Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 November 2019

Killer drones and digital war on the agenda at Abu Dhabi military conference

Ministry of Defence summit will assess how the UAE can win conflicts in the digital age

Ismail Al Bloushi, Ministry of Defence spokesman, said drones are as destructive as fighter jets. Wam
Ismail Al Bloushi, Ministry of Defence spokesman, said drones are as destructive as fighter jets. Wam

Scores of military officers, security chiefs and government ministers will attend a high-level summit in Abu Dhabi next month to address the rapidly changing face of modern war.

The destructive power of drones, artificial intelligence and how digital warfare is threatening the world’s stability will all go under the microscope at the War in the 21st Century summit.

Organised by the Ministry of Defence, the two-day event starts on November 6 and will also examine cyber security, conflict in space and new methods of psychological warfare.

"Digital wars pose a real threat to states and are a challenge to their ability to protect their digital or cyber spaces,” said Mohammed Al Bawardi, Minister of State for Defence Affairs. “This conference will discuss the challenge of digital wars ... and the search for the best ways to achieve victory in such wars.”

Ethical and legal questions on the use of drones will feature prominently over both days. Ismail Al Bloushi, a spokesman for the conference, said the impact of unmanned weapons on the battlefield was similar to fighter jets in their destructive ability. Most drones are operated by humans but they are augmented by artificial intelligence in mapping and monitoring. Mr Al Bloushi said the proper use of artificial intelligence was crucial in ensuring that drones were operated correctly.

“As artificial intelligence is an important part of modern warfare compared to conventional systems, military platforms equipped with artificial intelligence are able to handle larger amounts of data more efficiently,” he said.

The conference’s theme is “winning the digital war” and it is also expected to examine how well prepared the UAE is to fight a digital war.

Living in this digital world will offer great opportunities and expose weaknesses and risks that we should foresee and understand, Mr Al Bloushi said.

The UAE hosted several major defence conferences over the past few years. An event in Abu Dhabi last October heard that respect for the rules of war was increasingly being questioned on the battlefield. Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said gangs and the fight against terrorism had muddied conventional rules.

“The conversations I have are worrisome because we get questions such as: ‘why should I respect the law when my adversary is a terrorist and does not respect the principles of humanity?’” Mr Maurer said.

The same conference, organised by the Red Cross and attended by more than 100 military officers from across the globe, also heard calls for a new Geneva Convention to regulate the use of robots.

War in the 21st Century will take place on November 6 and 7 at the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research and the Armed Forces' Officers Club in Abu Dhabi.

Updated: October 30, 2019 11:12 AM

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