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Military AI use is prompting sector change 

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14 August

Shield AI and Sentient develop AI imagery for UAS

Shield AI, a US defence tech start-up specialising in artificial intelligence (AI) piloting, and Sentient Vision Systems, an Australia-based leader in AI-enabled passive wide area search, will provide a wide area motion imagery (WAMI) solution. 

The partners will jointly develop and integrate Sentient’s ViDAR AI system, which will enhance the WAMI capability of Shield AI’s V-Bat. The capability will enable the UAS to intelligently classify, track and read-and-react to targets. Shield AI plans to fly the capability on V-BAT next year. 

The growth of electro-optic or infrared sensors 

ViDAR AI uses an Electro-Optic or Infrared (EO/IR) sensor to detect and classify targets in the imagery stream that would be invisible to a human operator or to a conventional radar. 

With these enhanced capabilities V-BAT is more proficient, offering a level of AI that significantly enhances the system’s response to threats that were unseen until now. 

Demand for EO/IR systems comes from the growing need for situational awareness and attempts to improve the technology in these systems for greater effectiveness. 

GlobalData valued the global EO/IR systems market at $9.2bn in 2021, anticipating a compound annual growth rate of 3.43% to reach $12.9bn by 2031.  

Integrating AI-enabled systems to UAS imagery is a driving factor 

Modernisation initiatives have compelled many defence forces to procure a range of new sighting devices for their weapons as well as wearable night vision and thermal imaging systems for their soldier modernisation programmes. Innovators announce breakthrough developments frequently with the advent of unconventional military vehicles. For instance, efforts to introduce UAS’ in the armed services have driven the overall market for military EO/IR systems worldwide. 

The airborne UAS EO/IR segment will account for 34.6% of the market. There are several major airborne platform EO/IR acquisition programmes currently being implemented around the world. 

These include the US’ AN/AES-1 airborne laser mine detection systems, Target Sight System (TSS) and Sight/Pilot Night Vision Sensor (M‑TADS/PNVS) system; Common IR Countermeasure System UAE’s MS-110 reconnaissance pod; and Morocco’s Modernised Target Acquisition Designation Sight/Pilot Night Vision Sensor (M‑TADS/PNVS) system, among others. 

1 August

Eyeing defence tech, Nato seals world’s first multi-sovereign fund

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato) announced 1 August that twenty-three Allies had taken the official step of becoming Limited Partners of the Nato Innovation Fund (NIF). 

This sets the stage for the NIF to commence its inaugural investments in the coming months, using its €1bn ($1.1bn) multi-sovereign venture capital fund, the first of its kind, to back Deep Tech projects in a variety of disruptive areas of the defence and security markets.  

NATO states that NIF grants and funding will be centred on pursuing the Emerging and Disruptive Technologies (EDTs) outlined in its 2022 Strategic Concept. 

Participating allies have expressed their warm reception towards Sweden’s expressed interest in becoming a member of the NIF, following the nation’s recent entry into NATO. 

“As a member of NATO, Sweden will contribute to the strength of the Alliance, not only through our geo-strategic location and military capabilities, but also through a vibrant security and defence industry that promotes innovation and development of cutting-edge technology,” said Pål Jonson, Minister of Defence, Sweden. “This is further enabled through participation in the NATO Innovation Fund.” 

Deep Tech challenges and NATO solutions 

The fund intends to directly invest in start-ups situated within the 23 participating Allied nations, as well as to invest in Deep Tech funds that have a significant impact across the trans-Atlantic region, over a 15-year period. 

Deep Tech initiatives are characterised by high-cost research and design (R&D) processes to meet a specific problem. As an investment vehicle, Deep Tech is distinct from conventional tech companies that typically have low R&D requirements but higher marketing and business analytics costs as the company seeks to scale and understand its fit with the market.  

In contrast to this, Deep Tech looks to tackle well defined challenges that have a recognised customer base, but need to invest in technology that may or may-not work in order to even achieve a minimum viable product.  

Because of the high up-front costs and uncertainty, finding backers can be tricky from the outset, but these investments are essential for the private sector to foster disruptive technological solutions. NIF has a laundry-list of ambitious objectives it is seeking to achieve through backing Deep Tech innovators, including hypersonics, quantum technology, artificial intelligence and autonomy, and next-generation communications. 

The fund also has interest in supporting advances in biotechnology, energy and propulsion and operations in space. Understanding the complex demands of this work, the fund offers “patient capital to meet the needs and timelines of Deep Tech innovators and to secure an enduring future for the Alliance’s one billion citizens,” according to a release from Nato.. 

NIF’s sister, DIANA

While NIF is a the world’s first multi-sovereign venture capital fund, it does have the opportunity to draw on the experience of its ‘sister initiative’, the Defence Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic (DIANA), and participants in DIANA’s programmes will be awarded grants and gain exposure to the NIF, according to the NIF website, which goes on to suggest that there may also be opportunities for DIANA start-ups to benefit from NIF funding.  

DIANA is a Nato working body launched in 2021 to foster transatlantic cooperation on critical technologies and engage with the private sector as well as civilian bodies including academia. Its approach to selecting innovators has been though competitive industry challenges based on critical defence and security problems using deep-tech dual-use technologies.  

As of June 2023, there are 91 DIANA test centres appearing in 21 countries across Europe, and 11 accelerators across Europe and the US. The initiative launched its first three challenges in 2023, on energy resilience, secure information sharing, and sensing and surveillance.  

DIANA’s energy resilience challenge is to find a modular design for microgrids that are reliably able to meet supply demands. The fund’s challenge for secure information sharing is to create a secure information environment for live data streams, with low-latency video, augmented reality feeds, and digital radio. 

Regarding the DIANA challenge for sensing and surveillance, the initiative is interested in systems for subsurface coastal zones, that could extend to “seafloor mapping, undersea infrastructure monitoring, manmade object and marine-life tracking, climate-change-effects sensing, and patterns-of-life visualisations.” 

3 July

US DoD must have guidance for AI acquisition process 

According to a US Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, the US Department of Defense (DoD) lacks guidance on acquiring artificial intelligence (AI) tools, neither has it defined concrete plans or produced a timeline to fulfil this challenging process. 

AI refers to computer systems designed to replicate a range of human functions and continually get better at their assigned tasks. DoD AI capabilities could be used in various ways, for example in identifying potential threats or targets on the battlefield. 

Although the DoD has designated AI a modernisation area and is allocating considerable spending to develop AI capabilities, without department-wide and tailored service-level guidance, the DoD is “missing an opportunity to ensure that it is consistently acquiring AI capabilities in a manner that accounts for the unique challenges associated with AI.” 

Private sector acquisition 

The GAO obtained information from 13 private sector companies about how they successfully acquire AI capabilities and found several considerations when acquiring this new technology. 

Various DoD components and military services have individually developed or plan to develop their own informal AI acquisition resources. Some of these resources reflect key factors identified by private companies for AI acquisition. For example, the DoD’s Chief Digital and AI Officer oversees an AI marketplace known as ‘Tradewind,’ which is designed to expedite the procurement of AI capabilities. 

Several Tradewind resources emphasise the need to consider intellectual property and data rights concerns when negotiating contracts for AI capabilities, a key factor identified by the companies GAO interviewed. 

Recommendations on AI guidance 

Among the recommendations provided was to ensure that senior US DoD officials prioritise establishing department-wide AI acquisition guidance, including leveraging key private company factors, as appropriate.  

Following the issuance by the DoD of department-wide AI acquisition guidance, the Secretaries of the Army, Air Force and the Navy should establish service-specific AI acquisition guidance that includes oversight processes and clear goals for these acquisitions, the GAO recommended.