Technology 3 min read

Autonomous Weapons: Why the Future of War is Robotic

Air, ground, and surface autonomous weapons systems assisted the British Royal Marines in their latest drill for the first time.

Image via the Royal Navy

Image via the Royal Navy

AI and robotics scientists have called on governments to stop pursuing the development of lethal autonomous weapons and reiterated their warning against the deployment of such systems on the battlefield.

Whether on the ground, in the air, or on the sea, autonomous military systems are becoming a constitutive element of modern armies.

Currently, these unmanned systems don’t exhibit full autonomous capacities, not for lack of trying, and not all of them are used for lethal activities.

Like its counterparts in the U.S. and Russia, the British Army has been developing autonomous weapons for decades. And now, unmanned vehicles have made their first appearance alongside the Royal Marine in a groundbreaking exercise.

Her Majesty’s Robotic Commando Forces

There are several non-lethal activities that autonomous weapons can fulfill, such as search and rescue operations, reconnaissance, fire assistance, logistics, and explosive disarmament, just to name a few.

Until automated robotic systems make human soldiers completely obsolete and reconfigure warfare as we know it, they’re already being tested under exercise conditions.

As part of Exercise Commando Warrior, various unmanned vehicles assisted the Royal Marines for the first time during tactical action at Tregantle Beach in Cornwall.

Alpha Company, which consists of 40 Commandos and 1 Assault Group of Royal Marines (1AGRM) took part in the drill that was designed to see how autonomous weapon systems would inform commanders in their tactical decision-making.

As the Marines advanced towards the beach, an unmanned boat cruised the coastline, using cameras and sensors to identify any potential enemy forces on land or at sea.

To further optimize the search for any signs of danger, a drone-like unmanned air system scanned the area from above, while two unmanned ground vehicles, or robotic tanks, were tasked with overwatch and fire support.

Read more: The Rise of Killer Robots: Why Military Machines are a War Crime

This is the first time that the Royal Marines have used such autonomous systems during a tactical action exercise.

“This is very early steps in the capacity of the Future Commando Force and reinventing ourselves back to the original definition of what Commandos are.It is about reinventing the force with new technology that’s available,” said one of the marines to take part in the exercise.

And another corporal agreed: “Trialling this new kit, and new formations, is about pushing us away from just being an infantry force that gets off the boats and moving us back towards our Commando roots. There is a space to be filled in defence and we are trying to fill it thanks to this new technology.”

The technology is developed by QinetiQ, a defence technology company based in Farnborough, Hampshire.

 

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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