Pentagon Using AI Program to Identify Targets in Middle East and Ukraine

by | Mar 6, 2024

Pentagon Using AI Program to Identify Targets in Middle East and Ukraine

by | Mar 6, 2024


FILE PHOTO: A US F- 16 fighter jet takes off during a drill at the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, Alpena, Michigan, July, 13, 2021. (Credit: US Air Force / Senior Airman Cydnie Williams)

A defense official said that US Central Command (CENTCOM) has deployed an AI program to help identify targets to bomb in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. The US used the AI targeting system dubbed “Project Maven” to locate Russian targets that were destroyed by Ukrainian forces.  

A senior CENTCOM official speaking with Bloomberg said AI systems helped to identify alleged rocket launchers in Yemen. The outlet described the statement made by Schuyler Moore, CENTCOM chief technology officer, as the “strongest known confirmation that the US military is using the [AI] to identify enemy targets that were subsequently hit by weapons’ fire.”

“We’ve been using computer vision to identify where there might be threats,” Moore told Bloomberg. She went on to say that the program has accelerated due to the situation in Israel. “October 7th everything changed,” CENTCOM’s CTO explained.

“We immediately shifted into high gear and a much higher operational tempo than we had previously,” Moore added, saying US forces were able to make “a pretty seamless shift” to Maven after a year of digital exercises.

Chief Warrant Officer 4 Joey Temple explained the value of Maven is increasing the number of targets a soldier can sign off on. He estimates that the number of targets could be boosted from 30 to 80 per hour. 

According to Bloomberg, he “describes the process of concurring with the algorithm’s conclusions in a rapid staccato: ‘Accept. Accept. Accept.’” Moore also expressed this view, stating, “The benefit that you get from algorithms is speed.”

While Moore touted the program’s deployment, it is unclear if it has had any positive impact on achieving US goals in Yemen. Washington has admitted that recent strikes on Houthi positions have failed to erode the group’s military capabilities. 

In a separate report, Bloomberg’s Katrina Manson explained Maven’s shortcomings. “But autonomous weapons systems aren’t perfect yet,” the outlet explained. “While humans at the 18th Airborne Corps can correctly identify a tank 84% of the time, Maven gets it closer to 60%. And experts say that number goes down to 30% on a snowy day.”

The Pentagon began Project Maven in 2017 with Google as a primary contractor. After the program became public, several Google employees demanded the company cut ties with Project Maven, and Google did not renew its contract for the program in 2018. 

However, the Department of Defense continued to develop the AI targeting system. Bloomberg reports that current contractors on Project Maven include “Palantir Technologies; Amazon Web Services, ECS Federal, L3Harris Technologies, Maxar Technologies, Microsoft and Sierra Nevada.”

The Pentagon first tested Project Maven in 2020. During a field test in North Carolina, soldiers used Maven to target and destroy a target. 

A US military officer confirmed to Bloomberg that Washington had deployed Project Maven to Germany to aid Ukraine in assessing the battlefield. Officials who spoke with the outlet said that Maven has been used to identify Russian targets that were then struck by Ukrainian forces. 

Throughout its five-month slaughter in Gaza, Israel has utilized an AI targeting program known as “the Gospel.” Similar to military officials in the US, the Israeli military has touted the program’s ability to rapidly generate targets, with some officials referring to the Gospel as an “assassination factory.”

However, Israel’s military operations in Gaza have destroyed most of the infrastructure in the Strip without doing meaningful damage to the leadership of Hamas.  

About Kyle Anzalone

Kyle Anzalone is news editor of the Libertarian Institute, opinion editor of and co-host of Conflicts of Interest with Will Porter and Connor Freeman.

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