First "AI War": Israel Used World's First AI-Guided Swarm Of Combat Drones In Gaza Attacks


Jack Dunhill

Social Media Coordinator and Staff Writer

clockJul 2 2021, 12:26 UTC

A May 12 Israeli strike on Gaza may have been guided by AI. Image Credit: Nick_ Raille_07/

In the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has deployed AI and supercomputers to identify strike targets in what they are calling the first artificial intelligence (AI) war. In May this year, the IDF used a swarm of AI-guided drones and supercomputing to comb through data and identify new targets within the Gaza Strip. It's thought this is the first time a swarm of AI drones has been used in combat.

The use of AI in drone strikes has seen a surge in warzones, with a recent UN report revealing Libya launched an autonomous weaponized drone attack on Haftar Affiliated Forces last year, the first time an AI-guided drone identified and possibly attacked human targets without human input. Now, the technology appears to have found significant use in the Israel-Gaza conflict, which reportedly saw over 4,400 rockets fired into Israel and 1,500 strikes into Gaza in the 11 days of intense fighting in May. 


The exploitation and use of AI effectively in war requires a lot of information. The machine learning systems need to be fed with data collected through satellites, aerial reconnaissance vehicles, and years of ground intel. With that, it can identify targets and predict when and where enemy attacks may occur.

According to the IDF, AI has been utilized heavily over the last two years to pinpoint suspected Hamas locations and to strike strategic targets to remove missile launching sites. They claim it has vastly reduced the length of fighting by sorting through information at a far higher rate than a human counterpart. Footage of Israel's high-tech rocket shield Iron Dome in action also went viral in May, as it wiped out rockets mid-air before they could connect with their intended targets. 

The origins of these algorithms are in Israel’s Unit 8200, an Intelligence Corps unit of the IDF that specializes in code decryption and signal intelligence. Reportedly, Unit 8200 created multiple algorithms that used geographical, human, and signal intelligence to pinpoint strike targets, which were then passed to command for ordering a strike. 


Without knowing more specific details about the drone swarm's capabilities it's difficult to gauge how significant this development is. However, the increasing use of AI-guided drones is a concern for many, including the UN Security Council and Humans Rights Watch, the coordinators of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, which is calling for a preemptive ban on fully autonomous weapons.

"The systems used in this case probably fall quite far short of the large dynamic, intelligent swarms that could someday have a highly disruptive effect on warfare," Arthur Holland of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research told New Scientist. "But if confirmed, they are certainly a notch up in the incremental growth of autonomy and machine-to-machine collaboration in warfare."

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