Civilian AI Companies at the Forefront of US Strategy to Defend Taiwan

By Crispin Rovere
Crispin Rovere
Crispin Rovere
October 25, 2021 Updated: October 26, 2021

Analysis

The United States is deploying advanced Artificial Intelligence (AI) and autonomous defence systems to defeat an invasion of Taiwan.

The U.S. considers AI as a key enabler for Taiwan to hold out long enough to receive assistance from allies. Known colloquially as the ‘Taiwanese Porcupine’ strategy, or more formally as the Overall Defense Concept (ODC) it relies on the AI systems ability to manage large numbers of unmanned military assets and provide real-time battlespace awareness through networked sensors.

But to facilitate this the US defence establishment will be relying on non-military tech companies like that founded by the creator of the Oculus gaming VR headset Palmer Luckey, Anduril Industries, which focuses on defence and national security.

“For the first time in history most innovative technology companies in America are largely not working with the United States military,” explained Luckey in July.

“Russia and China do not have these issues. Their best technology companies are working on defence challenges. Their best people are working on defence challenges. If we allocate all of our best people to search engine optimisation and ad delivery, how can we possibly expect to compete?”

Anduril is viewed by many as the next Lockheed or Raytheon and has already secured a range of high-level US government contracts.

Currently, it is believed to be the fastest-growing defence company ever and enjoys a significant private investment, from Luckey himself—who sold Oculus to Facebook in 2014 for $2.3b USD. But also others such as conservative PayPal founder Peter Thiel, and major venture capitalists such as Andreesen Horowitz.

Their break out product was ‘sentry tower’—a solar-powered surveillance system that can detect all people, animals and drones, identified separately using AI algorithms within 2 miles of anywhere it is placed.

While able to operate autonomously, each sentry can also integrate into a network, creating real-time 360-degree awareness over a large area. Already thousands of sentry towers have been deployed along the US-Mexico border, as well as protecting American and allied military assets around the world.

Anduril, named after the fictional sword of the west from the Tolkien Lord of the Rings Trilogy, has China squarely in its sights when planning for the future of warfare.

In July the company announced a new deal with the US Marines to deploy high-end counter-drone technologies, which Luckey says includes anti-drone interceptors, jamming technologies, and electronic warfare systems.

Anduril CEO Brian Schimpf has said that it is also working on systems that scan large areas of ocean and large drone swarms capable of being operated by just a few soldiers.

But AI competition between the US and China is intense, and China has some fundamental advantages.

Starting with the fact that all of China’s financial transactions, individual movements, online behaviours, and personal interactions for that country’s 1.5 billion people are scanned into AI algorithms, honing AI accuracy while strengthening CCP control.

Likewise, commercial advances in Chinese AI systems are rapidly adapted to national security applications with the government having unfettered access to any private sector technology through the civil-military fusion strategy implemented in the past few years.

This differs from the U.S. where the government cannot forcibly co-opt American companies or even rely on their general patriotism. Google, for example, famously refused to work with the US Department of Defense, while other companies have prevaricated when dealing with technologies with multiple uses, such as those that might identify undocumented migrants crossing the southern border.

Meanwhile, there is increasing awareness in Taipei that its legacy high-end conventional forces such as planes, ships and tanks are not reliable for Taiwan’s defence.

As Taiwanese Admiral Lee His-min said on Sept. 28, conventional platforms are “very expensive, the opportunity cost is too high.” Instead, he suggests that “to effectively address a full-scale invasion, Taiwan needs highly-survivable and resilient asymmetric capabilities. That is, a large number of small, dispersed, mobile and lethal weapons.”

For Anduril, autonomous AI systems are the answer, acting as a force multiplier for the Taiwanese military without needing to station US forces directly on the island. Within ODC, Admiral Lee prescribes “unmanned system that includes aerial drones (UAV), unmanned underwater vehicles, unmanned surface vehicles and especially UAV swarms.”

Taiwan’s ODC depends on large networks, equipped with sensors and advanced communications technologies, akin to Anduril’s sentry tower. These systems would operate with, according to Admiral Lee, “manned and unmanned micro missile assault force, enhanced by artificial intelligence”.

Anduril has kept relatively silent about technologies that may contribute specifically to Taiwan’s defence, although publicly announced projects focus on real-time situational awareness, drones and counter-drone technologies, and advanced AI identification and targeting systems. Luckey has compared Anduril’s systems to those of a starfish, where each sub-component can operate independently or together, in which no critical points of failure exist.

AI and autonomous systems are shaping to be the true information age warfighting transformation. As Russian president Vladimir Putin remarked, “artificial intelligence is the future not only of Russia but of all mankind. Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.”