Morale: AI at War


February 19, 2024: The war in Ukraine has been the first near-peer conflict since World War II, i.e., between roughly equal opponents with equal technical skills and weapons. It’s an opportunity to test tactics, weapons, and strategies developed by many major military powers, particularly Russia and the NATO nations that are supporting Ukraine. What is happening in Ukraine is seen as the model for future wars. Both sides have access to modern weapons and military technology. From the beginning Ukraine was seen as the underdog, outnumbered, and outmatched by superior Russian forces. The Ukrainians were determined, tenacious and resourceful and that’s how Ukraine defeated the initial Russian attack and soon began fighting back and driving the Russians out of occupied Ukrainian territory.

Ukrainians used a lot of locally developed technology against larger Russian forces. This includes AI, or Artificial Intelligence software for more efficiently conducting combat operations. AI software can more efficiently organize UAV operations that require coordinating reconnaissance UAVs to find targets and armed attack UAVs that attack Russian tanks, air-defense systems, artillery, and infantry.

Russia reacted to these unexpected setbacks by reverting to their traditional total war tactics. This included lots of attacks on civilian infrastructure and civilians in general. This behavior was particularly brutal in Russian occupied Ukrainian territory where civilians would not cooperate with Russian demands that they accept Russian rule peacefully. That led to violent reprisals against civilians, including kidnapping children and sending them to Russia. About 14,000 Ukrainian children have disappeared into Russia and many of the younger ones have been adopted by Russian couples to be raised as Russians. As evidence of the atrocities piled up, often in the form of discovering mass graves of civilians executed by the Russians when the Ukrainians regained Russian occupied territory, the ICC (international criminal court) indicted Russian leader Vladimir Putin for war crimes and issued a warrant for his arrest. Putin is not likely to visit any country that honors ICC warrants. Putin may never be arrested, but the ICC warrant lasts forever since there is no statute of limitations on capital crimes. As a result of this sort of bad behavior, Ukrainian soldiers took to referring to their enemy as Orcs.

Murdering Ukrainian civilians was not the only form of brutality used. There were also brutal tactics involving the use of Russian troops. This included the extensive use of prisoners, also known as zeks as poorly trained infantry used to attack Ukrainian forces. The zeks were promised freedom if they agreed to six months of military service in Ukraine. They would be paid well by Russian standards, and their families would purportedly receive death benefits if they were killed. Most of them were killed and when word of those losses got back to the prisons, recruiters found fewer zeks willing to join.

Similar brutal behavior applied to Russians mobilized and often forced into the military to replace heavy losses. In peacetime Russian could depend on volunteers and conscripts to meet manpower needs. With a war on, there were few volunteers and conscripts were not supposed to be sent to a war zone. Protests from mothers of Russian conscripts had an impact as it had in past peacetime wars like this in Chechnya and Afghanistan. The government went after older men, especially if they had prior military service. These were called mobiks and they were not treated any better than the zeks. Avoiding being to Ukraine became a widespread activity for many Russian mobiks and conscripts.

The Ukrainians were more resourceful in dealing with these problems, relying a lot on innovation and technology to kill lots of Russians while keeping Ukrainian casualties down. Because Ukraine contained a lot of software developers and inventive people in general the military depended on new ideas. This quickly led to all sorts of innovations, often involving locally developed software and weapons or aircraft. Ukraine built its own UAVs and equipped them with novel sensors and fire control systems. This is where Ukrainian AI software demonstrated its effectiveness.

The latest AI development involves working with NATO nations to develop a data collection and analysis system that will enable Ukraine to accurately predict where the Russians will attack next and how to deal with that most effectively. This is actually nothing new as similar systems were used nearly two decades ago in Iran and Afghanistan by American forces to successfully predict where roadside bombs were and the location of those manufacturing and placing these bombs. The new system is based on the work done since the 1990s by Palantir, one of the pioneers in this field, especially the use of Predictive Analysis. This is a system that uses known data on the enemy to develop estimates of what they will do next. This sort of thing has been around for a long time and became more useful as more data became available and new software allowed that data to be analyzed and acted on in real-time.

Now such systems can not only predict but also show what the enemy is doing right now and recently. NATO is participating because they have the financial resources to get this done quickly and Ukraine is in the midst of a war where the new system can be tested realistically. Palantir AI software has also been used to improve how the Ukraine government supplies and supports combat operations, including aid for refugees and reports from refugees of Russian activities. This includes where supplies are stored, particularly fuel and munitions. Misbehavior by Russian forces is also important to document, and it too goes into databases for use in locating as-yet unknown bodies of victims and identifying individual perpetrators. Massacring civilians and rape are considered war crimes. Worse, such activity is considered newsworthy and quickly covered by the media in countries not responsible. For the nation that is responsible it’s a troublesome public relations problem that never completely goes away. This is what Russia has been dealing with since it invaded Ukraine.

Meanwhile Ukrainians are using AI systems to assist in identifying and documenting the misbehavior of Russian forces. The Russians are acquiring a bad reputation that will take generations to fade. By invading Ukraine Russia violated several agreements it had made with Ukraine and western nations that support Ukraine. This makes it more difficult for Russia to do business with the Ukraine and NATO countries after the war, and leads to negotiators all further agreements with Russia to demand higher up-front payments or goodies. The economies of NATO nations comprise more than have the global GDP. This is one reason Ukraine wanted to join NATO.

Russia considered Ukraine joining NATO as an aggressive move against Russia. The aggression was self-inflicted. Because of the war Russian GDP has declined about five percent and the proportion of Russians living below the poverty line is now about 60 percent. These people are in rural areas where Russian military recruiters have more success because bonuses are offered to men who volunteer and large payments are made to the families of men killed in action. Russian government officials are having a difficult time justifying their decision to invade Ukraine. That decision has meant great loss for Russia and much misery for the Russian people.

The Russian leaders who ordered the invasion, especially President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer, now spend a lot of their time devising excuses for the failure of the invasion and the high cost Russia is paying for that failure. Ever since the communist Soviet era that began after World War I and ended in 1991, Russia has been trying to get an economic recovery going along with an opportunity to rebuild their obsolete Soviet era armed forces. The Soviets were big fans of technologies like AI but never managed to implement them effectively. The post-Soviet Russian government is not doing well at all, and AI is way down their list of things to do.




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