December 02, 2004

Pentagon to Draft Robots

21st Century assymetrical warfare is hell, especially when it takes place in cities. Here's one way to reduce (our side's) casualties in these conflicts: draft robots.

From Wired:
ORLANDO, Florida -- Hunting for guerillas, handling roadside bombs, crawling across the caves and crumbling towns of Afghanistan and Iraq -- all of that was just a start. Now, the Army is prepping its squad of robotic vehicles for a new set of assignments. And this time, they'll be carrying guns.

As early as March or April, 18 units of the Talon -- a model armed with automatic weapons -- are scheduled to report for duty in Iraq. Around the same time, the first prototypes of a new, unmanned ambulance should be ready for the Army to start testing. In a warren of hangar-sized hotel ballrooms in Orlando, military engineers this week showed off their next generation of robots, as they got the machines ready for the war zone.

"Putting something like this into the field, we're about to start something that's never been done before," said Staff Sgt. Santiago Tordillos, waving to the black, 2-foot-six-inch robot rolling around the carpeted floor on twin treads, an M249 machine gun cradled in its mechanical grip.


Four cameras and a pair of night-vision binoculars allow the robot to operate at all times of the day. It has a range of about a half-mile in urban areas, more in the open desert. And with the ability to carry four 66-mm rockets or six 40-mm grenades, as well as an M240 or M249 machine gun, the robots can take on additional duties fast, said director John Pike.

"It's a premonition of things to come," Pike said. "It makes sense. These things have no family to write home to. They're fearless. You can put them places you'd have a hard time putting a soldier in."
If you think the Iraqi guerillas and terrorists are kicking our asses, ask yourself if you'd like to trade places with them and face us for a change.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at December 2, 2004 09:30 PM


Its only a question of which Science Fiction universe we will emulate.

Starship Troopers?

War is an ugly thing, and its only going to get more ugly for our enemies.

Posted by: FH at December 2, 2004 10:53 PM


Ummmm, shouldn't the answer to that question kind of be obvious? In the Starship-Trooper-Universe, we're living in a bit of a police state but at least we're not at war w/ the machines we created! Neither one is really all that fantastic, though. Aren't there any better movie universes involving robots than those?

Posted by: Grant McEntire at December 2, 2004 11:03 PM

God, I'm such a nerd. Sigh. Oh well.

Posted by: Grant McEntire at December 2, 2004 11:04 PM


How about The Matrix. Oh, wait...

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at December 2, 2004 11:16 PM

Nerd Alert!

I've worked with the same prototypes that these robots are based on. They have some definate uses, but they're not terribly advanced beyond a really cool remote control car with arms (or Arms, depending on its purpose as millitary or civillian).

They're great for sending into houses you might think booby-trapped, but they aren't about to go hunt down Bin Laden, "Assisan Droid" style.

I really had fun with the company and their toys. After all, a cute little robot running Linux inside, how could I not love it?!

Ratatosk, Squirrel of Geekiness

Posted by: Ratatosk at December 3, 2004 06:54 AM

These robots are next to useless, and they telegraph our fear to taking casualties. Bad idea.

Posted by: David at December 3, 2004 08:05 AM

David, they might be next to useless now. However, you do assert that they will continue to be so twenty years from now?

Posted by: FH at December 3, 2004 09:37 AM


It just seems to me that the use of these bots may be a bit premature. They'll probably just get blown up in real combat situations, and that will just boost morale for the enemy and make us look goofy and scared.

Talk to me in 20 years.

Posted by: David at December 3, 2004 09:42 AM

The very first Wired magazine (of which I am the proud owner of a copy) had an excellent article on technological warfare by Bruce Sterling, focussing on how well-trained but combat-inexperienced US troops were able to easily defeat Iraq's combat-hardened veterans of ten years of warfare with Iran. One of the best articles on modern warfare that I've read. Pre-robot, of course.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at December 3, 2004 11:00 AM

David - so are the UAVs also indicative of our inwillingness to take casualties? As the article indicates, the robots are really bad at most aspects of soldiering, and aren't expected to take a man's place in most situations. What they do is dramatically increase the flexibility of our tactics.

Posted by: Independent George at December 3, 2004 11:41 AM

Forget Starship Troopers and Terminator. We need those creepy robot spiders from Runaway. Or maybe Stargate SG-1 replicators.

Posted by: Achillea at December 3, 2004 11:42 AM

Ooh. Very sci-fi.

I'm all for reducing U.S. casualties (and civilian casualties) through technology, but is there any number of rockets and grenades and machine guns that can substitute for a brain?

Posted by: Katherine at December 3, 2004 11:45 AM

David - so are the UAVs also indicative of our inwillingness to take casualties?

Perhaps they are. But they actually work for the purpose they were designed. So there's a great benefit in their use, unlike these new battledroids. They'll be useless in a real combat situation.

Posted by: David at December 3, 2004 11:50 AM

DARPA has some neat one's I'm sure. Jason

Posted by: Jason at December 3, 2004 05:51 PM

Hey Dave, you ever stood a post? Stormed a building? Defused a bomb?

I can see it now: "Yeah, real men don't use robots to defuse bombs. It makes you look scared".

Anything that can increase the combat power of the soldiers is fine by me.

Posted by: Eric Blair at December 3, 2004 08:12 PM

Maaaaan, leave it to Chimpy McHitler to draft disinfranchised robots who can't even vote. That's, like, racism, or something.

/moonbat rant

Posted by: Patrick Banks at December 3, 2004 10:24 PM

Robots on the battlefield, eh? What will the field chatter be like?

"I've just about had enough of you. Go that way. You'll be malfunctioning within a day, you near-sighted scrap pile. And don't let me catch you following me begging for help because you won't get it."

I have a bad feeling about this.

Posted by: Alan K. Henderson at December 4, 2004 03:14 AM

I can see it now: "Yeah, real men don't use robots to defuse bombs. It makes you look scared".

You do? Where?

Maybe you should actually read the article, and my posts. They're referring to a combat droid, not a bomb-defusing droid.

Can you see that now?

Posted by: David at December 4, 2004 09:11 AM

I doubt these things would be real useful this year, not until the tactical doctrine found some places for them. But I can imagine something like them being useful for some things. Say you get one with a very narrow profile. The cameras can be about the size of eyeballs. So they could be hard to hit. They usually say "incoming fire has the right-of-way". When the other guys are shooting to make you keep your head down, you keep your head down. But these robots wouldn't have to. Have two or three of them pop up at once, and shoot back. They can all keep shooting with some effectiveness as long as one of them has a camera working. They can shoot to make the other side keep their heads down, and then you've got something.

There's a lot they can't do but in specific cases they might get you out of a jam.

Posted by: J Thomas at December 4, 2004 10:29 PM

Ah, guys? These are tools (or will be) for a modern battlefield. We are commonly using tools today that were sci-fi unknowns 3 1/2 decades ago when I was in. What could possibly be wrong with them?

Using robots has nothing to do with courage. It has to do with doctrine and force multiplication. Marines will always be Marines (I pray), and you will never want a brigade of them sitting on your border...but if a robot saves some lives...what's the harm? Perhaps Starship Troopers is a good analogy after all.

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