UK MoD braves the weather to train maritime AI capabilities

We will scan them on the beaches

Britain has conducted a maritime trial to collect data for developing AI technology for the Ministry of Defence.

While large chunks of the country eyed the weather forecast nervously, an exercise led by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) sent personnel out onto Hampshire beaches in what the MoD described as "one of the largest maritime artificial intelligence data capture trials."

It didn't sound like a barrel of fun. With winds reaching 40 knots (46 mph or 74 km/h) under Storm Ciarán, the personnel involved – up to 130 – had to board and leave vehicles in different ways to demonstrate different behavioral traits.

This included a scenario where participants acted as a trained military unit. Another had the subjects exiting boats in a deliberately chaotic way. It all contributed to a broad sample of human movement to develop MoD AI products.

As well as the 130 unfortunate personnel dealing with the elements, 13 vessels, multiple uncrewed air vehicles, and a light aircraft were involved. Fifty cameras and sensors were used to record activity.

The data captured in the trial, hampered over two days - ending yesterday - by the elements, included visual, infrared, sonar, and radar. The data will be used to train models so the AI algorithms can better spot objects, such as other vessels.

Minister for Defence Procurement James Cartlidge said: "Data-driven exercises like this demonstrate how AI can enhance our military capabilities, enabling us to respond more efficiently to the threats of today and tomorrow."

The trial built on experience from a previous land-based exercise and involved 12 separate industry players. Charlie Maslen, Dstl's trial technical authority, said: "Data generated by the trial will enable MoD and industry partners to develop new AI products for Defence, helping keep UK forces safe and delivering operational advantage. Being able to guarantee the integrity of the data underlines MoD's commitment to the ethical, safe, and responsible use of AI."

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While the UK might paint the trial as innovative – particularly in light of the government's desire to show leadership via this week's AI summit – the use of AI in military applications is as old as the technology itself. Both the US and Chinese governments have spent substantial sums over the years on applications varying from decision making to predicting vehicle behavior.

In 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin observed: "Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world."

The Register contacted the Ministry of Defence for more information, but we have yet to receive a response. ®

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