US, UK partnership demonstrates artificial intelligence technology
ROME, N.Y. (AFRL) — For the first time, the U.S.’s Air Force Research Laboratory, or AFRL, in partnership with the U.K.’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, or Dstl, demonstrated state-of-the-art artificial intelligence, or AI, technology at two major back-to-back military exercises.
In November 2022, a team of 30 AI and autonomy experts from the U.K. and U.S. deployed as a joint taskforce to the Project Convergence 22, or PC22, experiment at the U.S. National Training Centre at Fort Irwin, California. In December, a subset of the taskforce reconvened at the British Army’s Salisbury Plain Training Area in Wiltshire, England, taking lessons learned from PC22 and rapidly applying AI into a new operational environment as part of the Dstl HYDRA project’s Integrated Concept Evaluation, or ICE.
Both exercises addressed the challenge of making AI and autonomy agile, adaptable, trustworthy and accessible to warfighters, albeit under different U.S. and U.K. military use cases. The goal was to deliver mission specific AI that can be deployed to meet the ever-changing mission conditions and needs of warfighters.
Led by the U.S. Army Futures Command, PC22 is the Joint Force experimenting with speed, range, and decision dominance to achieve overmatch and inform the Joint Warfighting Concept and Joint All Domain Command and Control. A campaign of learning, it leverages a series of joint, multi-domain engagements to integrate artificial intelligence, robotics and autonomy to improve battlefield situational awareness, connect sensors with shooters, and accelerate the decision-making timeline.
During PC22, the joint AI taskforce deployed a U.K.-U.S. AI toolbox for the first time, which enabled warfighters across the coalition to select the best AI tools for the missions, said Dr. Lee Seversky, AFRL project lead and the U.S. AI toolbox lead.
The toolbox used data collected from U.K.-U.S. uncrewed ground vehicles and uncrewed aerial vehicles, or UAVs, along with rapid AI training and retraining on deployed tactical high-performance computers to deliver mission-specific AI. It also included a test and evaluation process to ensure that the AI developed was robust and trusted.
“The whole team across both nations came together to deliver this landmark trial for the collaboration,” said Todd Robinson, U.K. AI toolbox lead. “By deploying our AI taskforce to PC22, we learned what this technology would mean to the warfighter and identified further challenges, which require research and development to enhance a future operational capability. It is important we deploy AI into trials more regularly to drive the maturation and operationalization of AI.”
To make AI understandable and enable users to select appropriate algorithms for missions, the team developed model cards with clear descriptions of the algorithms’ strengths and weakness.
“It is becoming more and more critical to be able to adapt AI to meet changing mission requirements, operating environments and accelerated decision timelines in-mission, all while ensuring it is trusted and understandable to the military users,” said Dr. Lee Seversky, AFRL project lead. “The joint AI toolbox, with its ability to adapt and deliver AI for different joint military missions is critical. AI flexibility and speed is key to moving us towards this goal.”
According to AFRL and Dstl, autonomy and AI are critical to future warfighters.
“These are rapidly emerging technologies that we must be able to understand and grasp to ensure that our warfighters have the tools they need to win on the battlefields of the future,” said John Godsell, Dstl U.K. autonomy program manager. “It was hugely exciting to be part of Project Convergence 2022, an experiment at an epic scale.”
In December 2022, the AI toolbox deployed on U.K. platforms as part of the Dstl HYDRA project’s ICE trials on Salisbury Plain. ICE4 demonstrated that U.K.-U.S. developed algorithms from the AI toolbox could be deployed onto a swarm of U.K. UAVs and retrained by the joint AI taskforce at the ground station and the model updated in flight, a first for the U.K. This demonstrated how the AI toolbox adapts to new data sources, platforms and operating locations to provide rapid updates to the AI deployed onto autonomous systems.
“ICE4 has enabled us to consider the practicalities of how AI could be used to support swarming UAS operations in contested environments where processing at the edge will play a crucial role,” said Dr. Chris Jones, HYDRA project technical authority. “This is a fantastic example of our two nations working in close collaboration, learning from each other to jointly accelerate our understanding of the kinds of novel technologies which will become critical for successful operation of autonomous systems in complex operating environments in the future.”
The PC22 and ICE4 trials are part of a series of rotational events hosted by the joint and international signatories of the Autonomy and Artificial Intelligence Collaboration, or AAIC, partnership agreement. AAIC is led by the U.S. Department of the Air Force, or DAF, in partnership with the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, or OUSDR&E, the U.S. Navy, U.S. Army and the U.K.’s Dstl. AFRL is the lead agency for the DAF in this agreement.
This four-year partnership agreement aims to accelerate joint U.K.-U.S. technology development and share AI capabilities, spanning from foundational research to joint experiments, ultimately advancing the joint all-domain command and control capabilities of both nations.
The Air Force Research Laboratory, or AFRL, is the primary scientific research and development center for the Department of the Air Force. AFRL plays an integral role in leading the discovery, development, and integration of affordable warfighting technologies for our air, space and cyberspace force. With a workforce of more than 11,500 across nine technology areas and 40 other operations across the globe, AFRL provides a diverse portfolio of science and technology ranging from fundamental to advanced research and technology development. For more information, visit: www.afresearchlab.com.
Dstl – The science inside UK defence and security
The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) delivers high-impact science and technology (S&T) for the UK’s defence, security and prosperity.
Dstl is an Executive Agency of the MOD with around 4,500 staff working across four sites; Porton Down, near Salisbury, Portsdown West, near Portsmouth, Fort Halstead, near Sevenoaks, and Alverstoke, near Gosport.
What we do:
- Research – original research and concepts, creating new capabilities for defence and security
- Requirements and Evaluation – Dstl S&T support to assess, evaluate and deliver current and next generation capabilities
- Specialist Advice & Services – our knowledge and facilities are ready to meet priority needs
- Operational Support – rapid and deployed S&T to meet the urgency of operations
Dstl gives the UK clear advantage across science, technology, cyber and information.