Magazine article National Defense

In the U.S. Military, Cultural Resistance to Armed Robots

Magazine article National Defense

In the U.S. Military, Cultural Resistance to Armed Robots

Article excerpt

Tele-operated robots, whose every move is controlled from a distance by a trained soldier or Marine, are becoming familiar sights in today's battlefields. More than 12,000 robotic systems are deployed in Iraq alone.

Unmanned ground vehicles can be used to examine and remove improvised explosive devices and other dangerous ordnance. These rugged UGVs can take the brunt of an explosion and still be quickly repaired and redeployed without risk to our men and women in uniform.

Today, instead of using the robot to monitor a situation or to deal only with an inanimate object, a soldier can also use the UGV to respond to any situation at hand with the appropriate level of force. Armed, tele-operated UGVs have debuted with armed forces in Iraq, with more on the way. These robots combine the observational capabilities of their predecessors - multiple cameras and sensors - with the ability to respond to threats. The latest iterations of armed UGVs even allow an escalation of force, providing the options to respond with a loudspeaker, an eye-safe dazzler or beanbags. And, if the situation warrants, that same UGV gives the soldier more lethal response options, such as a grenade launcher or a machine gun.

The biggest obstacle to the proliferation of UGVs in combat is a cultural one. Some decision-makers in the military world do not seem to be able to get past a negative, kneejerk reaction when presented with an armed, tele-operated unmanned vehicle. Some are unable to see beyond sci-fi fantasy to the cold, hard realities of combat today.

It is an irrefutable fact that armed UGVs give soldiers and Marines the protection of stand-off distance. More importantly, the armed UGV buys them precious time to evaluate and respond to a potentially dangerous situation.

Armed UGVs do not change the rules of engagement. The same parameters still exist for appropriate response and for the use of deadly force. What these newest UGVs accomplish is the addition of precious moments in the high-stress, split-second decision-making of soldiers and Marines in harm's way. For example, an Army sentry approached by an unknown person can only let that person get so close before a life-or-death decision must be made. But, when that sentry is actually a UGV controlled by the soldier, who is safely a kilometer away, there is more time to decide when and how to respond. The loudspeaker, dazzler and beanbags offer less lethal options that can actually help to protect that soldier. If the approaching person turns out to be hostile, only the robot is in danger. …

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