Russia’s Weapons of the Future: How AI Could Escalate Global Conflicts

Autonomous Russian Tank
Credit: Vitaly V. Kuzmin, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Artificial intelligence (AI) can revolutionize war-fighting and change the dynamics of global conflicts.

Vladimir Putin once said ‘Whoever becomes the leader in AI will become the ruler of the world.’ In recent months, it has been evident that Russia is dedicated to surpassing other countries in the development and use of AI for military purposes.

Russia has been working on developing robots equipped with artificial intelligence that would be capable of fighting independently. Finally, on May 20, Russia’s defence minister Sergey Shoygu announced that the country has launched mass production of the new weapons.

As the Russian military is becoming more sophisticated, other countries also make substantial investments in AI. It seems, therefore, like the world is facing an AI arms race that risks disrupting international peace and stability.

Russia’s concerning technologies

The combat robots that are the newest addition to the Russian military will be able to assess a combat situation and react accordingly. They will be faster and more accurate when attacking targets than human fighters. Russian officials say that by 2025 they hope to substitute a significant proportion of regular soldiers with machines and deploy an army composed solely of robots into some combat operations.

The robots are not the only AI-dependent weapons that Russia has developed. The country has been manufacturing a new type of technologically advanced helicopter drones that can be used to eliminate opponents’ drones. Russia also has been working on producing surface and underwater vehicles equipped with a high level of Artificial Intelligence. 

The main threat of the Russian military placing a great effort on developing AI-controlled weapons is integrating AI into nuclear command. Such a scenario would increase the risk of conflicts between nations escalating to nuclear use.

Are we facing a military AI arms race?

Russia is not the only country that has been putting more emphasis on developing AI-driven weapons. In fact, it can be argued that the main reason for the escalation of Russia’s efforts to manufacture them has been the need to keep up with the two frontrunners in the field, the US and China.

China has a goal of becoming the global leader in AI research by 2030, and the US has been a proponent of using AI for military purposes for over 60 years. Both the US and China have been producing AI-powered weapons such as target recognition systems, AI-enhanced drones, and cyberattack programmes that do not require human intervention.

When one power increases investment in AI, others feel threatened and also endeavour to make their weapons more sophisticated. In turn, the never-ending cycle of trying to prove their superiority over others challenges global stability and risks escalating conflicts between nations.

The rapidly advancing AI arms race is evident. For years, the field was dominated by the US and China. Now, however, Russia is realising Putin’s ambition and is gradually becoming the most prominent developer of AI-dependent weapons.

Using AI on the battlefield might come at a price

AI can be used to conduct complex military operations, including underwater ones, without putting soldiers’ lives at risk. In theory, it can do a lot of good and prevent innocent lives from being lost. In practice, however, it represents a new type of global threat.

‘Lethal autonomous weapons – machines with the power to kill on their own, without human judgment and accountability – are bringing us into unacceptable moral and political territory’, said Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General.

None of the countries wants to fall behind so the AI arms race is only intensifying and technologically advanced weapons that were once viewed as sci-fi are being invented.

AI-controlled weapons have the potential to be extremely destructive. There are no humans involved in operating them, so armed conflicts can quickly reach epic proportions. Furthermore, when AI is responsible for making decisions on the battlefield, instances of lethal force being used unjustifiably are likely to happen.

Concerns have been raised about the possibility of ‘AI undermining human control and states manufacturing AI-controlled weapons lacking ethical self-restraints’, Breaking Defense reported. Hence, it is imperative that the international community keeps an eye on Russia’s grand AI-related ambitions and intervenes when the military AI race starts posing a tangible existential threat to humanity.

Katarzyna Rybarczyk is a Political Correspondent for Immigration News, a media platform affiliated with Immigration Advice Service. Through her articles, she aims to raise awareness about security threats worldwide and the challenges facing migrants. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.