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Is AUKUS Weaponizing Drone Swarms Against China?

Drone swarmInternationalIndiaAfricaThe AUKUS military alliance has placed special emphasis on swarm drone technologies in what appears to be an effort to gain the upper hand vis-a-vis China in the Asia-Pacific region.Earlier this week, the British defense minister revealed that AUKUS – a trilateral security pact between Australia, the UK, and the US – held its first artificial intelligence (AI) and autonomy trial on April 28 with the aim of «rapidly driving these technologies into responsible military use.»The trial, organized by the UK’s Defense Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), brought together Australian, UK, and US AI-enabled assets in a «collaborative swarm» in order to detect and track military targets in real time.The swarm drone group consisted of British and Australian Blue Bear Ghost and Boeing/Insitu CT220 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The joint deployment also included Challenger 2 tanks, Warrior infantry fighting vehicles, Viking uncrewed ground vehicles (UGV), as well as 105mm FV433 Abbot self-propelled howitzers and Czechoslovakia-made OT-90 derivatives of the Soviet BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicle.

"This trial demonstrates the military advantage of AUKUS advanced capabilities, as we work in coalition to identify, track and counter potential adversaries from a greater distance and with greater speed," UK deputy chief of Defense Staff, military capability, Lieutenant General Rob Magowan, said in an official statement.

RussiaRussia Developing Swarm Attack Drones for Battlefield, Rostec CEO Reveals27 January, 16:13 GMT

What are Drone Swarms?

A drone swarm is a hybrid warfare technology that envisages a group of drones working together to achieve common goals. Drone swarms have a number of advantages, including increased survivability on the battlefield, enhanced accuracy, better coverage, and adaptability. They could be used for surveillance missions, targeting enemy troops and military assets, overwhelming enemy air defenses, etc.According to tech experts, drone swarms work exactly like bee swarms, separated into «queens» and «workers»: «queens» use sophisticated onboard algorithms to analyze data and assign tasks to «workers» in accordance with the circumstances. For their part, the worker drones act on the orders the «queens» provide. This simplifies the task of the pilot or programmer, who assigns a general task to the group of UAVs, instead of operating each drone separately.© DARPA/YouTubeDARPA’s Swarming DronesDARPA’s Swarming Drones

AMASS: Pentagon’s ‘Secret Weapons’

In February 2023, the media reported that the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) had kicked off a top-secret project named AMASS (Autonomous Multi-Domain Adaptive Swarms-of-Swarms).The program envisages thousands of drones, equipped with weapons as well as communication and navigation tools, providing the US and its allies with capabilities of jamming radars, penetrating adversaries’ air defenses, and launching lethal attacks.DARPA documents say that, «AMASS will create the ability to dynamically command and control (C2) unmanned, autonomous swarms of various types (i.e., swarms-of-swarms) with a common C2 language.» Separately, DARPA is developing the OFFensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics program with the aim of training small groups of operators to manage large swarms of aerial and ground-based drones. As of February 2023, AMASS was said to be in the initial stages, with an estimated cost of $78 million.MilitaryUK, US, Australia Hold AUKUS’ First AI Military Tests — UK Ministry of Defense26 May, 11:27 GMT

AUKUS Trials, AMASS, and RAND’s Taiwan Wargames

The UK Defense Ministry’s announcement of AUKUS artificial intelligence-empowered swarm drone tests prompted international observers to suggest that the development is primarily aimed at gaining the upper hand in a hypothetical conflict with China.In particular, they referred to DARPA’s AMASS pre-solicitation documents, which expressed concerns about «peer-state adversaries» that could «invade» neighboring states. The documents emphasized that «this program will be oriented around demonstrating this capability for some specific regional Theater-level scenarios.»

Although no "peer-state adversaries" were named, observers suggested that the Pentagon has Taiwan in mind, an island regarded by the People's Republic of China as its inalienable territory. Over the past several months, the US mainstream media, politicians, and military experts have been speculating about China's alleged plans to "invade" the island, something that Beijing has resolutely denied.

In addition, observers refer to the US Air Force’s war games, carried out by the Pentagon in conjunction with independent think tanks, which showed drone swarms particularly effective in scenarios involving the «defense» of the island of Taiwan against a «Chinese invasion.»AnalysisNATO’s Liaison Office in Japan Part of Plan to Destabilize China and Russia11 May, 14:24 GMTIn particular, the influential think tank RAND carried out Taiwan war games in cooperation with the Air Force’s Warfighting Integration Capability office (AFWIC) in 2020. RAND’s modeling as well as AFWIC’s simulations suggested that large numbers of UAVs organized in «swarms» could become instrumental in thwarting China’s anti-access and area denial capabilities.The latest AUKUS trials also appear to suggest that drone swarms could be used in the Asia-Indo-Pacific theater: the US has recently doubled down on forming regional military alliances in the region with the aim of mitigating «challenges» posed by China, which Washington has clearly defined as its greatest long-term threat.China and Russia regard AUKUS as an instrument for destabilizing the Asia-Pacific region. Together with NATO’s increasing military drills with Pacific nations, the latest drone swarm programs and joint trial send a worrisome signal of potential escalation of tensions in the region.

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