There is nothing remotely artificial about the “Special Relationship” that exists between the United States and the United Kingdom. The shared history, common language, and close relations have resulted in a partnership that has existed for more than a century. Now the two nations could be working together in the fields of autonomy and artificial intelligence, and how it can be best utilized by their respective militaries.

The United States Air Force Research Laboratory, in partnership with the United Kingdom’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), recently demonstrated for the first time the ability for the two nations to jointly develop, select, train, and deploy state-of-the-art machine learning algorithms in support of the armed forces of each of the two nations.

According to the United States Research Laboratory, this research was developed and devised to support adjacent, collaborating U.S. and U.K. brigades with enduring wide-area situational awareness, which aims to improve decision-making, increase operational tempo, reduce risk to life and reduce manpower burden.

 Virtual Event to Demo AI

The technology was demonstrated via an in-person and virtual event hosted jointly at AFRL’s Information Directorate in Rome and Dstl at its site near Salisbury in the U.K. on Oct. 18. It highlighted integrated artificial intelligence (AI) technologies being developed by the two partner nations, and showcased the ability of the partners to share data and algorithms through a common development and deployment platform. The goal of this program is to enable the rapid selection, testing and deployment of AI capabilities.

The event was made possible by a U.K. and U.S. partnership agreement concerning autonomy and AI collaboration that was established last December. It was also just the first of a rotational series of events to be hosted by the joint and international signatories of the Autonomy and Artificial Intelligence Collaboration (AAIC) Partnership Agreement – and effort led by the United States Department of the Air Force, with AFRL as the lead agency for the Air Force, and in partnership with United States Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering (OUSDR&E), as well as the U.S. Navy and Army, and the U.K.’s Dstl.

The event was attended in-person by leadership participants from both nations, and was virtually attended by participants from all services and the OUSDR&E.

“We are dedicated to getting robotics and autonomous systems capability into the hands of the warfighters,” said Dr. Robert W. Sadowski, U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command. “Advances in robotics and autonomy will make our formations more capable and mission-ready while providing protection to our warfighters through unprecedented stand-off while enabling enhanced lethality on the battlefield.”

An AI Four-Year Plan

The current four-year partnership agreement has noted several objectives that include efforts to accelerate joint U.K./U.S. development and sharing of AI technology and capabilities, with the agreement spanning from foundational research in test verification and validation to AI algorithm research and development, to joint experiments advancing Joint All Domain Command and Control capabilities of both nations.

“The event demonstrated how the U.K. and U.S. can integrate AI technology to create the first end-to-end machine learning research, development and deployment ecosystem enabling rapid data sharing, algorithm development, evaluation and deployment,” explained Dr. Lee M. Seversky, AFRL lead for the demonstration and the U.S. Project Agreement. “AI will play a critical role in accelerating decision making to meet the pace and scale of the future battlespace.”

During the demonstration, a simulated scenario focused on how the U.K. and U.S. could both cooperate and share AI capabilities to support the ‘close’ fight, while both countries operated in adjacent areas and shared data and AI algorithms during the virtual mission execution.

The demonstration further brought together key technologies from the U.K. in the form of Model Cards, which were used to provide a commander with the ability to quickly understand, explore and select appropriate machine-learning models that could be deployed in a mission; while the U.S. showed its streamlined machine learning. That is a government-owned, extensible, open platform to quickly build machine learning workflows, train and evaluate machine learning models, and deploy them regardless of the source or machine learning software stack use. It can take advantage of the best of breed machine learning technology spanning commercial, academia and government.

“The collaboration between the U.S. and UK military research labs aims to come up with answers to challenges inherent to modern warfare, namely enhancing decision making in what are likely to be highly complicated engagements with increasingly automated weaponry,” explained Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

“At this point, the labs involved are working on development efforts that should lead to autonomous, AI-enabled tools and systems that will help commanders make faster, more informed decisions leading to better outcomes while also minimizing risks to troops engaged in a battle or stationed nearby,” King told ClearanceJobs.

“Those are laudable goals but the effort also highlights the importance and value of the alliance between the United States and the United Kingdom,” King added. “Following the turmoil of the past couple of years, it is heartening to see the two countries working so well and closely together.”

Why AI Matters?

The emphasis on AI is crucial to future warfighting abilities, and this partnership highlights the role that the technology could play. The British Ministry of Defence has already invested heavily in AI, which could be employed with the Royal Navy on unmanned vessels, while the British Army has considered how AI could help the service overcome a shortage of manpower.

“Future wars will likely be defined by AIs which can act and react faster than humans, and the only viable defense for an artificial intelligence weapon is an AI defense,” suggested technology industry analyst Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group.

“Collaboration is critical to the speed of advancement, but it also increases the risk of IP theft and sabotages it will increase external, from the development team’s perspective communications,” Enderle told ClearanceJobs. “However, the development speed and economies of scale advantages may exceed the increased security risks. And having a significant competitive advantage here could not only make the difference between winning and losing the war but also keep a hostile nation from attacking you in the first place.”

The U.S. military has seen how AI could be utilized as a force multiplier for pilots, sailors and ground troops alike.

“Given AI will increasingly control all major weapons systems, it has the potential, both in offense and defense, to significantly outperform conventional weapons while severely limiting collateral damage,” added Enderle. “AI can act far more surgically than humans.”


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Peter Suciu is a freelance writer who covers business technology and cyber security. He currently lives in Michigan and can be reached at You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.