Technologies for spotting and recognizing targets remotely using biometric data are emerging around the world. One of the technologies that evolved in recent years is Automatic Target Recognition (ATR). Target recognition enables smart weapon systems to acquire targets according to visual characteristics and patterns. This technology has significantly improved the efficiency of offensive missile systems, unmanned vehicles, surveillance systems and other resources.
The significant advantage of this technology is the improvement in the fire circuit closure intervals owing to the automated target recognition. The process of identifying the target or "target acquisition" as it is referred to in the military jargon is a critical phase that starts up the fire circuit. As the fire circuit is made up of a three-phase process that includes recognition, incrimination and elimination, the ATR technology made it possible to shorten the time gap between the recognition and incrimination phases. Additionally, it enables the compilation of an accurate target bank in real time for intelligence disseminated down to battalion level. In the future, devices disseminating such intelligence all the way down to the individual trooper level may be introduced.
Fire Circuit in a Box
Along with the contribution to strategic, operative and tactical intelligence, the ATR technology has also led to the development of automatic and autonomous strike systems. One notable example is the category of loitering munitions. The option of providing a missile with the ability to search for target visual characteristics and patterns independently enabled the development of a single weapon system that incorporates all of the elements of the fire circuit. Instead of implementing a fire circuit in a decentralized manner with a surveillance team, an intelligence (incrimination) team and a strike team – this latest-generation weapon system category does it all with a single product.
Today, a loitering munition system may be launched into an enemy area cell with no predefined target, and that system will be able to acquire a target on its own and destroy it as soon as it is detected, whether the actual incrimination is accomplished using a database loaded into the weapon system in advance or whether the missile compares the target data by communicating with a remote database. Technologies are already available that will enable future autonomous strike systems to detect, on their own, targets regarding which no advance intelligence is available ("unknown unknowns"), using learning algorithms and Big Data technologies.
This technological development, as advanced as it may be, is effective for dealing with such platforms as motor vehicles, tanks, ATVs and so forth, but in some cases, the target is a person rather than a platform, mainly in the context of counterterrorism warfare in urban areas containing civilians – a scenario that fits the majority of operational activities in which armed forces worldwide, including IDF, are currently involved.
In such environments, the identity of the target person constitutes a critical element in the fire circuit, for many reasons. Is the target person an uninvolved party? Is the target person an 'involved' party but a minor? What will be the extent of the collateral damage, namely – when the target person is surrounded by family members or fellow terrorist cell members? Is the target person a collaborator and as such – an asset to be safeguarded? These are only a few of the reasons that may pop up during the decision-making process regarding any human target within the target bank. One should bear in mind that the decision-making process in such situations must be completed within a timeframe of just a few seconds.
Just as the defense industry had dealt with the platform identification challenge by implementing the ATR technology, it is expected to take advantage of the biometric identification technology in order to deal with the personal identification challenge. Cross-referring data from two such databases will enable incrimination of human targets or mounted platforms before they are engaged and eliminated.
According to various reports in the American media, the CIA (US Central Intelligence Agency) already employs a system of this type for targeted killings using RPAs. A report on 'The Intercept' website dated February 2016 revealed a CIA plan codenamed Skynet that autonomously identified terrorists based on data from cellular networks, the Internet and other sources. Based on those data, the system decided who was a terrorist. As the CIA had started developing facial recognition technologies as far back as the 1980s, it may be assumed that a combination of such capabilities with the Skynet system already exists.
The question of how to remotely identify a target person using an aerial platform or satellite to a degree of certainty that is sufficient for incriminating the target will constitute a primary challenge for engineers and legal specialists in the years to come. Technologically, one of the most commonly-used methods for remotely identifying a target person is facial recognition using optical resources. There are other methods that analyze the shape of the human body and its physical patterns (walk, posture, etc.). Like a platform, every person has a different 'shape signature' and a different 'motion signature'. The question is whether facial features, body shape and motion characteristics can differentiate a certain person within a crowd of people from a height of dozens, hundreds or even thousands of kilometers in the case of high-orbit satellites.
Along with identification based on the external characteristics of the target person (facial features, shape and motion characteristics), identification using DNA is currently under consideration. As each and every person has a unique genetic pattern, then an equation where one member consists of a biometric database of the population and the other member consists of sampling measures may be able to lead to a satisfactory incrimination where the identity of the target person is sufficiently certain. Accordingly, in the future we may see autonomous weapon systems capable of sampling the DNA of a target before it is engaged and eliminated. How will this be accomplished? Imagine a miniature robot shaped like a fly that lands on the person marked as the target and transfers that person's DNA data by sampling a hair, for example, to the strike vessel, thereby verifying that person's identity.
Eliminating the Advantages of Terrorism
Combining capabilities from ATR technologies with long-distance biometric identification will enable the defense industries to develop weapon systems that would eliminate two of the major advantages of terrorism – secrecy and swiftness, by matching the time interval required in order to close the fire circuit with the length of the target's life on the battlefield.
The combination between the ATR technology and biometric identification will also make it possible to positively identify a terrorist within a crowd of civilians – a capability that would enable the implementation of prompt response systems within the civilian domain. This development will undermine another advantage of modern terrorism, which had eliminated the differentiation between the battlefield and the civilian-municipal environment.
There is no doubt that along with the advantages offered by applying these technologies to the war against terrorism, a discussion must be conducted regarding the possibility that governments might take advantage of such technologies to manipulate civil society in various ways. The difference between a terrorist and a dissident is based on social and legal definitions set forth by humans. As far as the autonomous strike measures are concerned – they are all humans using platforms.