In the US-China AI competition, the pursuit is underway to deploy advanced robotic weaponry


In response to the burgeoning influence of a rising China, the Australian naval forces are embarking on two distinct and profound explorations of cutting-edge submarine technology.

The cost and pace are both substantial concerns. To acquire a fleet of 13 state-of-the-art nuclear-powered attack submarines, the Australian citizens will allocate an average of over AUD$28 billion ($18 billion) for each vessel, with the final delivery not anticipated until well beyond the mid-century mark.

One alternative could be: “On the flip side, there’s an option that’s both cost-effective and expeditious: the deployment of three autonomous submarines driven by advanced artificial intelligence, aptly named Phantom Marlins. These remarkable vessels will come at a price of slightly above AUD$23 million apiece, representing a mere fraction of 1% of the expenses associated with each forthcoming nuclear submarine that Australia is set to acquire. Anticipate the arrival of the Phantom Marlins by mid-2025.”

The stark contrast in complexity, capability, and size is evident between the two vessels. The uncrewed Ghost Shark, resembling the dimensions of a school bus, stands in sharp contrast to Australia’s initial nuclear submarine, which is projected to stretch as long as a football field and accommodate a crew of 132 individuals. This discrepancy in cost and delivery speed highlights the imminent transformation poised by artificial intelligence-driven automation in the realm of weaponry, warfare, and military supremacy, thereby shaping the intensifying rivalry between China and the United States. Australia, a close ally of the United States, may witness the deployment of numerous autonomous and lethal underwater robots patrolling the ocean depths long before its inaugural nuclear submarine embarks on its patrol.

According to Shane Arnott, the Senior Vice President of Engineering at Anduril, a U.S. defense contractor with an Australian subsidiary responsible for constructing the Ghost Shark submarines for the Australian Navy, the absence of a crew fundamentally revolutionizes the design, production, and performance of submarines. “A significant portion of expenses and systems are dedicated to supporting human personnel,” Arnott remarked during an interview at the company’s Sydney office.

Remove the individuals from the equation, and the process of constructing submarines becomes significantly more efficient and cost-effective. To begin with, Ghost Shark lacks a pressure hull, the customary tubular, high-strength steel enclosure that safeguards a submarine’s crew and delicate components against the immense water pressure at great depths. In the Ghost Shark design, water freely circulates throughout the structure. Consequently, Anduril can expedite the production of these submarines on a large scale.

Anduril’s primary objective is swift manufacturing. While Arnott refrained from specifying the exact number of Ghost Sharks Anduril plans to produce should it secure additional orders from Australia, the company is in the process of developing a factory optimized for mass production, as per Arnott’s statement. Anduril also has intentions to manufacture this type of submarine for the United States and its allies, which include Britain, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, as well as various European nations, according to the information relayed to Reuters by the company.

The driving force behind this endeavor is the necessity for speed. Arnott references a strategic evaluation by the Australian government called the Defense Strategic Review, released in April, which highlighted that the nation was entering a precarious phase where “China’s military build-up is now the largest and most ambitious of any country since the end of the Second World War.” The review warned that a crisis could materialize with little or no advance notice.

Arnott expressed his urgency: “We simply cannot afford to delay for five to ten years, or even decades, to obtain our resources. Time is of the essence.”

This study draws its insights from conversations with over 20 ex-military personnel and security experts from the United States and Australia. It also incorporates analysis of AI research documents, Chinese military literature, and data from defense equipment expos.


A burgeoning competition in military technology is amplifying the perception of imminent urgency. On one front stand the United States and its coalition partners, staunchly committed to upholding a global order predominantly influenced by America’s economic and military supremacy. Conversely, China, discomfited by the ascendancy of the United States in the region, vigorously contests America’s military preeminence in the Asia-Pacific arena. Ukraine’s inventive utilization of cutting-edge technologies to repel Russia’s incursion adds further intensity to this rivalry.

In this advanced technological struggle, the pursuit of supremacy across various domains, including artificial intelligence and autonomous weaponry, exemplified by innovations like the Ghost Shark, may ultimately determine the victor.

Mick Ryan, a retired major general from the Australian army who specializes in the impact of technology on warfare and has firsthand experience in Ukraine during the conflict, emphasized the critical importance of triumphing in the software arena within this strategic competition. He underscored its significance, noting its influence on a wide range of domains, including meteorology, climate modeling, advanced nuclear weaponry testing, and the advancement of innovative weapons and materials with the potential to confer a decisive advantage on the battlefield and in broader contexts.


A cohort of prominent military analysts asserts that artificial intelligence is poised to usher in a transformative juncture in military capabilities, akin in significance to the advent of nuclear weaponry. Conversely, a group of experts cautions against the profound perils that could arise if AI-driven automatons assume the responsibility of autonomously making life-or-death determinations. These experts advocate for a temporary suspension of AI research within the military domain until a consensus can be forged on regulatory frameworks governing its utilization.

In the face of these reservations, both parties are fervently working to deploy unmanned devices empowered by artificial intelligence for self-directed operation. These initiatives encompass the creation of autonomous systems for submarines, naval vessels, fighter aircraft, coordinated aerial drone swarms, and terrestrial combat vehicles. These endeavors signify the advancement of robotic combatants designed to collaborate seamlessly with human commanders.

Robotic entities, including those specifically engineered for collaborative operations alongside traditional vessels, aerial crafts, and land forces, possess the capacity to significantly augment firepower and revolutionize the dynamics of warfare, as assessed by experts in the military field.

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