skip to main content

Special Report: Australian Army applies AI in unmanned systems tests

Date Posted: 19-Jun-2024

Key points

  • The Australian Army is leveraging AI technologies to experiment with autonomous systems
  • The service plans to acquire the Integrator UAS and loitering munitions to enhance ISR and combat capabilities

The Australian Army is applying artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to support its testing of autonomous systems including unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) and loitering munitions.

The Australian Department of Defence (DoD) said in mid-June that AI technologies are enabling different types of autonomous systems to work in conjunction to strengthen the Australian Army's strike, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities.

The DoD said that in a recent exercise with the US Marine Corps (USMC) – held at the Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia – the Australian Army applied AI to control a swarm of autonomous systems deployed to search and destroy targets in a simulated environment.

An Australian Army officer is pictured wearing a device to control multiple UASs at a recent exercise between the Australian Army and the US Marine Corps. (Commonwealth of Australia)

“The activity employed a variety of Australian and US emerging technologies including autonomous UASs, loitering munitions, and low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites facilitating real-time communication and information sharing,” the DoD said.

AI technology was applied to control the movement of a swarm of autonomous systems flying over North Virginia, searching for targets on the ground, the DoD said.

As one autonomous system in the team identified a potential target, another system was flown over to confirm the target. Once the uncrewed team passed the confirmed target information to a human commander stationed at a safe location on the ground, the commander issued the command to destroy the target, the DoD added.

Although the Australian Army does not operate loitering munitions, the service plans to procure such systems by the end of 2024. A spokesperson for the Australian DoD told Janes on 12 June, that the “future loitering munition capability is due to be introduced this year”.

Australian Army and US Marine Corps personnel observe loitering munitions engage with identified targets during the joint activity. (Commonwealth of Australia)

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) is testing loitering munitions developed by domestic and foreign companies, the DoD spokesperson said.

“In line with National Defence Strategy [NDS] and Integrated Investment Program [IIP] priorities, [the DoD] is continuing trials [of loitering munitions] from maritime, land, and air platforms with Australian and overseas suppliers to ensure the ADF can deploy the latest technology and maximise its advantages,” the DoD spokesperson said. Australia launched the NDS and IIP in April to improve ADF force posture and capabilities.

“The introduction into service of loitering munitions into most Australian Army combat units in the future will be driven by the results of these trials,” the spokesperson added.

According to Australian news reports, the Australian Army is considering the acquisition of the One-Way Loitering (OWL) munition developed by Perth-based Innovaero. Innovaero, which is partially owned by BAE Systems Australia, has received more than AUD5.3 million (USD3.5 million) in contracts from the DoD since mid-2022 to develop and test the OWL.

Innovaero had not responded to Janes request for more information at the time of publication.