February 20, 2024

The revolution that wasn’t: How AI drones have fizzled in Ukraine (so far)

Source: Breaking Defense

Journalist: Sydney J. Freedberg Jr.

In early February, a detailed report from the Center for a New American Security dismissed the AI drones in a few lines. “The Lancet-3 was advertised as having autonomous target identification and engagement, although these claims are unverified,” wrote CNAS’s defense program director, Stacie Pettyjohn. “Both parties claim to be using artificial intelligence to improve the drone’s ability to hit its target, but likely its use is limited.”


“I think it’s accurate,” said Sam Bendett of CNA, a think tank with close ties to the Pentagon, in an email exchange with Breaking Defense. (Bendett also spoke to Hambling for his story).

“This technology needs a lot of testing and evaluation, this technology needs a lot of iteration, [and] many times the technology isn’t ready,” he had told Breaking Defense before the Forbes story was published. “I think it’s a slow roll because both sides want to get it right. Once they get it right, they’re going to scale it up.

“This is in fact technologically possible,” Bendett said. “Whoever gains a breakthrough in drone technology and quickly scales it up gains a huge advantage.”

But that breakthrough clearly hasn’t happened here, Pettyjohn told Breaking Defense. “Russian industry often makes pretty outlandish claims about its weapons’ capabilities, and in practice we find that their performance is much less than promised … This has been most prominent with autonomous systems, as Sam Bendett and Jeff Edmonds found in their CNA report on uncrewed systems in Ukraine.”

The Ukrainians don’t seem to have done better, despite similar media hype.

“There are lots of really exciting reports out there about the Saker Scout and the autonomous target recognition software that the Ukrainians have been developing,” Pettyjohn said. “If Saker Scout does what it’s supposed to …. it could go off, find a target, and decide to kill it all on its own without a human intervening.”

“Whether it can actually do this… it’s hard to sift through,” she continued. “I am definitely on the skeptical side.”

Read the full story and more from Breaking Defense.


  • Stacie Pettyjohn

    Senior Fellow and Director, Defense Program

    Stacie Pettyjohn is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Defense Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). Her areas of expertise include defense strategy, post...

  • Samuel Bendett

    Adjunct Senior Fellow, Technology and National Security Program

    Samuel Bendett is an Adviser with CNA Strategy, Policy, Plans and Programs Center (SP3), where he is a member of the Russia Studies Program. His work involves research on the ...