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First the Rise of the Machines, now this: UK military's Exercise Information Warrior

From drones to smart warships. Well, sort of

Robot talks unto robot photo via Shutterstock
Could this be the future of state-on-state warfare?

Comment Fresh from signing contracts to put artificial intelligence into its warships, the Royal Navy is now running an exercise to demonstrate robotic warfighting tech at work – Ex Information Warrior.

Held in Scotland to coincide with the first of this year’s two Joint Warrior exercises – which see most NATO nations contributing units for a two-week deployment off the northwest coast of Scotland, in and around the Minch – Information Warrior aims to look at the computerised side of modern warfare.

It concentrates on five broad themes:

  • Artificial intelligence (AI)
  • Command, control, communications and computers (C4)
  • Information exploitation (IX)
  • Cyber, electromagnetic and space activity (CEMA)
  • Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR)

Broadly speaking, the first three are mostly to do with the blinking boxes all Register readers know and love, while the latter two tend to involve drones and traditional human-equipped fighting machinery.

As reported back in October, the RN has already inked a deal with Roke Manor Research for its STARTLE AI tech. This is threat detection software which uses a warship’s sensor data to help make decisions, and as the company’s Mike Hook, lead software architect, told us at the time, it will “assess and confirm potential threats by going through a series of criteria like a human would do.”

Information Warrior ties into the £800m Defence Innovation Fund, which was announced last year. What the Ministry of Defence wants is to make use of the private tech sector’s expertise in fields of interest to it, such as developing autonomous sensor systems and drones. Information Warrior is the computer-based practical side of that funding exercise, complementing Ex Unmanned Warrior, which focused on drones and was held late last year.

A sample of the types of problems that the MoD is looking to solve can be found on its website, along with details of how serious inventors can apply for funding to develop and demonstrate their wares.

The MoD’s focus on bringing in new corporate talents, aside from its traditional “prime contractors” such as BAE Systems, Thales and others, hasn’t gone unremarked. As the term “defence” evolves from meaning “tanks” to “cyber”, so do the market players. BAE Systems and Leonardo (nee AgustaWestland) have both set up cyber security divisions, competing with the traditional infosec firms that are household names to Reg readers.

Yet the ministry is outwardly keen to stop big defence contractors from sewing up the market with full-service offerings, and seems to be moving towards using DSTL’s Open Architecture Combat System, a standard that will allow any company to build and integrate its wares with current and future warships, tanks and the like – or “platforms”, in MoD lingo.

Exercise Information Warrior 17 runs from this weekend until early April, alongside but nominally separate from Ex Joint Warrior 171. ®

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