Category: military technology

The United Nations is Considering a Possible Ban on “Killer Robots”

Still in Charge

Representatives from countries around the world met on Nov. 18 to discuss weapons systems at the United Nations’ Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW). One point of particular interest at the meeting was a call by 22 nations to place an outright ban on the development and utilization of automated weapons, also known as “killer robots.”

Leading up to the convention, hundreds of experts in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics joined in sending letters to world leaders, urging them to support a ban on autonomous weapons. Elon Musk, founder of OpenAI and CEO of Tesla and SpaceX has also been pushing for the regulation of autonomous weapons development.

The meeting may have been less productive than these groups hoped. They were mainly able set groundwork for future talks, likely to occur sometime next year. Mary Wareham, advocacy director of the Arms Division at the Human Rights Watch and global coordinator for the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots told AFP, “Countries do not have time…to waste just talking about this subject.” She says that militaries and defense companies are already investing heavily in bringing these weapons into reality.

However, the chair of the meeting, Amandeep Gill, India’s disarmament ambassador, tried to clear away some of the hype surrounding the issue. “Ladies and gentlemen, I have news for you: the robots are not taking over the world. Humans are still in charge,” he exclaimed, according to reporting from The Guardian. “I think we have to be careful in not emotionalizing or dramatizing this issue.”

According to the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, the meeting did lead to two points of agreement along these lines: Most nations assented that we need a “legally binding instrument” controlling the use of these technologies and that the majority of “states now accept that some form of human control must be maintained over weapons systems.” Talks moving forward will have to focus on what these points of accordance will look like in practice.

Setting Limits

Autonomous weapons will have a profound impact on the way war is waged, and the arms escalation this could drive has motivated some, especially nations with smaller military budgets, to call for regulation (at the least). Toby Walsh, an expert on AI at the University of New South Wales in Australia, did not mince words regarding his feelings on the topic.

“These will be weapons of mass destruction,” Walsh told reporters during a separate event at the UN. “I am actually quite confident that we will ban these weapons … My only concern is whether [countries] have the courage of conviction to do it now, or whether we will have to wait for people to die first.”

Futuristic Weapons: How We Will Fight in the Future
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While international agreements on the development and use of autonomous weapons are ideal, individual countries are also making their intentions known. In response to the letter from Musk and others, the United Kingdom has already decided to ban fully autonomous weapons. An announcement was handed down from the U.K. Ministry of Defense in September.

But Musk’s concerns for the future of AI are not relegated to weapons applications, as he believes that AI development, in general, should be closely watched and regulated. “I think anything that represents a risk to the public deserves at least insight from the government, because one of the mandates of the government is the public wellbeing,” he said at a conference call with Tesla investors.

AI is a foreboding specter over the uncertain future. Many experts, like Ray Kurzweil, try to counter arguments for dampening AI development with promises that AI will “enhance us.” Even so, any good technology could also have destructive applications. Ensuring that the awesome potential of these technologies are developed in a way that is genuinely good for all of humanity is, unsurprisingly, the best way forward.

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The Air Force Has Invested $26.3 Million in a High-Energy Laser for Fighter Jets

A Laser SHiELD

Having successfully equipped a ship with a laser weapon system, known as LaWS, the United States Air Force (USAF) is looking to send laser weaponry to literal new heights. The Air Force Research Lab (AFRL), the USAF scientific research wing has invested $26.3 million dollars with Lockheed Martin to design, develop, and build a laser weapon system to place on the military branch’s fighter jets. This initiative is a part of the AFRL’s Self-protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator (SHiELD) program.  The USAF is looking to begin tests by 2021.

A statement from Lockheed Martin weapons expert, Rob Afza, says, “We have demonstrated our ability to use directed energy to counter threats from the ground, and look forward to future tests from the air as part of the SHiELD system.”

The weapon will be a defensive tool designed to blast missiles launched from the air or the ground out of the sky, preventing them from reaching their intended target.

Limited Scope

While fundraising for futuristic weaponry may be a cakewalk for military contractors, some experts doubt the efficacy of such weapons and question whether the immense cost is worth paying. According to a report from the Strategic Culture Foundation, “Lasers are no substitute for guns and missiles. They can add to the defensive capabilities but cannot be used as primary strike weapons.” Conventional weapons exist that can perform the same tasks and cost much less than developing new laser-based weaponry.

Futuristic Weapons: How We Will Fight in the Future
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Other hurdles with which the new technology will have to contend include having to be able to withstand vibrations, temperatures, and G forces, all while not hindering the performance of the aircraft to which it is attached.

As seen in the LaWS system, there is still hope for these weapons to carry a benefit for future applications. Conventional missiles could cost millions of dollars to launch, while the “rounds” used by LaWS only cost about a dollar.

In an increasingly volatile climate, the ability to defend innocent human lives around the world is of vital importance to the international community. Hopefully continued scientific development will equip peacekeepers with the best technology to ensure this goal.

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Military Drone Operators Are About to Outnumber Human Pilots

Drone Warfare?

The United States Air Force is looking for a different type of pilot — and not the “Top Gun” kind. For the first time ever, the Air Force has more jobs for drone pilots than for traditionally piloted aircraft, according to Lt. Gen. Darryl Roberson.

“I never thought I’d say that when I joined the Air Force,” Lt. Gen. Roberson said during a roundtable with reporters at the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Florida. “So we’re really in a much better footing with RPA [remotely piloted aircraft] pilot production in addition to just getting the numbers up.”

*2* For the First Time, The Air Force Has More Drone Operators Than Actual Pilots
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By The Numbers

According to a report by Military.com, the Air Force expects 1,000 remote pilot operators in its RPA arsenal of MQ-1 Predators and MQ-9 Reapers for 2017. That’s higher than the number of human-piloted aircraft in service, according to AETC spokeswoman Lt. Col. Tracy Bunko. There are about 889 pilots flying the C-17 Globemaster III and 803 flying the F-16 Fighting Falcon, Bunko said.

As the very concept of warfare changes, the manner in which it’s conducted has to change, too. Drones — be they unmanned or remotely piloted — are examples of this evolution. The benefits aren’t just strategic, either: drones are also safer, removing the pilot from any actual physical harm.

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From Sci-Fi to Reality: The Future of Warfare

Science Fiction Futures

On October 21, 2015, people revisited “Back to the Future,” comparing the modern world with the world that Marty McFly saw when he time-traveled to 2015 in the second installment of the famous 1980s sci-fi series. While the movie incorrectly “predicted” several things, it got a bunch of technology right — like those shoes.

Or did the world just try to copy the movie?

The latter scenario is often the case with science fiction and real science. A lot of the technology we have today, whether intentionally or not, was predicted in one work of science fiction or another — be it a book, movie, or television show. And because sci-fi is often surprisingly accurate at predicting what’s to come, why not use it to prepare for, say, wars in the future?

This is what officers at the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory/Futures Directorate in Quantico, Va., had in mind when they launched a sci-fi contest last year. While pushing for creativity, the competition also encouraged the men and women of the Marine Corps to look at threats in a different way. The 18 finalists (out of 84 entries) went through a workshop co-hosted by the Atlantic Council where they were paired with professional sci-fi writers, including Max Brooks, the author behind “World War Z.”

Months of editing produced the top three stories, which were collected and published online in a sci-fi compilation called “Science Fiction Futures: Marine Corps Security Environment Forecast 2030-2045.” It’s quite an entertaining read, featuring scenarios that combine military technology currently being developed today — like the futuristic exoskeleton, electromagnetic pulse weapons, and combat-ready robots — with geopolitical chaos to predict possible problems in the future.

One story, “Water’s a Fightin’ Word,” is set in Africa during a global freshwater shortage crisis, while another, “Double Ten Day,” shows a civil war between pro-Chinese and pro-Taiwanese forces in the aftermath of a major earthquake. In the third story, “The Montgomery Crisis,” a genetically modified weapon wreaks havoc on the United States.

Credits: Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory/Futures Directorate
Credits: Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory/Futures Directorate

The Military of the Future

It’s very appropriate that the Marines get exposed to these situations, even it’s just via scenarios in a book (written by their peers and not Tom Clancy, mind you). It’s a very modern way of studying military tactics.

“We study history, but we’re starting to talk about studying science fiction more,” Brig. Gen. Julian Dale Alford, commander of the USMC Warfighting Lab/Futures Directorate, told WIRED. “It kind of dribbles down,” he adds. “We inject all kinds of future technologies using surrogates, we reorganize our forces and draw lessons learned. We do multiple experiments throughout the year.”

Thanks to science fiction, the military’s top brass, strategists, and regular uniformed personnel are no longer limited to their usual planning cycles. In combination with closer-in decadal predictions by U.S. intelligence agencies, these sci-fi scenarios are turned into real-life wargaming episodes. “Most folks in the intelligence community don’t think about the future. Most of the intelligence production is driven by known threats,” said Eric Simpson, a military consultant. “Known threat versus problems of discovery. Fiction is a really good place for thinking about problems of discovery.”

The U.S. military isn’t the first to use science fiction as a creative planning tool. Other institutions, like Lowe’s, Hershey, and Del Monte, have already employed sci-fi consultants. The medium has even being used in preparing for various climate scenarios. By pushing ourselves to think beyond what’s scientifically or technologically possible right now, we can be ready for whatever surprises may come in the future. Or perhaps we can even help shape that future so it aligns with our wildest predictions (like those “Back to the Future” sneakers).

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The Future of War? This 1000-Foot Long Barrier Can Be Set up in Under a Minute

Agility is a key element of military logistics, and being able to deploy quickly can be the difference between winning or losing a battle. This is where HESCO’s advanced military barrier RAID could come in handy.

RAID, which stands for Rapid In-Theater Deployment, is an earth-filled barrier that can be packed inside a standard-sized shipping container and set up in as few as sixty seconds. Each barrier segment is about 333 meters (1,092 ft) long and 3 meters (7 ft) tall, and segments can be linked together to cover longer perimeters. The barrier can also be curved to make 90-degree corners.

Technologies such as RAID are redefining warfare and its future. Current military technology includes things previously imagined in sci-fi flicks and video games. The railgun, nuclear bombers and other high-capacity aircraft, futuristic rifles and bullets, Ironman-like exoskeletons, and even artificial intelligence are all a part of today’s military arsenal and poised to revolutionize modern warfare the same way industrialization did during World War I.

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