Robotics in conflict
Historically, militaries makes use of every innovation that has the potential to support military work and the military robot is an innovation that has application in war as well as life-threatening tasks that the military undertakes otherwise too.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has decided to host a “Robot Olympic” in Japan in 2020. Then is a recent report Cornell University, New York, is teaching a robot to understand instructions in its language from various speakers, account for missing information and adapt to the environment led by an Indian scientist; Assistant Professor of Computer Science, Ashutosh Saxena. A defining feature of our time is the continuous advances in computing. Modern computing techniques and applications influence many areas of everyday human life and human endeavour on increasingly more complex, more sophisticated, and intellectually increasingly challenging levels. Artificial intelligence encompasses reasoning, knowledge, planning, learning, communication or language processing, and finally general intelligence that can actually substitute the human brain. However, artificial intelligence that rivals or exceeds human intelligence raises difficult ethical issues, and the potential power of the technology inspires both hopes and fears. Already fears have been expressed in the US that advances in artificial intelligence could lead to mass unemployment with half of US jobs automated within the next decade plus with Google purchasing the London-based start-up DeepMind for 400 million dedicated to developing this technology. Dr Stuart Armstrong from the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford warns of the risk that computers could take over human jobs at a faster rate than new jobs could be generated, especially in the fields of logistics, administration, insurance underwriting, industry, manufacturing etc. While Google has created an ethics board to look at how to deploy artificial intelligence safely and reduce such risks, the effect would be felt worldwide, what with introduction of Google Glass that allows users to perform searches and ask for help in natural language. Interestingly, DeepMind has been operating largely unnoticed by the wider UK technology scene, although its advances in artificial intelligence have obviously been of interest to the experts—founded in just 2012, DeepMind is Google’s largest European acquisition to date. Regardless of how DeepMind’s expertise will be used, Google’s purchase of the company underscores increasing fears over the impact of technology on employment. Scientists also warn that humans should not assume machines or robots would treat us favourably, because there is no reason to believe that they would be sympathetic to human system of morality that evolves synchronous to human biology.
Robots are a reality today, performing duties from providing ease and comfort of human beings to military applications for defence and attack. While on one hand prohibitive costs in terms of human lives and financial costs have forced powerful nations replace ‘boots on ground’ with ‘proxy boots on ground’, simultaneously robot armies are in the making. Research being undertaken for turning human beings into robots, or rather zombies doing the bidding of the attacker. Military robots are autonomous or remotecontrolled devices designed for military applications, different from robots used for industrial production in that they do not produce things, but interact in warfare like control of missiles and vehicles in order to have unmanned devices that are either tele-operated or find their way, automatically guided by laser beams or GPS satellites. World War II first saw the military application of robots in the form of use of the Goliath mobile landmine by Germans marking a turning point in the history of military robots, as did the Soviet Teletanks that were wireless remotely controlled unmanned tanks. Later, the US MQ-1 Predator drone enabled the Central Intellignce Agency (CIA) to collect intelligence. Existing military robots include guided missiles, military spacecraft, UAVs, unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs), remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), smart ammunition, surveillance and navigation (GPS) satellites etc. The ICBM itself is a very large type of rocket with guidance systems. Then missiles are of multiple types and are deployed depending on the type of targets. Armed UAVs are in prolific use.
In 2012, a report in UK’s Mail Online quoted Anatoly Serdyukov, Russian Defence Minister, revealing that Russian arms procurement programme 2011-20 would encompass introduction of super weaponry including weapon development based on new physics principles; directed energy weapons (DEWs), geophysical weapons, wave-energy weapons, genetic weapons, psychotropic/psychophysical weapons and the like. The ‘Zombie Gun’ based on psychotropic principle of ‘mind control’ evoked most frenzy. The insidious design of the Zombie Gun aims to attack the brain cells and central nervous system to either make the recipient perform according to the attackers will
or alternatively turn the victim into a senseless moving object, perhaps behaving like a mad animal. With such a weapon, it would be possible to transmit suggestions and a command directly into the victim’s thought process. These guns will use electromagnetic radiation like that found in microwave ovens. Putin reportedly said that such high-tech weapons systems will be comparable in effect to nuclear weapons, but will be more acceptable in terms of political and military ideology. It can be safely assumed that similar weapons would be planned to be productionised in modern armies including China.
Research into electromagnetic weapons has actually been secretly on in the US and Russia since the 1950s. In 2011, western media had announced Russia possessed plasma weapons. Logically, the US was running parallel in the race, if not ahead. At the same time, the overall concept of attacking the nervous system or attacking internal organs is hardly new and has been worked upon continuously. After all that is that not what the nerve gasses did decades back? Nerve gases have been used in conflict situation in the past, as is presently happening in Syria. Incidents have also been hinted in media of low dose microwave weapons having been used for incapacitating recipients temporarily. A high dose microwave weapon on the other hand can kill the eyesight or heart of the victim. Interestingly, some clubs in the US are already offering Zombie Survival Courses where instructors teach how to cope with zombie attacks. Such courses are designed to teach participants real-world survival techniques necessary to survive a zombie apocalypse. This includes choosing and setting up survival gear, first aid, equipment, firearms selection and group organisation for defence. Going a step further, Kansas has been witness to the first ever Zombie-Proof Condos that have been all been sold out like hot cakes at $2 million per floor. Consequences of application of psychotropic/psychophysical weapons can range from mass psychological diseases with both lethal and incapacitating outcomes, creation of an obedient mass of humanity through latent violent manipulation of behaviour and consciousness, and even mass ecological accident because of irreversible genetic mutations if infringement at gene level is resorted to.
In 2006, it was announced that India will be pursuing technologies for developing a robotic army. The impetus obviously was the realisation that transnational actors and unconventional forces pose a growing threat when compared to the risk of a traditional inter-state conflict, plus robotic plans announced by other nations like the Killbots Army planned by the Republic of Korea. Militaries will continue developing robots for their own purposes. Technological advances enable the developers to build new systems for more tasks. UGVs will continue to be progressed. In the US, an unmanned convered Humvee has been driven around at a speed of 56 kmph without deviating from its planned route. Such capability would have multiple applications, saving human costs and lives. Obviously such future platforms would be fitted with cameras and weapons as well. Such smaller robots of the size of a golf cart (Gladiator – carrying a machine gun, rockets and non-lethal weapons) have already been developed that can be controlled by PlayStation video game controller or software plug-ins, allowing semi-automatic and fully autonomous modes. Then is the medial robot ‘Bloodhound’ (improved version of the ‘packbot’) which can locate wounded soldiers, checking vital functions and administer morphine. US has already produced a working automated sentry gun and is currently developing it further for commercial and military use. The US Army has also been developing an Autonomous Rotorcraft Sniper System consisting of a remotely operated sniper rifle attached to an unmanned autonomous helicopter intended for use in urban combat or other missions requiring deployment of snipers. In all probability this system is already deployed. Similarly to ground robots, USVs and UAVs are also being researched further incorporating weapons and surveillance devices.
The Chinese military envisions its drone swarms scouting battlefields, guiding missile strikes and overwhelming the enemy defences through sheer numbers. China’s military-industrial complex has established vide array of indigenous drones to accomplish these goals. One aim of such large drone fleets would be to expand China’s military reach into the Pacific and swarming US carrier groups in the event of conflict. China could possibly be having the largest drone fleets after the US. As per 2012 figures reported in the Guradian quoting the International Institute of Strategic Studies, the US was then operating 6,709 drones compared to 280 by China PLA but that difference in numbers could have narrowed considering the modernisation pace of the PLA and her feverish pitch to bridge asymmetry vis-à-vis the US. Interestingly, the Chinese ‘Wing Loong’ drone reportedly costs around $1 million, compared to the US ‘Reaper’ drone that is in the $30 million range. Admittedly, technologies and capabilities may vary but the point to note is that you can perhaps buy 25-30 Wing Loong drones for the price of one Reaper but more significantly, the Wing Loong has the same endurance as the Reaper (20 hours), has a range of 4,000 km and packs four hard points for mounting variety of lasers, precision guided bombs.
China already reportedly has 24 x 7 satellite surveillance along the Sino-Indian border. Additionally, India needs to also take into consideration the drone swarms of PLA in the event of conflict. It should also be noted that China successfully flight tested a hypersonic vehicle in January 2014 travelling at a speed five times the speed of sound and aims to attack targets at the speed of Mach 10.
No matter what robotic developments take place, the goal will remain to minimise human losses and increase efficiency. Historically, militaries makes use of every innovation that has the potential to support military work and the military robot is an innovation that has application in war as well as life threatening tasks that the military undertakes otherwise too. We must optimise robotics focusing on R&D to win future conflict situations. Our scientists must call upon their creativity and innovativeness to achieve this goal. With government focus and proper public-private industry partnership in the military-industrial complex the possibilities are endless. How far has India progressed in robotics is not very clear but we need to be very focused on the issue.
A US Navy Talon 3B robot approaches a claymore land mine on a sand dune during a training exercise