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Cheap drones can take out expensive military systems, warns former Air Force pilot pushing AI-enabled force

AI-enabled military systems have been effective in battle, but some reliability issues still concern troops and their commanders: former Air Force test pilot.

Cheap drones equipped with AI can destroy expensive military equipment, and the Pentagon will need to incorporate autonomous technology into its strategy to advance into the next generation of warfare, a former test pilot and military tech company executive told Fox News.

"What we've seen in Europe and other theaters is that they've democratized warfare," said EpiSci Vice President of Tactical Autonomous Systems Chris Gentile. "A $1,000 drone can take out a multimillion-dollar asset." 


"The way that we've been doing business of buying small numbers of incredibly expensive but incredibly effective systems, it just doesn't scale anymore," the former test pilot added. "We want to make sure that America stays at the front edge of this."

The Pentagon is currently working on over 800 AI-related projects, and U.S. military officials believe AI-enabled systems are crucial to keeping pace with China's rapidly modernizing military, according to the Associated Press. Former Joint Chiefs Chair Gen Mark Milley said in October the U.S. military needs to incorporate artificial intelligence into weapon systems and strategy to remain a "superior" global force.


EpiSci is one of the companies involved in that priority. It's developing autonomous supersonic aircraft capabilities for the Department of Defense and already provides sensor technology that enables unmanned drone swarms.

"If I can use AI and autonomy to continue to increase the capabilities of every individual fighter pilot, every individual bomber pilot, every individual operator out there, then that's what's going to keep America at the top of her game," Gentile told Fox News. "Continuing to invest in our test infrastructure and the people and the systems that do that testing is absolutely critical to field this technology."

Despite the Pentagon's push into military AI development, DoD has repeatedly published ethical concerns about the technology. The U.S. even developed global rules to restrict and test the use of AI for military purposes, though key countries like China and Russia have not signed the pledge. 

"The Pentagon has gotten very good at tech-scouting and demonstrating and experimenting and prototyping," Michèle Flournoy, the former undersecretary of defense for policy under former President Obama, recently told Axios. "But actually moving things into production at scale has been a challenge."


Additionally, U.S. military leadership and troops remain reserved about incorporating artificial intelligence because of reliability concerns, Gentile told Fox News.

"The hesitation around adoption of AI really comes down to the hesitation to any set of new tools when it's introduced into a mission-critical application," he said. "With any tool — and AI is just one great example — what the operator wants is something that's reliable, that's trustworthy and that's not going to open up additional vulnerabilities in their operations or the way they do business."


"AI is a complex system. There's no shortage of exposure. Every article on the new large language models or something like that show potential unintended interactions that comes part and parcel with these systems," the former Air Force commander said. "All of our fighters are always concerned with the threats, where they are today and where they're going, and that obviously includes autonomy."

Rigorous testing and development, however, could help boost troops' and commanders' confidence in AI-enabled systems, Gentile told Fox News.

"We have a long history of doing very disciplined tests, being able to understand the performance and the limitations of a system, and then effectively communicate that out to our warfighters," he said. "AI and autonomy is a new middle ground where the technology is the tactic. And so we have to have operational style testing with developmental rigor."

Another former fighter pilot, Dan Robinson, similarly told Fox News in September that military tech companies must continue to test their AI systems. To keep ahead of China's military, the U.S. must push forward in its AI-focused pursuits, he added.

Gentile agreed.

"Every time that we take a step — whether it's a slowed budget or delayed program decision — that slows down our ability to field these systems, we're giving our adversaries the opportunity to take the head start," he said. "The answer is that we continue to develop and field our own systems so that we can maintain the edge that America's enjoyed on the battlefield."

To watch the full interview with Gentile about hesitancy over AI in the U.S. military, click here

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