Palmer Luckey promised that it would be a new type of defense contracting company, inspired by the ingenuity of hackers and the speed of Silicon Valley. The company’s latest product, the Roadrunner reactive drone with artificial intelligence, inspired by the grim reality of modern conflicts, particularly in Ukraine, where cheap drones abound, proved highly lethal last year. Christian Brose, strategy director of Anduril company, says.
When Palmer Luckey founded Anduril in 2017, he promised it would be a new type of defense contractor inspired by the ingenuity of hackers and the speed of Silicon Valley. The company’s latest product, the AI-controlled Roadrunner jet combat drone, is inspired by the grim realities of modern conflict, particularly in Ukraine, where a large number of low-cost, maneuverable suicide drones have proved highly lethal over the past year.
“The challenge we saw was this very low-cost, very large, increasingly sophisticated and sophisticated aerial threat,” says Christian Brouse, chief strategy officer at Anduril.”
This aerial threat has become a defining feature of the Ukrainian conflict. The Ukrainian and Russian militaries are engaged in an arms race for a large number of cheap unmanned aerial vehicles that can move autonomously and carry explosives to targets. These systems, which include U.S. drones on the Ukrainian side, can avoid obstacles and ground defenses and may be shot down by fighter jets or missiles.
According to Anduril, the Roadrunner is a modular twin-jet aircraft about the size of a patio heater that can operate at high speeds (subsonic), take off and land vertically, and return to base when no longer needed. A version aimed at drones and missiles can move autonomously in search of threats. According to Brouse, the system can already operate with a high degree of autonomy and is designed in such a way that its software can be updated for new capabilities. However, the system requires the participation of a human operator to make decisions about the use of force to damage.
“We are deeply convinced that we need people to identify and classify threats, as well as people who are responsible for actions against these threats,” he says.
Samuel Bendet, an expert on the military use of drones at the Center for a New American Security think tank, believes that the Roadrunner could be used in Ukraine to intercept the Iranian Shahed drone, which has become an effective tool for Russian forces to strike stationary targets in Ukraine.
According to Bendet, both the Russian and Ukrainian militaries use drones in a full “chain of destruction,” using disposable consumer drones for target detection and short-range and long-range suicide drones for attacks. “There is a lot of experimentation going on in Ukraine on both sides. “Many American [military] innovations would be designed with Ukraine’s needs in mind. These experiments include the use of naval drones and artificial intelligence to guide and control the drones. Last month, New Scientist magazine reported that Ukraine’s military could use unmanned aerial vehicles with artificial intelligence – “deadly autonomous weapons” that aim and strike human targets without human control. The war in Ukraine, the growing importance of AI and autonomy, and how consumer technology has become relevant to military operations have prompted many countries to rethink their military strategies and funding.
A few years ago, the US Department of Defense recognized that artificial intelligence had the potential to transform military technology, and in recent years it has been trying to use the technology to counter the threat posed by China’s increasingly powerful military. To avoid a procurement system that favors expensive, complex systems that take years to develop, the US Department of Defense has launched several initiatives to experiment with low-cost, rapidly evolving AI-based systems using technology from non-traditional defense contractors.
In September, the US Department of Defense announced the Replicator Initiative, whose mission is to deploy “thousands of large-scale autonomous systems in various domains over the next 18 to 24 months” to counter China’s traditional military dominance. The Ministry of Defense has not yet selected a contractor to participate in the program. As the military seeks to introduce new technologies, including artificial intelligence, there are fears that these changes could be destabilizing. Earlier this month, the United States and 30 other countries issued a declaration calling for a ban on the use of military artificial intelligence. It does not call for a ban on the development and use of lethal autonomous weapons, but recommends engineering principles and rules of transparency to prevent the unintended spread of conflict.