• Elsa Kania

5G and the Future of AI on the Battlefield

At a time when 5G is emerging as a new frontier for U.S.-China rivalry, there is increased attention to its promising applications in military affairs. This recent article, authored by researchers who appear to be respectively affiliated with Xidian University and the PLA’s Army Command Academy, discusses the importance of AI to enable the evolution of the form or shape (形态) of warfare towards future “intelligentized” (智能化) operations. In particular, their analysis highlights the particular importance of 5G enabling improvements in the sharing of information on the battlefield, new mechanisms for command and control in warfare, and enhanced system construction to fulfill future operational requirements. Although this is not an official or unequivocally authoritative assessment, their perspective does provide a useful indicator of ways in which Chinese military thinkers and technical experts are exploring the potential convergences among these strategic technologies at a time when 5G is emerging as a priority in China’s national strategy for military-civil fusion (军民融合).

5G Promotes the Acceleration of Intelligentized Operations [5G推动智能化作战提速]

Zhang Qingliang (张清亮) and Zhang Guoning (张国宁)

China National Defense Report, March 12, 2019

In recent years, the development of technologies such as big data, cloud computing and the Internet of Things has provided an impetus for the accelerated improvement of artificial intelligence technologies. As a standard for next-generation communications networks, the commercialization and popularization of 5G will further promote the development of this trend. Some analysts believe that, with the support of 5G technology, future artificial intelligence will play an important function in military operational command, intelligence data-sharing, battlefield situation analysis, etc., promoting intelligentized operations to stride towards a higher level.

Three Major Characteristics of 5G

5G is the abbreviation for fifth-generation mobile communication networks. Within the past couple of years, with the support of 4G, mobile payments, video calls, and high-definition video have brought a great deal of convenience to people’s lives. Compared with 4G, 5G can not only be used for voice calls, send and receive video, but also will support the development of technologies such as Internet of Things, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, promoting society to enter into the era of the Internet of Everything. From this point of view, 5G is not a simple upgrade of 4G network technology, but rather promotes communication network technology towards a new height.

In recent years, the application of artificial intelligence in the military domain has become more and more prevalent, promoting the shape of war advancing towards intelligentization [as the] direction of development. AI is essentially a kind of bottom-up data-driven [technology], relying on constantly “feeding” massive amounts of data to produce maximum value. However, at the same time as the scale of data continues to rise, the pressures for data transmission and storage are greatly increasing. The ultra-high speed, ultra-large capacity, and ultra-low latency characteristic of 5G networks are very important for artificial intelligence to bring into play improved functionality.

Ultra-High Rate. 5G networks use a higher communication frequency band, and the transmission rate is greatly improved, reaching 10Gbps peak download rate during testing. The ultra-high rate ensures highly efficient connections between the cloud and the terminal, forming a complementary and collaborative development pathway. For example, under 5G conditions, autonomous driving can achieve simultaneously empowerment of the cloud and the terminal, greatly improving the level of reliability of automatic driving technology.

Ultra-Large Capacity. As the next-generation mobile communication infrastructure, 5G delivers and provides the possibility of huge data volume and information volume. 5G base stations can provide services for more terminals at the same time and possesses the bandwidth to connect 1 million devices per square kilometer, [such that] compared with 4G’s thousand the amount of connection 4G’s over thousand-unit device connection capacity, the connection capability has jumped sharply. In the future, 5G networks that possess hyperlink capabilities can carry the connections for 1 billion places, the connection of 5 billion people, and the connection of 50 billion things, promoting society to enter the era of the Internet of Everything.

Ultra-Low Latency. The data shows that 5G greatly reduces network latency. For more applications with extremely high latency requirements, it offers the possibility of development. At the beginning of this year, Fujian Province surgeons employed 5G technology to implement the world’s first long-distance surgery, using a smart robotic arm with a delay of only 0.1 seconds. Under 5G conditions, intelligent manufacturing cloud robotics can achieve end-to-end communication latency as low as 1 millisecond, even supporting 99.99% connection reliability. This indicator will be the future development direction of Industry 4.0.

The Prospects for Military Applications

5G will bring a wholly new AI era, which will cause disruptive changes in many domains. It can be anticipated that AI with 5G’s blessing will also have a great role in the military domain, promoting the acceleration of the arrival of intelligentized warfare.

Improving the speed of battlefield information sharing. Modern warfare is based on the system of information systems, the amount of information is growing explosively, and the volume of data is also becoming more and more sizable. Future information systems based on 5G technology can highly efficiently collect, transmit, and process massive battlefield data, providing real-time data analysis results for commanders, [and] helping them to establish a high degree of perception of the battlefield situation. In addition, it is possible the help of intelligentized command and control platforms to undertake real-time reconnaissance, identification, tracking and early warning against battlefield targets, quickly updating the situation information in command information systems. Commanders can not only use historical information to make decisions but also can combine them with real-time data to gain a more comprehensive perspective.

Changing the mode of warfare command and control. 5G’s high-rate, low-latency characteristic helps operators achieve precise control of all types of intelligentized combat systems on the battlefield. In field medical treatment, 5G networks can realize remote connections between doctors and robotic surgery platforms, providing remote surgery support for the wounded. The logistics support departments can flexibly control the unmanned transport fleets, making more efficient the distribution of battlefield supplies and materials. Various types of automated weapon systems can achieve, within millisecond-level control cycles, sensor measurements, data transmission, and intelligent solutions, etc.

Improving the efficiency of system construction. In the era of intelligentized warfare, combat operations are fast, and the pace of attack and defense is accelerating, requiring that information systems possess the capability of rapid maneuvering, rapid deployment, and rapid communication. With the help of 5G-based intelligentized command and control systems, commanders and command organizations can coordinate and optimize the use of spectrum by various devices on communication networks, promoting efficient system construction. In addition, 5G is equipped with characteristics of wide coverage, good adaptability, and strong compatibility, and can provide high-speed variable-rate transmission, fulfilling the networking requirements of different combat zones. During combat, the military does not need to frequently mobilize military-use communications satellites, early warning aircraft, and other resources to achieve interconnection and interoperability of battlefield information terminals, which can reduce the cost of operations significantly.

Not only that, but in the future, as military activities accelerate towards extending into the domain of intelligentization, air combat platforms, precision-guided munitions, etc. will be transformed from “accurate” to “intelligentized.” 5G-based AI technology will definitely have important implications for these domains.

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