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Fighter jets, stealth bombers, attack drones and air-traveling missiles all need to “operate at speed” in a fast-changing great power conflict era. What that means is that “sensor to shooter” time (how fast data can go from a sensor to a war-fighter) needs to be drastically sped up. Without that speed, warfighters won’t be able to react as quickly to threats and it will be harder to win.

When faced with fast, multi-frequency, long-range precision fire from enemy air defenses, air attackers simply must “operate at speed,” according to U.S. Air Forces, Europe Commander General Jeffrey Harrigian, who used the phrase in a discussion with The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies. 

Harrigian, who is also now the Commander of U.S. Air Forces Africa, ran much of the air campaign during Operation Inherent Resolve against ISIS; he offered a first-hand war perspective in a conversation with retired Lieutenant General David Deptula, Dean of the Mitchell Institute.


The opportunity to operate with air supremacy in uncontested environments is, essentially, over, as joint forces prepare for warfare in high-threat areas against advanced enemy forces, sophisticated air defenses and rival fifth-generation stealth fighters. U.S. forces, of course, enjoyed overwhelming air superiority during the years of counterinsurgency in Iran and Afghanistan, a circumstance enabling most key combat decisions to travel all the way up the echelon into an “air operations center.” Now, warfighters and commanders themselves operating at the edge of combat will need to be empowered to make more decisions independently for a simple reason: the speed of attack.

File photo - A pilot looks up from a U.S. F-22 Raptor fighter as it prepares to refuel in mid-air with a KC-135 refuelling plane over European airspace during a flight to Britain from Mihail Kogalniceanu air base in Romania April 25, 2016.

File photo – A pilot looks up from a U.S. F-22 Raptor fighter as it prepares to refuel in mid-air with a KC-135 refuelling plane over European airspace during a flight to Britain from Mihail Kogalniceanu air base in Romania April 25, 2016.
(REUTERS/Toby Melville)

“Years of operating in uncontested environments provided an opportunity to have some time to make decisions and bring them back into a command center. When troops are in contact and you start targeting in a dynamic environment, you don’t want to over centralize. Let your commanders operate, and trust the guys at the tip of the spear,” Harrigian said.

While pilots and Commanders have of course always had the ability to respond as needed under enemy fire or in intense combat situations, newer threats and advanced, long-range sensor technology will require forward-attackers themselves to operate with even more autonomy.


Advanced command and control technologies, including AI applications and sensor networking are also expected to greatly expedite this kind of tactical approach, as air fighters and commanders on the ground are likely to have a more immediate, informed sense of specific circumstances. Should an enemy fifth-generation fighter or long-range air-attack be incoming, pilots and commanders simply will not have time for a full complement of high-echelon commanders to make a decision regarding counterattack. These combat Tactics, Techniques and Procedures provide key parts of the conceptual inspiration for the Pentagon’s emerging Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) program.

The tactical concept, Harrigian explained, is to “trust the guys at the tip of the spear who understand commanders’ intent.”

“As commanders, we need to do a better job of how we provide intent to support decisions in flight. At the end of the day you need to go from sensor to shooter as quickly as possible,” he added.

During the course of his discussion with Harrigian, Deptula asked about how his experience as an Air Commander fighting against Russian-built air defenses has influenced his tactical thinking. Harrigian specifically cited Russian weapons as an area of particular concern.


“We don’t want to train every three months. We need muscle memory fighting against air defenses,” he said.

— Kris Osborn is the Managing Editor of Warrior Maven and The Defense Editor of The National Interest –

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What if artillery rounds, mini-drone swarms of explosives, rockets and even air-fired missiles are all approaching forward-positioned Army troops at the same time? Imagine that these incoming weapons are dispersed, varied and fast approaching. How do ground commanders avoid being overwhelmed and destroyed? Could AI help solve this lethal predicament?

The incoming attacks are fast, multi-faceted and extremely lethal. Ground commanders and armed infantry simply do not have time to respond to all targets simultaneously to discern which ones to intercept. Not only that, but commanders may simply have too many targets to optimize which kind of layered defense might be best suited to counter different approaching weapons. Think about the scenarios going through a commander’s head. Which countermeasure is best? A kinetic interceptor? Electronic warfare? Lasers? These questions would likely need to be addressed, analyzed and answered in real-time, possibly even a matter of seconds, to save lives.

“We are trying to merge operationally relevant data at the tactical level by connecting sensor to shooter. What if the shooter is a robot? Do I have to confirm each target?” Dr. Bruce Jette, Assistant Secretary of the Army, Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, told The National Interest in an interview.


AI systems can now instantly organize incoming sensor data, perform near-real-time analytics and make determinations regarding the scope of the attack, its range, speed, configuration and approaching trajectory. Perhaps of greatest significance, it could possibly determine which method of defense might be needed. All of these variables are likely to converge so fast that a human commander simply could not respond, placing the Army force, installation or Forward Operating Base at great risk of destruction.

U.S. Army Soldiers from Delta Company, 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), fire the TOW missile system during a live fire at Fort Campbell, Ky. Oct. 24, 2018 - file photo.

U.S. Army Soldiers from Delta Company, 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), fire the TOW missile system during a live fire at Fort Campbell, Ky. Oct. 24, 2018 – file photo.
(U.S. Army Photo by Capt. Justin Wright)

Advanced algorithms, however, can synthesize and analyze radar returns, infrared sensor data, navigational details and countermeasures, bounce all of that information off an existing and seemingly limitless database, and present options to human decision-makers immediately. Perhaps larger incoming weapons will need to be destroyed with a kinetic, explosive interceptor such as a Coyote drone? Perhaps a small group of electronically powered mini-drones might be best countered by an EW weapon able to jam the target and throw it off course? Or further, perhaps the combat is in an urban area where explosive fragments might injure civilians, a circumstance which may call for a laser? However, weather obscurants or certain terrain features might preclude the ability for a laser to incinerate approaching targets, requiring a different defensive solution. AI programs can now determine which methods have been effective in the past in varying, yet specific scenarios and present commanders with a series of options. This kind of application, which is now being rapidly advanced by Army scientists, researchers and weapons developers, could bring new dimensions to warfare. It is exactly what Jette envisions.


Jette paralleled this process to an interesting and significant multi-service term called “weapons hold, weapons tight, weapons free.” Weapons Hold, according to a 2002 multi-service “Brevity Code” manual, means only fire in self-defense or in response to an order: Weapons Tight means fire at targets positively identified as hostile; Weapons Free means only fire at targets not identified as friendly. AI, Jette explained, can massively expedite this process. Perhaps some elements of this could be performed autonomously?

In these cases involving the use of force for defensive purposes, if applied in a non-lethal way, might be best executed by robots themselves, Jette explained. Of course, the priority is to ensure humans are in the loop regarding decisions about lethal force, yet perhaps this kind of defensive application might save lives in a matter of seconds. The concept, as Jette seemed to explain, was to synergize and optimize the idea blend between the procedural and analytical functions best performed by AI, while preserving and calling upon the attributes and faculties unique to human cognition.

“How far can we push computational capabilities to do that in real time, or near real-time functionality for a weapons system? We are looking at target identification and firing solution development,” Jette said.

Ultimately, Jette explained the fundamental concept with all of this is command and control, essentially advancing the need to analyze the precise extent to which new technology changes and informs tactical warfare.


“I think this takes a thought process that is different from what we have explored so far, because we have been so focused on the technology. We have medium and small robotic systems and we have numerous AI efforts going on. The real difference will be thinking through that second and third layer, looking at how we change the way we think about command and control, and take advantage of the capabilities that are inherent in the system.” Jette said.

— Kris Osborn is the Managing Editor of Warrior Maven and The Defense Editor of The National Interest –

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The Chinese Army is preparing to deploy small, new, tracked war-robots armed with machine guns, night vision, missile loaders, and camera sensors to conduct attacks while leaving manned systems at safer stand-off distances.

Citing a China Central Television segment on the robots, People’s Online Daily reports that the “thigh-high robot looks like a small assault vehicle. Target practice results showed the robot has acceptable accuracy.”

While the report stresses that the robot will be controlled or operated by human decision-makers, it is not clear if the robot is merely remote-controlled or if it operates with some measure of autonomy. As a small tracked vehicle, the robot is built to traverse rugged or uneven terrain and operate as a forward-positioned weapons “node” for ground attacks.


The U.S. military has long-been operating combat robots, ranging from teleoperated sensors and IED-detonators to small, semi-autonomous unmanned systems programmed to respond to specific cues or sensor input. At the same time, the U.S. Army’s drones are increasingly capable of much greater levels of autonomy and, according to its current technological modernization strategy, expects to operate most of its combat formations with robotic systems functioning alongside or in tandem with manned platforms. Deploying forward-positioned command and control nodes, weapons and supply transporters, reconnaissance-oriented robots, and even armed attack unmanned platforms are all part of the Army’s modernization calculus.

An automated direct and indirect mortar system is operated from a distance by U.S. Soldiers during a multinational joint equipment training exercise with the U.S. military at Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany, April 2, 2018, in preparation for a Robotic Complex Breach Concept demonstration - file photo..

An automated direct and indirect mortar system is operated from a distance by U.S. Soldiers during a multinational joint equipment training exercise with the U.S. military at Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany, April 2, 2018, in preparation for a Robotic Complex Breach Concept demonstration – file photo..
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Hubert D. Delany III / 22nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)

While current Pentagon doctrine stipulates that a human must always be “in the loop” when it comes to decisions about the use of deadly force, many U.S. military leaders have expressed concern that there is little or no assurance that potential enemies will follow a similar path. This is of particular relevance now because the technical ability to engineer a robot able to navigate, surveil, track, target, and destroy an enemy is basically here, given rapid advances in algorithms enabling autonomy.

The apparent Chinese intention for the robots appears somewhat analogous to the U.S. posture, meaning that they will be deployed for reconnaissance and potential attack missions.


A war-prospect such as this invites an interesting discussion regarding what types of defensive tactics the U.S. might be assessing in response to the threat of a Chinese robotic attack.

Naturally, it highlights the importance of U.S. efforts to deploy its own unmanned systems to identify and potentially take out approaching armed robots. It also underscores the significance of the U.S. Army’s current focus on command and control, air-ground drone networking, and emerging concepts of multi-domain battle. Concentrations of small armed robots, moving well ahead of an armored formation, could in theory be easy to detect with air or even ground sensors, cameras, and surveillance technology. Overhead Ground Moving Target Indicator (GMTI) sensors operating on drones or fixed-wing surveillance planes would likely detect the movement or robots, and air-based thermal imaging might pick up a heat signature from the small engines propelling the robots – especially if groups of them were concentrated in a certain area.

Should armed air support not be available for any given land-war mission, U.S. ground forces might be well suited to fire some of its now-emerging long-range precision weaponry, such as laser-guided artillery or land-launched “area” rockets used to explode the robots or at least disrupt their movements. U.S. robotic vehicles could, in this instance, provide forward-placed targeting guidance or laser designation for attacking precision weapons.


Finally, of course, Army developers are likely looking at various EW (Electronic Warfare) “jamming” techniques intended to both find the electromagnetic signature emitted from the robots and, if possible, “jam, thwart or disable” their targeting, communications or networking systems. In short, the arrival of armed Chinese war-robots introduces the potential of some kind of robot-to-robot warfare, a scenario likely to be capturing Pentagon attention at the moment.

— Kris Osborn is the Managing Editor of Warrior Maven and The Defense Editor of The National Interest –

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The Navy is preparing the USS Gerald R. Ford carrier for major warfare on the open seas, by launching F/A-18 Super Hornets and helicopters equipped with ordnance for combat missions from its deck.

It is the largest air wing embark to date, and Ford’s first ordnance movement from a lower deck magazine using the weapons elevators, said Ford’s Commanding Officer Capt. J.J. Cummings and Carrier Air Wing Capt. Josh Sager in announcing the drill earlier this month.


The exercises used 40,000 pounds of inert, or non-explosive ordnance which was transferred through an upper stage elevator before being loaded onto an aircraft.

The USS Gerald R. Ford flight deck.

The USS Gerald R. Ford flight deck.
(Photo by Seaman Ryan Carter/U.S. Navy)

“We’re thrilled to be here dropping light and heavy inert ordnance; but the biggest thing as the air wing commander is to do our primary mission: war at sea, air defense, air superiority and power projection. We’re taking [Ford] from carrier qualification to a mission that focuses on combat operations,” Capt. Sager, Commander, CVW 8, said in a Navy report.


The first-in-class USS Ford has been specifically engineered for expanded air attack, being built with a larger deck space than the Nimitz-class to enable a greater sortie rate. Navy developers explain that the Ford configuration was developed to increase the air mission rate by as much as 33 percent, with a mind to creating a new dimension of air power projection. This strategy, initiated years ago, did seem to anticipate what could be described as a modern threat environment. More air power would be needed in any kind of major-power engagement, carriers need to have an ability to operate the first-of-its kind carrier-launched F-35C stealth fighter, and perhaps of equal or greater significance, modern carriers need to have longer attack reach.

Air attack assets such as the F-35C and upgraded F/A-18 fighters will have longer reach due to the upcoming arrival of the MQ-25 carrier-launched aerial refueler. This constitutes a substantial development, as it enables a carrier air wing to hold a country at risk for ranges out to 1,000 miles or more. Should an F-35C, for instance, have a 500-mile combat radius, it may need to turn around before reaching its destination. Should Chinese DF-21 or DF-26 carrier-killer missiles, which have a reported range of up to 900 nautical miles, force carriers to operate at greater standoff distances, an aerial refueler could ensure that the Navy sustains an air attack capability.


CVW-8 embarked seven squadrons and is operating nearly 30 fixed-wing aircraft and both of their Helicopter Sea Combat squadrons.

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As the Army looks toward future warfare scenarios, it is increasingly emphasizing the need to fully network air and ground drones to one another to defend advancing armored units in war, launch coordinated attacks and pursue new applications of Combined Arms Maneuver.

Much of this hinges upon taking new steps with automation and AI systems to not only connect manned vehicles with air and ground drones, but also extend command and control options by networking drones-to-drones in combat autonomously. Much of the work is taking place with Army Futures Command’s Artificial Intelligence Task Force in Pittsburgh, Pa., which is working closely with Carnegie Mellon University.

“Up at CMU they are working on algorithms to link ground and air vehicles—and it becomes not manned-unmanned teaming, but unmanned-unmanned teaming. Go out in this grid square and go identify this threat, so from a ground and air perspective, those vehicles talk to each other. We are collecting training data to train our algorithms,” General John Murray, Commanding General of Army Futures Command, told Warrior in an interview.


So what would unmanned-unmanned teaming look like? What undiscovered advantages would it bring to combat? The Army is already successfully testing, developing and even deploying elements of ground and air manned-unmanned teaming. Moreover, the Army also already enables airborne helicopters to control both the flight path and sensor payload of nearby drones from the cockpit, and the service continues to make rapid progress with its Robotic Combat Vehicle program to create multiple variants of ground-combat robots.

A U.S. Predator drone flies above Kandahar Air Field, southern Afghanistan Sunday, Jan. 31, 2010 - file photo.

A U.S. Predator drone flies above Kandahar Air Field, southern Afghanistan Sunday, Jan. 31, 2010 – file photo.
(AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Part of this broad unmanned system effort has also involved the use of large robotic combat vehicles being used, for instance, to breach a tank ditch with soldiers hundreds of meters away to enable follow-on armored columns to more safely and effectively cross difficult terrain and advance in combat. The concept, of course, is to use forward operating drones to carry ammunition, conduct reconnaissance, breach obstacles, assist ground-attack command and control and even fire weapons when controlled by a human operator.

A new phase would be to connect ground and air autonomous systems to one another, as Murray indicated. In a tactical scenario, for instance, an air drone could identify maneuvering enemy formations, quickly process and disseminate combat-crucial elements from its video sensors using advanced algorithms and cue a small fleet of advancing ground drones. Such a synergy would give ground commanders an integrated air-ground combat picture in real-time, massively improving attack options—all from a safer standoff distance.


A key advantage of this kind of technical advance is, simply put, speed. Ground attackers could have more vital information faster amid quick-changing land war dynamics, without having to separately stovepipe drone sensor data at separate command and control centers or experience substantial latency. Perhaps of greatest importance, much of the data would autonomously be analyzed and organized for human decision-makers, in a matter of seconds in some instances. AI-enabled processing systems can increasingly draw upon vast databases to assess prior combat scenarios, assess a wide range of combat factors such as navigation, weather and heat signatures from enemy vehicles. This means they can perform near real-time analytics on the information and quickly inform friendly ground forces.


For instance, a ground drone could surveil an enemy target and instantly calculate its distance, speed and various characteristics based on existing data. Imagine this kind of information being bounced off a database to quickly identify the exact threat. Or perhaps an AI system can analyze which weapons might be most effective against a certain target by virtue of performing near instant analysis of prior combat scenarios. Once many of these calculations are made autonomously, information can then transmit to an air drone which might be in a better position to attack. From there, the airborne drone would perform its own AI-enabled analytics—giving ground Commanders a nearly immediate option to destroy a moving enemy quickly.

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The coronavirus has infected nearly 2 million Americans and claimed 112,311 lives, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University.

The 112,311 Americans killed by COVID-19 as of Wednesday is higher than the 104,404 troops killed in every war since the start of the Korean War. And soon coronavirus deaths in the U.S. will surpass the 116,516 American lives lost in World War I.

And COVID-19 has already killed more Americans than the 1968 pandemic, which claimed 100,000 lives. But it’s still far below the 675,000 killed by the 1918 Spanish flu.

The deaths resulting from this pandemic and soldiers killed in wars are two very different types of loss. But it does help to understand the sheer magnitude of the virus and its devastating effect on U.S. lives.

The virus is still well below the leading causes of death in the country. Every year, heart disease and cancer are the U.S.’s two leading causes of death. Those are likely to be the top two killers again this year. But COVID-19 deaths are still increasing at a fast clip and will probably be higher than causes like diabetes and Alzheimer’s.

States across the nation are easing their stay-at-home orders, including New York starting phase 1 this past Monday. But the easing of lockdowns comes as some states see their coronavirus cases and hospitalizations rise, including in Arizona, Texas, and North Carolina. This has increased fears that the U.S. could see another wave of outbreaks.

More must-read finance coverage from Fortune:

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  • GoFundMe donations for elderly Buffalo man injured by police soar after baseless Trump tweet
  • WATCH: Why the banks were ready for the financial impact of the coronavirus

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