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How China-Russia combine forced the US’ Third Offset Strategy. An Extract

Louis A. Del Monte

How China-Russia combine forced the US’ Third Offset Strategy. An ExtractThere is a new arms race. The United States, China and Russia are placing artificial intelligence at the center of their new weapons strategy. Every country is being secretive regarding its development and deployment of artificially intelligent weapons. However, it is possible to gain insight into even the most secret areas by using a time-proven technique—namely, apply the old adage “follow the money.”

The countries with the top three largest defense budgets are, in descending order, the United States, China and Russia. Specifically, the United States has the largest military budget in the world. In 2016, the US Department of Defense spent slightly over $611 billion (US) on defense, 3.3 percent of the US gross domestic product (GDP). In comparison, China, which has the second largest budget, is spending slightly more than $215 billion (1.9 percent of their GDP), roughly a third of what the United States spends. Russia is a distant third at slightly over $69 billion (5.3 percent of their GDP), roughly a little over 11 percent of what the United States spends.

Given these defense budgets, a person may rush to conclude that the United States would reign supreme in all aspects of warfare. Unfortunately, that is not how it works. Both China and Russia understand that they cannot match the United States one-to-one in every aspect of warfare.

In recent years, increased spending by China and Russia on modernization is closing the military leadership gap the United States has enjoyed. If we look closely at China’s military modernization over the last fifteen years, we can see that it includes ballistic missiles, air defense, aircraft, electronic warfare, and naval vessels. China is not trying to match US military might across the board. Their objective is greater control over the Asia-Pacific region, especially control over their near seas. Their focused objective does not require military parity with the United States, whose global mission is to ensure freedom of navigation and commerce, including the hotly contested Asia-Pacific seas. With this limited goal, China only needs to be a viable threat to the United States in the Asia-Pacific region. Given their modernization over the last fifteen years, especially with regard to their naval and ballistic capabilities, China appears to have anti-ship missiles capable of destroying US aircraft carriers and missiles capable of attacking air bases in the region or even top-tier US fighter aircraft, like the F35. Their cyber systems appear able to disrupt US logistics and communications. In light of this, it is reasonable to conclude they are achieving their objective. Russia, like China, is also seeking to develop new military technologies to undermine US capabilities in Europe and Asia. In past conflicts, such as Desert Storm, the United States did not face adversaries capable of destroying its aircraft carriers and air bases or challenging its ability to dominate the adversary’s air space. This asymmetrical aspect of warfare creates a new problem for US military planners, and challenges the United States’ ability to project force.

An important focus in China and Russia’s military investments is to gain asymmetrical advantages in the application of artificial intelligence to weapons, commonly termed autonomous weapons. This raises a question: What is driving this trend?

China and Russia have concluded that artificially intelligent weapons are critical to gaining an asymmetrical edge over the United States. Both nations, as well as the United States, understand that technology is a key factor in the next generation of warfare. However, let’s understand the specific driving force for each.

Chinese researchers are fully engaged in AI research, which is enabling numerous commercial advances in artificial intelligence among Chinese companies. For example, Andrew Ng, the leader of a Silicon Valley laboratory for the Chinese web services company Baidu, led a team that developed an AI algorithm in 2015 that surpassed human-level Chinese language recognition. A year later, Microsoft researchers proclaimed that their company had created software capable of matching human skills in understanding speech. While Microsoft garnered the media spotlight, Baidu quietly stood in the shadow, knowing they were a year ahead in that AI technology. This is not just an anomaly. Another example that went largely unreported in the United States is Iflytek, an artificial intelligence company that focuses on speech recognition and understanding natural language. On the world stage, it won international competitions in speech synthesis and in translation between Chinese- and English-language texts. China’s military strategists know that much of the technology that once came only from the US government and its suppliers now comes from the commercial sector. The same companies that make high-end gaming software and computer are the leaders in AI technology, not the US government labs. This means that if the US military intends to continue superiority in autonomous weapon technologies that require artificial intelligence, the United States will need to restructure its autonomous weapons procurements to include procurements from commercial corporations with AI expertise. To that end, the Pentagon established the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental facility (DIUx) in Silicon Valley to streamline US government contracting practices to accommodate the faster more fluid style of Silicon Valley. China also understands this paradigm shift. Baidu drove home this point in 2017 when Qi Lu, a Microsoft artificial intelligence specialist, left the company to become chief operating officer at Baidu. Lu will oversee Baidu’s plan to become a global leader in AI. In summary, China knows that their strong commercial base in AI is a prerequisite to a strong military edge in autonomous weapons.

Russia has limited options. Although Russia may have nuclear parity with the United States, it lags in most other elements of warfare. In particular, Russia has a small population compared to the United States and China. The population of each country (rounded to the nearest whole digit) is:

  • China: 1.4 billion
  • United States: 319 million
  • Russia: 142 million

As far as world standing, China is the most populated country on Earth. The United States is the fourth most populated. Russia is the ninth most populated. This fact weighs heavily into Russia’s thinking about automation and artificial intelligence. Their population, among other things, puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to being a major player. Therefore, they have announced a strategy to have a robotic army and deploy autonomous weapons. In addition, the export of weapons plays a critical role in Russia’s economy. It accounts for a significant proportion of manufactured and technology-intensive exports. In fact, Russia is the world’s second-largest arms exporter after the United States. Russia’s armaments industry enables Russia to integrate into the global economy, and it helps preserve Russia’s full spectrum of capabilities. Russian leadership knows that their next generation of weapon exports needs to incorporate artificial intelligence to be competitive in the world market.


Louis A. Del Monte
Prometheus Books, Pg 294, USD 19


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