China is building its next-generation cruise missiles using "high-level artificial intelligence" to make them suitable for specific combat situations. A senior missile designer has claimed that Chinese engineers have been studying the use of artificial intelligence in missiles for years and are now pushing ahead to turn it into reality.

Wang Changqing, director of the general design department of the Third Academy of the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp, told the state-run China Daily that flexible and modular design for future weapons was the need of the hour.

A modular missile system is flexible and multifunctional, and enables manufacturers to cut down on the development and storage costs, a senior researcher at the Beijing Hiwing Scientific and Technological Information Institute, told the paper on condition of anonymity. Terming the plans to develop the modular cruise missiles a "promising approach", he added that such weapons also prolong the operational range and duration of a mission.

Wang, whose department has so far developed many cruise missiles for the Chinese military, said that the future cruise missiles "will have a very high level of artificial intelligence and automation" that will "allow commanders to control them in a real-time manner, or to use a fire-and-forget mode, or even to add more tasks to in-flight missiles".

Artificial intelligence
China is building next generation modular cruise missiles using high-level artificial intelligence and automation to make them suitable for specific combat situations iStock

"We plan to adopt a 'plug and play' approach in the development of new cruise missiles, which will enable our military commanders to tailor-make missiles in accordance with combat conditions and their specific requirements," he told the paper in an exclusive interview on Thursday (18 August) on the sidelines of the 2016 Hiwing Forum in Beijing that focuses on artificial intelligence and unmanned equipment.

Meanwhile, Wang Ya'nan, editor-in-chief of Aerospace Knowledge magazine, said engineers developing the missiles will have to ensure "they can be assembled within a very short period of time", else "he best time to engage the target will be missed".

He added that a modular missile will be capable of changing its destructive capacity, flight mode and range making it a perfect weapon to strike targets on the ground or at sea.