Russian kryptonite to Western hi-tech dominance

This article is by CNA’s premiere expert in Russian unmanned and artificial intelligence developments, Samuel Bendett.

Russian state corporation “Russian Technologies (Rostec)”, with extensive ties to the nation’s military-industrial complex, has overseen the creation of a company with the ominous name – “Kryptonite” will work on creating “civilian IT products based on military developments in information security, including blockchain.” Specifically, Kryptonite’s work will involve “cryptography, machine learning, Big Data, quantum computing, blockchain and the security of telecommunications standards.”

This is interesting due to a fact that when it comes to such key information technology concepts, it’s the Russian state sector that is leading in research and development (R&D), not the civilian sector. In fact, as the announcement indicates, the military achievements will now be available to the Russian private sector, presumably aiming for eventual wide-spread domestic and international use. Russian Ministry of Defense (MOD) has made no secret of its desire to achieve technological breakthroughs in IT and especially artificial intelligence, marshalling extensive resources for a more organized and streamlined approach to information technology R&D. In fact, MOD is overseeing a significant public-private partnership effort, calling for its military and civilian sectors to work together on information technologies, while hosting high-profile events aiming to foster dialogue between its uniformed and civilian technologists.

“Kryptonite”s work is reminiscent of the eventual outflow of the American military information technologies to the civilian space during the Cold War, the Internet and cellular phone being most prominent examples. It also brings to mind the Soviet technological experience, when the military and security services had access to the nation’s best and brightest minds and talent, along with the first pick of major resources needed for advanced technology development. The eventual drawback was that such Soviet achievements were not eventually transferred to the civilian consumer sector that could have definitely benefited from the large-scale domestic adoption of such technologies. MOD’s current work on IT and advanced technologies is aiming to compensate for the lack of funding and development following the dissolution of the USSR and the tumultuous and cash-poor 1990s and early 2000s, when Russia imported numerous Western technologies for domestic and military use. Such policies created an uncomfortable dependence today that the MOD is currently aiming to overturn. While such efforts are at their beginning stages, there is reason to assume that today’s Russian military establishment is willing to experiment with a variety of technological approaches to develop domestic know-how and deliver it to the eventual consumer, military or civilian. One such approach is the creation of an “Era” “technopolis” that will work on various advanced technologies, including IT, blockchain and artificial intelligence – the effort is already underway and will be officially opened in September 2018.

“Kryptonite”’s importance as a military-civilian technological nexus was underscored by “Rostec” leadership, which stated that “…it is obvious that Russian military developments in information security have great potential for civilian use, including hi-tech exports. The creation of (this) joint venture is an excellent example of public-private partnership, and consolidation of efforts will increase synergy…while developing (IT) market competencies, as well as by incorporating the scientific and technical potential accumulated by Russia’s defense industry.” To achieve that, “Kryptonite” will work to “attract investments in order to commercialize innovative solutions and technologies created by the Russian defense industry’s enterprises and research institutes, as well as develop its own information security and Big Data competencies.”

As far as the company name – that probably wasn’t picked by accident. Russian government has long expressed concern that their reliance on imported IT products creates major security vulnerabilities. Developing domestic information technologies will help overcome that, while at the same time allowing Russian technology sector to eventually complete with American, Western and Asian hi-tech leaders. This technology race is only expected to accelerate – and Russian achievements merit close attention.

Video: the Latest on Russia’s Unmanned Vehicle Program

Samuel Bendett, an associate research analyst in the Center for Naval Analyses’ Russia Studies Program and a fellow in Russia studies at the American Foreign Policy Council, discusses the buzz surrounding Russia’s Hunter unmanned aerial vehicle, the failure of its Uran-9 unmanned ground vehicle program following secret combat testing in Syria, the outlook for Russian submarine and unmanned underwater vehicle innovation, and more during a June 27, 2018, interview with Defense & Aerospace Report Editor Vago Muradian in Washington. Check out the video here.

Redefining Human Control: Event at the UN’s Meeting on Lethal Autonomy

Last week, the UN again took up the issue of lethal autonomy in its Group of Government Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (or LAWS), a meeting of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW). Over the past few years, there has been a growing consensus within the CCW that human involvement in the targeting process is a solution to the risks posed by LAWS. With this consensus, the question then becomes: what is the precise nature of this human involvement? Often this involvement is described in terms of the decision to use the system, akin to a finger on the trigger. Thus human involvement becomes a human making the decision to pull the trigger.

An event at last week’s GGE argued that this view is too narrow. Entitled “The Human-Machine Relationship: Lessons From Military Doctrine and Operations,” the event was organized by CNA’s Center for Autonomy and AI and the University of Amsterdam. The event was attended by officials and diplomats, including the ambassador to the Netherlands. Dr. Lewis, CAAI Director, was joined by Merel Ekelhof, a Ph.D. researcher at the VU University of Amsterdam, and U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Matt King.

Merel Ekelhof is known to the UN community as the person to first introduce the idea of human involvement spanning across the entire military targeting cycle, introducing the idea back in 2016. The event took that idea and showed specific ways which this human involvement can take. Lt Col King discussed legal requirements for the use of force and how this was satisfied in his personal involvement in targeting decisions in the Coalition Air Operations Center in Qatar in 2017. Then Dr. Lewis walked the group through several real world examples of incidents involving fratricide and civilian casualties, how humans are not infallible, and how broader human involvement outside of the trigger pull decision can create a safety net that can reduce the risks of autonomous systems.

As the meeting closed, Ambassador Gill (presiding over the GGE) suggested a model for human involvement that takes on this view of broader human involvement in the use of lethal force. The below picture (dubbed the “sunrise” chart by the UK delegation) shows his initial thoughts in this regard. CAAI is developing a follow-on report for the next GGE to be available at the end of August, where we will provide additional details and observations consistent with this broader view. Stay tuned!

GGE pic on human control

For more information, see the CAAI report: Redefining Human Control.

Russia Races Forward on AI Development

The recent 2017 statement by Russian President Vladimir Putin that whoever masters AI will get to rule the world should be interpreted as a recognition of Russia’s current place in this unfolding technology race, and of the need by the nation’s government, private sector, and the military to marshal the needed resources to persevere in this domain. This is already beginning to happen. The Russian government is increasingly developing and funding various AI-related projects, many under the auspices of the Ministry of Defense and its affiliated institutions and research centers. All this government activity has apparently infused many Russian developers with new confidence. Indeed, some are claiming that AI may arrive in just a few years’ time. It is even engendering hope that the country might at long last develop an infrastructure for turning theoretical knowledge, long the strength of its scientific community, into practical solutions. There are in fact practical developments in the Russian military-industrial complex that seek to incorporate certain AI elements in existing and future missile, aircraft, electronic warfare (EW), unmanned systems, and other tech. Russians also expect AI to help automate the analysis of satellite imagery and radar data, by quickly identifying targets and picking out unusual behavior by a enemy ground or airborne forces.

However, based on the available evidence, Western militaries need not be immediately alarmed about the arrival of AI-infused Russian weapons with next-generation capabilities — except, perhaps, in the field of EW. Western and Chinese efforts are currently well ahead of Russian initiatives, in terms of funding, infrastructure, and practical results. But the Russian government is clearly aiming to marshal its existing academic and industrial resources for AI breakthroughs — and just might achieve them.

Read more here: Defense One

For the first time, Russia is showcasing unmanned military systems at a military parade

On April 18, 2018, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced that this year’s military parade in Moscow that commemorates the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in WWII will feature new and advanced weaponry. Specifically, he noted that for the first time ever, “the Uran-9 combat multifunctional robotic system, the Uran-6 multipurpose mine-clearance robotic vehicle and Korsar short-range drones” will be showcased along other land and air weapons.

This announcement is momentous. Victory Day parades are back in fashion in Russia, after a brief hiatus from the annual military pageantry of the Soviet days. At the parade itself, the latest and legacy technologies are displayed – from WWII-era tanks to the latest combat vehicles, missiles and airplanes. All technology displayed on parade was/is in regular use, so it was probably just a matter of time before Russians started showing off their unmanned military systems.

Over the past several years, Russian Federation has made great strides in developing a wide variety of unmanned aerial, ground and sea/underwater vehicles. Of these, the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have seen extensive use in Russian operations, along with a growing number of unarmed ground vehicles (UGV) for demining and ISR missions. That is why Russia’s choice to display these particular unmanned systems is so interesting – of the three vehicles named, only unarmed Uran-6 has seen actual operational use, most notably in Syria. Uran-9 has been undergoing testing and evaluation by the Russian Ministry of Defense, and this particular UGV, given its PR-ready look of a small-scale tank, has been shown extensively at various domestic and international exhibitions. Moreover, Korsar UAV is a virtually unknown vehicle – back in 2015-2016, there were announcements that its production would commence in 2017 – however, the manufacturer of this UAV did not seem to start mass production, which is presumed to start this year. In fact, Russia operates an entire flotilla of UAVs that have seen extensive operational use in Ukraine and Syria – short-range Eleron-3, longer-ranged Orlan-10(the most numerous UAV in the Russian military), and long-range Forpost (itself a licensed copy of an Israeli Searcher UAV).

There are other smaller UAVs in Russian service that have been growing in numbers and importance as key mission multipliers for the Russian forces. The absence of these battle-tested and available UAVs is curious, in light of the actual decision to showcase unmanned systems in the first place. On the UGV side, while Russian military in Syria used numerous UGVs for ISR and demining, most were small and may not make for good exhibition owning to their size. Still – Russian military is in fact evaluating two mid-sized UGVs that have underwent extensive trials and are ready to be incorporated into actual use – armed “Soratnik” and “Nerehta.” The absence of these two vehicles from May 9 parade is also curious, given extensive publicity they were getting over the past 24 months. Additionally, Russians have already showcased “Platforma-M” small guard UGV at May 9 Victory parades in Kaliningrad as far back as 2014, and will do so this year as well.Finally, if all the selected unmanned systems would be shown on top of military trucks – instead of a potentially more crowd-pleasing movement on their own – its also interesting that another key unmanned systems will be absent on that day – Orion-E long-range UAV that was unveiled with great fanfare at last year’s military exhibition.

In the end, its up to Moscow to select what its citizens and the international community will be seeing during the parade. The issues concerning the selection of one particular unmanned system over another may have to do with logistics, internal politics or other factors. Still, selecting an unknown UAV over several others that have proven themselves in service is a curious decision. Perhaps Russia is saving these other unmanned vehicles for future parades. And speaking of which – Moscow is in fact a latecomer to showcasing UAS in such a setting. Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, China and Iran are among the growing number of nations displaying domestic and imported unmanned military systems on military parades. May 9 is definitely not the last time Russia will showcase its unmanned military systems – given how many resources it is dedicating to their design, production and eventual use.

Samuel Bendett is an Associate Research Analyst at CNA and a Fellow in Russia Studies at the American Foreign Policy Council.