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Machine Intelligence Ubiquity: A Confluence of Combat and Cyberspace

Machine Intelligence Ubiquity: A Confluence of Combat and Cyberspace

‘Any useful statement about the future should at first seem ridiculous’[1]

As Officer Cadet Sallie Smith[1] marched forward to accept the Sword of Honour at the Royal Military College, Duntroon graduation parade she felt a sense of exhilaration and relief.  Sallie had worked tirelessly and outperformed other officer candidates to take out top honours.  Little did anyone suspect that as she accepted the award a machine intelligence system based somewhere in a covert data centre was autonomously updating its digital file on her career.  Years earlier Sallie was identified by the machine after a local newspaper article showcased her acceptance to Duntroon.  The article revealed she had been Captain and Dux of her High School and was adept at sports.  The machine had compiled years of data on her, including school reports and military performance metrics from Duntroon.  Sallie’s social media presence had also been monitored, including her smart phone usage.[2] With this data the machine’s predictive analysis function marked her as a potential senior Army leader, so was tracking her very closely. What was more alarming is that the machine, using quantum computing power, had also profiled her fellow officer cadets and allocated them into a matrix of cyber monitoring priorities. [3]

Fast forward ten years and Sallie is now a Major in command of a tank squadron in 3rd Brigade.  As the machine had predicted with 95% probability, Sallie proved to be a top performer who consistently achieved superior results.  A highly intelligent, strong leader with tactical acumen. Sallie’s supervisors commented in performance reports on her penchant for aggressive combat tactics and ability to make rapid decisions under stress. The machine scanned these reports as it had hacked into Army’s human resource database. Her solutions to tactical problems at training schools also revealed a pattern that favoured rapid frontal attack preceded by a deception plan and heavy artillery bombardment.  Sallie’s strategies were played out in high fidelity at the Brigade Simulation Centre, where the machine could digitally analyse her tactical decisions. Her briefings were also recorded through the microphone on her smart phone[4] and via voice recognition she was tracked through radio transmissions made during field training.

By the time Sallie’s squadron is deployed to a conflict north of Australia, the machine has a detailed dossier on her.  Her combat team is tasked as a battlegroup advance guard and deployed on an island objective.  Sallie’s mission is to clear a route between the port and airfield.  Then en route to the airfield, airborne reconnaissance drones detect concealed enemy defensive positions. So Sallie swiftly devises a plan to clear enemy forces. Unfortunately, the enemy commander has advance warning of who Sallie is and how she might deploy her forces thanks to the machines data profile.  This profile and cyber attack technology[5] had been sold to the adversary nation by the covert data centre operators. Intelligence on other commanders and key staff in the battlegroup was also transferred. So based on this surreptitious backdrop, the following events transpire:

Sallie’s combat team attack fails, her signature deception tactic is ignored by the enemy and her assault group is blocked by obstacles.  Reconnaissance drones fail to detect the obstacles as their downlink data is infiltrated by machine intelligence and altered images are received in Sallie’s command post.  Then at a crucial moment while combat troops assemble in assault formation, the drones disappear.  One of the two drones supporting her mission is hijacked by machine intelligence and deliberately set on a collision vector with the other drone. In an effort to regain the initiative Sallie starts to issue new orders, but digital Battle Management Systems are also hacked and suddenly power down. [6]

The preceding narrative is a plausible dystopian outcome, but mission success might have been possible had Army developed a digital resilience strategy and counter-machine intelligence system when Sallie was in High School.[7] Had this occurred, the enemy commander could have been furnished with a false dossier on Sallie.  This fictitious file would have been part of a digital deception plan to confuse threat data analytics during her career. The system might also have tricked threat machine intelligence into believing Sallie’s command post was not alerted to obstacles, when in fact the unaltered drone imagery was transmitted.[8] Moreover, the deliberate drone collision would not have occurred due to software defined security protocols protecting its command signal.[9] Finally, Sallie’s Combat Watson[10] personal machine intelligence device would have advised her on likely enemy tactics, including probability of success for her own manoeuvre plan.[11]

So in summary, the preceding narrative highlights how the confluence of combat and cyberspace, in context of ubiquitous machine intelligence may shape future battles. The potential for intersection of cyberspace with joint land combat reinforces the notion that successful missions in the future depend on capability choices made today.

[1] The name Sallie Smith is intended to be a fictional character for the purposes of illustrating the key messages in this article and does not represent an actual person.

[2] Includes tracking images of Sallie posted online via social media or newspaper articles.  A facial recognition capability permitted the machine to develop its dossier on Sallie from a range of digital sources.


[4] Includes presentations Sallie made during officer training and also during Tactical Exercises Without Troops (TEWT), where she was required to outline her tactical combat plans in a wide range of scenarios.

[5] This includes machine intelligence and quantum computing optimised hacking technology that enables ‘Turing-like’ rapid code breaking. This highly sophisticated technology is employed as a form of electronic warfare to disrupt adversary command, control and communication systems, or to commandeer drones.

[6] This type of scenario could also be applicable to air and maritime military engagements.  Including machine intelligence derived dossiers on more senior ADF commanders of joint task forces, where negative consequences in combat could be substantially amplified.


[8] False images or signals could also have been transmitted to the enemy command post to deceive them as to the precise location of Sallie’s assault and support elements.

[9] Software defined security combined with a counter-machine intelligence system could generate superior encryption and rapid frequency hopping for secure drone control links.

[10] /the-internet-of-military-things-machine Introduces the concept of a ‘Combat Watson’ digital machine intelligence assistant capability and background information on hacking concepts underpinning this article.

[11] Known affectionately as ‘Watto’ by the tank squadron’s diggers, this secure device mounted in Sallie’s tank acts like a sophisticated type of Siri or Cortana to assist in rapidly developing tactical solutions and analysing threat capabilities. It is capable of knowledge retrieval and detailed assessment of battle plans to enhance military decision-making and to frustrate threat machine intelligence effects.

The views expressed in this article and subsequent comments are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

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