DSEI 2021 The British Armed Forces will use robots as part of a future war – but mostly for “boring, dangerous and dirty” parts of military life, senior officers said.
At the London International Arms and Security Weapons Fair, two senior officers responsible for digitalisation and automation said the near future would be more Wall-E than Terminator -but fully automated war machines are no longer just science fiction material.
Brigadier General John Reed, deputy director of the Royal Navy’s navy, said in a speech that the military “needs to automate” so that it can “benefit from advances in robotics, artificial intelligence and machine learning.”
Instead of immediately deploying automated battlefield killing machines in the 2020s, the Royal Marine Corps officer said that using the robotics and autonomy of the British navy would be to perform “specific tasks that can be boring, dangerous or dirty and far more suitable for machines than people. “
The brigadier’s boss, Rear Admiral James Parkin, also referred to the “accelerating technological spread” of Britain’s enemies (returning to a speech by General Patrick Sanders identifying China and Russia) and quoted a frequently heard trope from the world of cybersecurity, as he said. “We must have the ability to create a huge burden on the costs and complexity of our adversaries” in the expected future of armed confrontation with hostile countries in the style of the Cold War.
In order not to let anyone know that the sloppy people will continue to fight all the battles of the United Kingdom in the wars of the 2020s and 1930s, Brigadier Reed said that the MoD seeks to build fully remote-controlled or autonomous military vehicles: “It doesn’t matter if it’s automated or autonomous, manned or developed, or somewhere in the middle. And at some point in the future, our platforms will be designed as unscrewed. “
However, automation is not new. Admiral Parkin pointed out that the radar and sonar sensors of current warships and submarines (and aircraft) have been “automated in many ways for decades”, stressing that digital signal processing equipment is used to process and improve raw input from the middle of the 20th century.
“We are always quite confident [that] the weapon … there will be a man on the line. But I don’t think we will ever get to a stage, certainly not in my life, where we will feel comfortable with the decision-making function to be automated, “the middle-aged admiral continued, referring to the current MoD policy that people always decide whether to pull the trigger.
Britain’s ambitions for autonomous war machines have stretched for years, with research in the field of automation highlighted by the campaigns against robot war machines in 2018. DSEI today continued this enthusiasm for research and development, with the stands of all armed forces, as well as the Ministry of Defense boasting advances in automated technologies to support soldiers, sailors and frontline pilots.
The ministry is also directing more and more money to research and development, explicitly targeting new batches of research funding outside its usual audience of MoD providers.
Fully automated war machines are “already something”, as young people say: earlier this year, the UN published a report claims that quadcopters Turkish production was used to attack militants in Libya. The temptation for countries with little moral scruples to officially adopt this method of attack will be strong: the technology exists, it is easily accessible, and the average teenager understands how to control (and, if necessary, program) a drone.
At least for now, it seems that Britain will not follow this path. ®