China and the U.S. are locked in a race to develop new weapons controlled by artificial intelligence, a battle that could determine the world's balance of power.

"The race with China to build autonomous weapons systems is the defining defense challenge of the next 100 years," Christopher Alexander, chief analytics officer at Pioneer Development Group, told Fox News Digital. 

The comments come as a Reuters report last month detailed the ongoing struggle between the U.S. and its allies and China over the development of AI weapons, a competition that has only become increasingly heated as the world observed the successful use of technologies to resist an invasion of seemingly superior Russian forces for over a year.

The report, which relied on research from the Special Competitive Studies Project, noted that China has aggressively pursued advancement in its AI arms, something that could cause a "shift in the balance of power globally, and a direct threat to the peace and stability that the United States has underwritten for nearly 80 years in the Indo-Pacific."

But like the nuclear arms race before it, the AI arms race comes with constant dangers. The report warns of "killer robots" — AI weapons such as subs, warships, fighter jets, drones and combat vehicles that can operate autonomously. While such technology has the potential to be a force multiplayer on the battlefield, its ability to make decisions independent of human input also poses serious risks.

One such system being developed by the Australian Navy in partnership with the U.S., called Ghost Sharks, is an unmanned AI-powered submarine the size of a school bus that can patrol oceans and survive maneuvers that would be impossible for conventional military vehicles.

"The United States is currently in yet another arms race, except this time it is against China, instead of the Soviet Union." Ziven Havens, policy director at the Bull Moose Project, told Fox News Digital. "Military technology powered by artificial intelligence is going to forever change warfare."

aerial photo of Pentagon in Arlington, Va.

The Pentagon is seen from a flight taking off from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Havens argued that the stakes couldn't be higher, saying that allowing China to be the leader in the development of such technology would lead to a more dangerous world for the U.S. and its allies.

"The current state of the world, paired with a potential military conflict in Taiwan, further proves that the U.S. being anything but the leader of this technology will make America and our allies less safe," Havens said. 

Phil Siegel, founder of the Center for Advanced Preparedness and Threat Response Simulation, told Fox News Digital that it is likely that virtually "every well-funded military power" is involved in the race to develop AI weaponry, though he pointed out that international treaties could lead to the weapons being regulated.

"I also expect that all use of unmanned weapons will be negotiated under the international articles of war like nuclear weapons and chemical weapons and certain tactical weapons," Siegel said.

In the meantime, the development race continues and could lead to lethal capabilities.

In one example cited in the Reuters report, lethal drones with AI systems capable of evaluating surveillance imagery could allow for something called "micro-targeting," looking to strike entire groups such as the entire military-aged male population of a certain town.

The lethality of such technology makes it all the more important that the U.S. remain on the cutting edge, Alexander argued, noting that winning this arms race will give U.S. a "dynamic new form of deterrence."

XQ-58A Valkyrie in flight

The XQ-58A Valkyrie demonstrates the separation of the ALTIUS-600 small unmanned aircraft system in a test at the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground test range in Arizona on March 26, 2021. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

"The United States will make the cost of conflict, in human and financial terms, so costly as to be an unrealistic option for near-peers like Russia or China," Alexander said. "The U.S. military is plagued by recruiting problems and that is not likely to be solved soon, if ever. The faster we move to primarily autonomous force, the better for our global military standing."

Source: Reuters