The Israeli military has recently utilized AI-powered military technology in Gaza, marking the first instance of its deployment in combat. This development has sparked concerns regarding the utilization of autonomous weapons in contemporary warfare.
The military has hinted at what the new technology will be used for, with spokesman Daniel Hagari saying last month that Israeli forces will operate “simultaneously above and below ground.”
A senior defense official told AFP the technology destroyed enemy drones and mapped Hamas’ extensive tunnel network in Gaza.
New defense technologies, including AI-powered sights and robotic drones, are a bright spot for Israel’s tech industry in an otherwise difficult time.
The sector accounted for 18 percent of GDP in 2022, but the war in Gaza has wreaked havoc, with an estimated eight percent of its workforce called up to fight.
“In general, the war in Gaza presents threats, but also opportunities to test new technologies in the field,” said Avi Hasson, CEO of Startup Nation Central, an Israeli technology incubator.
“Both on the battlefield and in the hospitals, there are technologies used in this war that have not been used before.”
But the growing number of civilian casualties shows that the use of new forms of defense technology requires much greater oversight, Human Rights Watch arms expert Mary Wareham told AFP.
“Now we face the worst possible situation of death and suffering that we see today – some of it brought about by new technology,” he said.
In December, more than 150 countries backed a UN resolution identifying “serious challenges and concerns” in new military technology, including “artificial intelligence and the autonomy of weapons systems.”
– ‘Angry Birds’ –
On October 7, Hamas launched an unprecedented attack on Israel that left around 1,160 people dead in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.
Hamas also seized about 250 hostages, and Israel says about 132 remain in Gaza, at least 29 of whom are believed to have died.
Israel’s military response has killed nearly 28,000 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-controlled territory’s health ministry.
Like many other modern conflicts, the war has been shaped by the proliferation of cheap unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), also known as drones, which have made air strikes easier and cheaper.
Hamas used them to drop explosives on October 7, while Israel has used new technology to shoot them down.
First, the military has used an AI-enabled optical sight, made by Israeli startup Smart Shooter, attached to weapons such as rifles and machine guns.
“It helps our soldiers intercept drones because Hamas uses a lot of drones,” said a senior defense official.
“It makes every ordinary soldier – even a blind one – a sniper.”
Another system for neutralizing Drones involves a friendly drone with a net that it can throw around an enemy ship to neutralize it.
“It’s drone versus drone — we call it Angry Birds,” the official said.
A pillar of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pledge to “destroy” Hamas is quickly mapping the underground network of tunnels where Israel says the group’s fighters are hiding and holding hostages.
The network is so extensive that the military has dubbed it the “Gaza subway,” and a recent study by the US military academy at West Point said there are 1,300 tunnels stretching more than 500 kilometers (310 miles).
To map the tunnels, the military has used drones that use artificial intelligence to detect people and can operate underground, including a drone made by Israeli startup Robotican that encloses the drone inside a robotic enclosure.
It is used in Gaza “to go into tunnels and see as far as communications allow,” an Israeli defense official said.
Before the war, technology did not allow drones to operate underground because there were problems sending images to the surface, the official added.
The conflict has raised concerns about human rights, but it has also strengthened Israel’s position as the world’s leading manufacturer of state-of-the-art defense systems.
The Wall Street Journal reported last month that the United States – Israel’s main international ally and provider of billions of dollars in military aid each year – was training its own soldiers to shoot down drones using Smart Shooter optical sights.
In late January, three American soldiers were killed in a drone attack on a base in Jordan.
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