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Congress races to research AI-enhanced drones to maintain national security edge over China

Legislation moving through the House would provide millions of dollars for research on how to incorporate artificial intelligence into drone technology in an effort to keep the U.S. ahead of China in this increasingly important component of national security.

The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology last week approved legislation from committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., that he says needs to pass before China becomes locked in as the world’s major supplier of drones. His bill, the National Drone and Advanced Air Mobility Research and Development Act, would fund about $1.6 billion in research over the next five years to give a boost to U.S.-based drone manufacturers.

“To say China has cornered this market is an understatement,” Lucas said last week. “One single company with extensive ties to the Chinese Communist Party and the People’s Liberation Army produces 80% of the drones used recreationally in the U.S.”

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Lucas added that 90% of local and regional public safety agencies in the U.S. are using unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) made in China, which could pose a threat down the line because they have the capability of tracking user data.

The bill gives NASA, the Department of Homeland Security and several scientific agencies the authority to provide new grant funding for drone and advanced air mobility research. It also directs these agencies to fund research into how AI and machine learning can boost drone capabilities.

Dr. Jamey Jacob is the executive director of the Oklahoma Aerospace Institute for Research and Education and director of the Counter-UAS Center of Excellence at Oklahoma State University. He told Fox News Digital this week that the U.S. and China are in a fierce competition when it comes to drone technology.

“It’s a fairly robust competition right now,” he said. “I still think that we’re solidly ahead on AI development in terms of the algorithms. In terms of inexpensive consumer-level drone technology, that’s where they’ve been able to take the lead.”

He added that while the U.S. has the edge on higher-end UAS technology, “China is really hot on our heels.”

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Dr. Jamey Jacob

Dr. Jamey Jacob is the executive director of the Oklahoma Aerospace Institute for Research and Education and director of the Counter-UAS Center of Excellence at Oklahoma State University. (Oklahoma State University)

So far, the Pentagon has said it wants to make sure that AI is used to help people make better military decisions. But Jacob said the possibility of using AI to give drones the capability to make decisions on when to deploy a weapon is already being talked about.

“We know it’s going to be possible, and it’s going to happen,” he said. “We are going to have the drones and the AI-driven autopilot systems be able to make those decisions more quickly than a human can.”

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