China tests super accurate AI-powered artillery, SCMP claims

The People's Liberation Army (PLA) has successfully tested long-range artillery that can hit a bullseye from almost 10 miles away, says report.
Christopher McFadden
The new cannon can it a human 9.95 miles (16km) away.

Ivan Murauyou/iStoc

According to the South China Morning Post (SCMP), China has tested an AI-powered, long-range artillery piece that is so accurate, it could hit a single person from 9.95 miles (16 km) away.

Images released from testing by the People's Liberation Army (PLA) show shells hitting target boards in the bullseye, according to the traditionally state-friendly SCMP. The precision attained in the tests, which exceeded expectations, was significantly higher than that of any other big guns currently in service.

Of course, images of precision hits on targets aren't exactly evidence that such claims are true.

“Artificial intelligence is evolving quickly. More researchers are applying the technology to trajectory planning problems,” said the project’s team leader, Professor Wang Jiang, from the Beijing Institute of Technology, in a paper published in the peer-reviewed journal Acta Armamentarii on April 6.

If true, however, this is an interesting development. Traditional artillery shells are usually only able to strike a target with any real precision from about 238 feet (100 meters). Armed forces in China, the United States, and other nations are using guided artillery shells, which can change their trajectory in flight more frequently.

However, the enormous amount of real-time data that needs to be calculated using conventional mathematical models has increased artillery precision significantly. Despite that, even a few or tens of meters could separate an artillery round from its target due to flight factors like wind, temperature and air pressure.

According to Wang, AI has the potential to process data more quickly than conventional mathematical techniques. It also has collaborators from China's defense industry and experts from a joint China-United Arab Emirates Belt and Road laboratory on intelligent unmanned systems based in Beijing.

The researchers claim that because AI is trained using data gathered during actual flights or laboratory trials, it can avoid some of the more difficult computations required by more conventional methods. The researchers also tested several AI models on work related to complex flight trajectory modifications. They claimed that the "division of labor" among their AI models allowed significant accuracy increases.

To lower the collateral cost of combat, China and the US are competing to build smart artillery. Typically, artillery rounds are far less expensive than missiles and can be produced in huge quantities very quickly. However, the damage they can wreak on non-military targets can be devastating.

In fact, the US Army granted Raytheon a US$66 million contract last year for an undefined number of GPS-guided artillery smart munitions with up to 25 miles (40km) of range.

According to SCMP, an anonymous Beijing-based defense industry engineer who is not involved in the AI-powered artillery project said that such pieces could neutralize enemy units or vehicles hidden in buildings with greater efficiency than conventional firepower, and at a lower cost than missiles.

“It will help reduce civilian casualties and damage to surrounding buildings. It will make reunification and reconstruction after the war easier,” he said.

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