of human-machine teaming (HMT) operations, [and] enables connectivity and control of air, sea (surface and sub-surface) and land (terrain and sub-terrain) unmanned platforms." The system is meant to help overcome the challenge of sensor information overload for warfighters. (Breaking Defense, July 11, 2023)

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has turned into far more than a mere contest over territory. It is also, in a very real sense, a laboratory for military innovation, showcasing both military breakthroughs as well as shortfalls in conventional training, equipment, and tactics. Part of the latter is the lack, at present, of what military planners term an "organic anti-tank capability." To fill this need, the U.S. Army announced the Low Altitude Stalking and Strike Ordnance (LASSO) acquisition program. The system consists of a UAV capable of being launched from a tube outfitted with a wide array of sensor systems and is designed to augment existing defenses against mechanized armor. The technology is scheduled for deployment in mid-to-late 2024. (Janes, July 24, 2023)

Kamikaze drones and loitering munitions pose a continuing strategic threat to American military personnel. In particular, small, low-flying drones are difficult for air defense systems to identify and counter. Lockheed Martin recently tested its Mobile Radio Frequency-Integrated UAS Suppressor (MORFIUS) system as an antidote to these threats. MORFIUS is a UAV platform with a payload capable of emitting high-powered microwave pulses to destroy targets. While details are limited, this emerging technology has already proved successful in defeating platforms akin to commonly used adversary drones. (Defense Scoop, July 13, 2023)