U.S. Army Chief Wants Robots and Artificial Intelligence Forces to Play a Bigger Role on the Battlefield

General Mark Milley, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, arrives to speak at the National Press Club, July 27, 2017 in Washington, DC. Milley fielded questions regarding President Trump's recent announcement that transgender troops will no longer be allowed to serve in the U.S. military in any capacity. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The United States military must embrace artificial intelligence, robotics and other emerging technologies soon to maintain its edge on the battlefield, because other nations are already doing so, the army's chief of staff has said.

"Whether we like it or not, artificial intelligence is coming," General Mark Milley said on Wednesday, speaking at an Association of the United States Army's Institute of Land Warfare event, armed forces news site Military reported. "I am willing to bet on it with programs and money."

Milley did not give a detailed plan for how to incorporate the futuristic technology in army vehicles but estimated that in 10-15 years' time, troops will have the support of enhanced kit on the ground and in the skies.

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"I don't know if artificial intelligence is going to mean robots and machines replace humanity... but I do know the quantum computing and some of the IT technologies that are out there today are so significant and can help you [with] rapid decision-making in complex decentralized environments—that if we don't take advantage of that in things like the network—then we would be fools because others are moving out quickly on that," he said.

The shadow of the calamitous Future Combat Systems programme still hangs over any ambitious plans to modernize the army's equipment. The Obama administration cancelled the multibillion-dollar effort to produce next-generation infantry vehicles in 2009 due to its spiralling cost and questionable results. Among the problems it encountered was the fact that technology required to reduce the weight of vehicles without compromising their robustness did not exist.

Milley acknowledged the programme's failings but insisted that thinking in terms of only "linear" improvements, or incremental upgrades to kit based on what seems most attainable, "will end up in defeat on a future battlefield."

"We are talking about 10X capabilities that don't physically exist in the real world right this minute, but they will," he added. "Robotics is here. It is real."

According to Milley's vision, the way to plan for this next leap in army technology is by envisioning "vehicles that are both manned and unmanned."

"Every vehicle is going to have the capability to be robotic," he said, stressing the importance of a vehicle's flexibility in giving options to a commander on the front lines, giving him options without requiring different vehicles to be deployed. "He can estimate the situation, he can make a determination as to whether he wants this assault to be manned or unmanned," Milley explained.