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March 14, 2019
Notes from the Pentagon

Democrats dominate artificial intelligence commission
A new federal commission on artificial intelligence is being led by Democrats.

The National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (AI), a federally appointed commission, held its first meeting Monday chaired by former Google executive and billionaire Eric Schmidt, a major donor and informal adviser to former President Barack Obama.

The commission’s vice chairman is Robert Work, who was deputy defense secretary in the Obama administration.

Additionally, the AI commission has hired as a staff member Ylli Bajraktari, a former National Security Council staff member under Mr. Obama. Mr. Bajraktari also was a former aide to Obama Defense Secretary Ash Carter. He and his brother, Ylber Bajraktari, raised concerns about political reliability from some conservatives who questioned why they were kept on in senior positions at the NSC by President Trump’s second national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster.

A Pentagon spokeswoman had no immediate comment.

Mr. Trump’s new defense budget is seeking $927 million for the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center and an advanced image recognition capability. The Pentagon said in a statement that the commission was set up under last year’s defense authorization act.

Its mission is to review and advise the federal government on artificial intelligence, machine learning and other associated technologies and issues related to national security, defense, public-private partnerships and investments.

“I’m honored to lead this talented group of commissioners as we take on this important effort,” said Mr. Schmidt. “We have a tremendous opportunity to help our government understand the state of artificial intelligence and offer ideas on how to harness this transformative technology to benefit both our economic and national security interests.”

The 15 members of the commission were briefed during the Monday meeting on AI efforts by the Pentagon, the Commerce Department, the intelligence community and members of Congress.

The statement said commissioners were appointed by the secretaries of defense and commerce and Republicans and Democrats in Congress.

Mr. Schmidt is listed as a technical adviser to Alphabet, Google’s parent company.

Google came under fire from Vice President Mike Pence in October for the company’s work with China in developing a censored search engine for the Chinese government that would allow blocking search terms such as “Tiananmen” — the Beijing square where hundreds of pro-democracy protesters were massacred by Chinese troops in 1989.

Google executives later said the search engine, called Dragonfly, is a research project and would not be sold to the Chinese.

However, insiders from Google recently reported that work on the Chinese censorship software was continuing.

The Trump administration’s defense budget for fiscal 2020 includes a request for $2.6 billion for developing hypersonic missiles.

The money would be spent on developing maneuvering weapons capable of traveling faster that 7,000 miles per hour and that could be used to defeat increasingly sophisticated missile defenses by Russia, China and other states. Air Force Maj. Gen. John M. Pletcher, deputy assistant Air Force secretary for budget, said the funds would be used to speed up development of a U.S. hypersonic missile.

“The FY ‘20 budget continues the funding to accelerate hypersonics development, keeping us on a path to build and fly our nation’s first hypersonic boost glide weapon five years earlier than anticipated,” he said.

Boost glide vehicles are launched on ballistic missiles and then glide and maneuver to targets at altitudes just below space.

Another Air Force official, Carolyn M. Gleason, said the service is investing $576 million for hypersonic weapons, including an air-launched rapid response weapon and a hypersonic conventional strike weapon. Both are slated to be operational in late 2022.

The hypersonic missile will be used for the Pentagon’s conventional prompt global strike capability, which can attack any target on Earth in less than 30 minutes.

Ballistic missiles normally reach targets in 30 minutes. Hypersonic missiles, because of their incredible speed, can hit targets in 15 minutes or less, depending on the launch location.

The Pentagon plans to use hypersonic missiles armed with conventional warheads in response to a Chinese or Russian attack on U.S. satellites, or to blow up nuclear materials of a rogue state like North Korea or Iran. The missiles also could strike terrorist groups that acquire nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction.

Another potential use for hypersonic rapid strikes is hitting a gathering of terrorist leaders in a neutral country.

China is building up military forces for space warfare and has set up a special branch of the military for fighting in space, according to an Air Force study.

The space corps within the PLA Strategic Support Force is a significant part of China’s growing advanced military capabilities.

“Although espousing a policy of the peaceful use of outer space, China nevertheless is actively developing a diverse set of military capabilities in this domain,” said the 2017 report by the Air Force’s China Aerospace Studies Institute. The institute is part of the Air University in Alabama.

Chinese space arms would be used in a conflict to “disrupt or cripple the ability of adversary forces to use assets in space,” the report notes.

The support force, created in December 2015, is in charge of China’s four launch centers.

According to the report, China’s space warfare capabilities include several types of weaponry.

“In an outer space context, this capability, broadly known as counter-space, spans a vast range of both kinetic and non-kinetic capabilities,” the report said.

Kinetic operations destroy satellites and create debris, while non-kinetic strikes temporarily disable or blind satellites.

China’s 2007 anti-satellite missile test used a converted medium-range ballistic missile to blast a weather satellite, creating the largest man-made space debris field in history, with more than 3,400 pieces of floating metal, the report said.

Other tests took place in 2013, including an ASAT missile launch into nearly geosynchronous orbit. The report said the test demonstrated China’s ability to “threaten U.S. global position system (GPS) and other types of satellites.”

The PLA also is building co-orbital attack systems using spacecraft that can move within proximity of a space target. “For example, a Chinese spacecraft could ram into an enemy satellite or detonate near it,” the report said.

“China is also interested in operationalizing robotic arm technology, possibly to ‘grapple’ opposing platforms in order to disable them without creating debris — a capability the PLA apparently tested in August 2013.

“Co-orbital spacecraft can also engage in non-kinetic ‘blinding’ operations,” the report said. “For example, these spacecraft could employ ‘umbrellas’ or ‘spray paint’ to block the view of an adversary’s sensors.”

Electronic jamming of satellites, such as jamming GPS signals to thwart precision targeting, also could be employed. The Air Force believes China will seek even more advanced space weapons in the future.

The first step is to deploy in space sophisticated sensors to support leaders and war planners, such as the GPS-clone satellite navigation system Beidou.

“Moreover, China is attempting to secure its satellite communications by investing in so-called ‘quantum communications’ — currently considered unbreakable encryption by modern standards,” the report said.

“China’s counter-space capabilities will undoubtedly become increasingly advanced as well, particularly in the area of direct ascent [kinetic kill vehicles],” the report said.

Other types of space war fighting could result in deploying manned combat spacecraft and space-based weapons that can hit targets in the air, at sea or on the ground.

The PLA “continues to develop rapidly across all aspects — hardware, technology, personnel, organization, etc.,” said Brendan S. Mulvaney, director of the Institute. “The PLA’s aerospace forces are, in many ways, leading that change.”

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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