Defense Secretary: U.S. Must Prepare for ‘High Intensity’ War with China, Russia
Mark Esper made the comments at a technology conference in Washington.
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper warned an audience at a technology conference Tuesday that the U.S. is preparing for “high intensity warfare” with China and Russia on multiple fronts.
Speaking to the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, which included a number of private-sector representatives, he said:
“As I like to tell our NATO allies and European friends—and I was just in Brussels two weeks ago, talking to German Marshall Fund, on this topic, by the way—I tell them, don’t write off what we’re saying as United States scaremongering or in this case DoD scaremongering about China. Don’t think that we’re overstating the problem. There are serious issues out there. We’ve been asleep at the switch now for quite some time. And we’re finally waking up in the past couple years. The National Defense Strategy has pointed DoD in the right direction, saying we’re now in an era of great power competition. China is our greatest strategic competitor, number one, and Russia number two, and we need to be prepared for high-intensity conflict across five domains of warfare. Five domains. It’s no longer three. That’s where we’re headed and we need your help to get there.”
The Pentagon chief also said the U.S. needs the government, academia, and industry to pull together to develop a “World War 2-like momentum” to advance AI and maintain American technological superiority. The key—which was the focus of his appearance at the conference—he said is AI, likening it to the 1960s “Space Race”:
“After the Sputnik launch, we rallied our best and brightest. We created DARPA and NASA and we took control of the space race. Mastering AI will require similar vision, ambition, and commitment. You and I are no stranger to these sorts of challenges. America has risen to the task before and we must do so again, but we need your help. We need the full force of American intellect and ingenuity working in harmony across the public and private sectors. We need your leadership and your vision to ensure we maintain a strategic edge.”
Esper also noted that Beijing has set as part of its Made in China 2030 goals to be the world leader in AI by the target date. He said those efforts have already helped them develop autonomous vehicles—and killer robots—that are now being exported to the rest of the world while the People’s Liberation Army moves “aggressively to deploy them across many warfighting domains.”
“As we speak, the Chinese government is already exporting some of its most advanced military aerial drones to the Middle East, as it prepares to export its next-generation stealth UAVs when those come online. In addition, Chinese weapons manufacturers are selling drones advertised as capable of full autonomy, including the ability to conduct lethal targeted strikes.”
Esper was likely referring to China’s Blowfish A3, which is basically a quad-copter drone fitted with a machine gun. The company that makes the drone is negotiating the sell them to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. The Pentagon chief added:
“All signs point to the construction of a 21st-century surveillance state designed to censor speech and deny basic human rights on an unprecedented scale. Look no further than its use of surveillance to systematically repress more than a million Muslim Uighurs.
“Beijing has all the power and tools it needs to coerce Chinese industry and academia into supporting its government-led efforts. But equally troubling are the outside firms or multinational corporations that are inadvertently or tacitly providing the technology or research behind China’s unethical use of AI.”
Esper’s comments were echoed by Joint Artificial Intelligence Center Commander Air Force Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan, who also told the NSCAI conference the next “near-peer war” will be “fast, chaotic, and shockingly bloody.” He added that the side with the best AI algorithms will have a decided advantage in a battle of “algorithms vs. algorithms.”
Shanahan also said future battles will move so quickly that a traditional chain of command will be obsolete, necessitating the use of AI and “on the fly” changes in algorithms by mid-level non-commissioned officers and junior officers in the battlefield.
Esper, however, concluded that the U.S. military will harness the potential of AI to create a fighting force fit for current technology. He added:
“We believe there is tremendous opportunity to enhance a wide range of the department’s capabilities from the back office to the front line, and we will do this while being recognized as the world leader in military ethics by developing principles for using AI in a lawful and ethical manner.”
While Esper puts the priority on the development of AI, he also has emphasized the development of directed energy weapons—the technical term for laser weapons—and hypersonics—both for weapons and aircraft. And while he didn’t refer to them, a number of new headlines today pay testament to advances in U.S. military technology.
The Air Force Research Laboratory, in partnership with defense contractor Northrop Grumman, is developing a network of satellites that will harvest solar energy. That energy will be converted to radio waves that are transmitted to Earth’s surface and converted back into energy. That energy could then be used to power military bases in remote locations.
And the Army is getting set to deploy heavily armored combat vehicles that are armed with laser guns. By 2022, these “directed energy lasers” will be in the field. At 50 kilowatts of power, they’re capable of destroying drones, helicopters, warplanes, and even incoming missiles. They’ll be attached to “Stryker” eight-wheeled and all-terrain vehicles that can move up to 60 mph.
(Photo Credit: U.S. Defense Department)
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