The Ukraine military is set to deploy AI-integrated drones onto the battlefield

September 4, 2023

AI risk

The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense has officially approved the use of the SAKER SCOUT drone system, featuring AI and advanced optics, for deployment within the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU). 

Announced on September 4 via the Ministry’s Telegram channel, the technology is designed to autonomously identify and locate enemy equipment. The word “equipment” is instructional here, as opposed to people – though reports also suggest the drone can carry munitions to destroy ‘hidden enemies.’ 

Using its advanced optics and AI tech, the drone system autonomously detects and pinpoints enemy equipment, even when concealed under camouflage, and instantly relays critical information, including geolocation coordinates, to command posts for swift decision-making, per the Kyiv Post

Comprising a lead reconnaissance drone and several ‘kamikaze drones,’ the SAKER SCOUT system is said to have a flight range of several miles. The drones can also be fitted with infrared optics for nighttime operations.

The system is designed to integrate seamlessly with all existing situational awareness and data link systems within the AFU, including the Delta system. Delta is a “battlefield management system” that integrates battlefield data into a cloud-native app. 

Last year, the drone’s developers discussed its capabilities with the Polish publication Onet.

“The geographical coordinates of these machines are automatically transmitted to the headquarters. The direct transfer of data from the drone to the operator in the field and to command staff in other locations is a capability we did not have at the outset of the Russian invasion,” the developers told Onet.

They further elaborated on the AI drone’s potential on the battlefield, stating, “The human eye of a drone operator may not capture every detail, but artificial intelligence never misses a hidden enemy, whether under trees or camouflage nets. It may sometimes identify multiple targets, leaving the final decision to the commanding officers.”

The SAKER SCOUT drone system can also carry up to four munitions, deployable from an altitude of around 100 meters. 

Additionally, the drones can switch to night vision cameras for enhanced visibility during low-light conditions.

AI’s role on the battlefield is increasing

The Israeli army has already deployed multiple AI-integrated battlefield technologies in the Israel-Palestine conflict, and the US Air Force recently successfully tested an autonomous AI-controlled jet. 

Ethicists and advocate groups are deeply concerned about what happens if AI battlefield technology ‘goes wrong’ and attacks the wrong target, potentially leading to civilian casualties

Who would be responsible? The technology developer? The equipment operator?

Beyond that, advanced AI weaponry could ‘go rogue’ and turn against its operators, a scenario that has captured the imaginations of numerous science fiction writers – and one that scares many people. 

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Sam Jeans

Sam is a science and technology writer who has worked in various AI startups. When he’s not writing, he can be found reading medical journals or digging through boxes of vinyl records.


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