US Air Force Uses Mideast Ops to Test Tech for Potential China Fight
The service is testing how artificial intelligence could rapidly give kinetic and non-kinetic targeting options to senior leaders, Air Forces Central Commander said.
The U.S. Air Force is using the Middle East as a testbed to explore new technologies that the service might need in a future fight against China.
“The kind of battle that we're in is a battle for who can transform the fastest, who can take advantage of these new technologies more rapidly than the other, who is going to be able to change their thinking about the way of warfare in the future—faster than the adversary,” Lt. Gen. Alexus Grynkewich, who leads Air Forces Central Command, said Wednesday during the annual Defense One Tech Summit.
Similar to the Indo-Pacific, Grynkewich’s command is in a combat environment on a “day-to-day basis,” he said. The service is treating the Middle East as a “sandbox” to test out different weapons that might be needed in the Pacific, he said.
“It's a place where we can experiment, where we can evaluate new technologies, where we can try new tactics, techniques, and procedures, and see if there is something that we can learn that would be exportable to the Chinese fight at some point in the future,” Grynkewich said.
To do this, AFCENT’s headquarters is going through a digital transformation and culture change—so that leaders of all levels have a basic understanding of data, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, he said.
“If we don't have that foundational understanding of these key technologies that are emerging, again, we're not going to fully understand the operational environment in which we're operating,” Grynkewich said.
The general stressed that “commercial innovation” is driving this shift; he said industry has been approaching AFCENT with cloud solutions, new data algorithms, and courses on data literacy.
The command is also using industry solutions to improve how it identifies targets it wants to strike, a process that’s historically been “cumbersome” and “slow,” Grynkewich said. AFCENT has an ongoing series of exercises using “artificial intelligence to help us enable target discovery, to look at a variety of classified and open source available feeds of information, and cue us to where particular targets might be,” he said.
With human oversight, AI could rapidly give kinetic and non-kinetic targeting options to senior leaders and automate the process, Grynkewich said.
The Air Force has also “shamelessly” copied the Navy’s model for an unmanned and AI task force in the Middle East, and has created its own Task Force 99 to figure out how unmanned technologies can provide air domain awareness.
The group already has more than a dozen types of drones and will have “dozens more” delivered in the next few months, Grynkewich said. However, the Air Force still needs to figure out how exactly it will scale Task Force 99 across the service, he said.