Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive


Forgot your password?
The Military Technology

War By Remote Control, With Military Robots Set To Self Destruct 144

New submitter RougeFive writes "A new wave of Kamikaze unmanned military aircraft, ground robots and water vessels are being built to deliberately destroy themselves as they hit their targets. Since it now makes more economic sense to have them crash into enemy targets rather than engage them, and since direct impact needs only manned or automated navigation rather than the highly-trained skills of multiple operators, these UAVs could well become the de-facto method of engagement of the future."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

War By Remote Control, With Military Robots Set To Self Destruct

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 09, 2012 @08:49AM (#40930121)

    I believe they're called 'missiles'

    • V1 from WWII is probably closer.
      The so called Flying Bomb had wings and a jet engine and it exploded on impact.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        V1 from WWII is probably closer.

        Not exactly. The V1 wasn't designed as a recoverable vehicle. The UAV was. The difference is that the guys who built the V1 didn't want to push it as a disposable vehicle to make millions and millions more for themselves (e.g. contractor buddies) as the V1 was already a disposable vehicle.

        • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) *

          The difference is that the guys who built the V1 didn't want to push it as a disposable vehicle to make millions and millions more for themselves (e.g. contractor buddies) as the V1 was already a disposable vehicle.

          That sentence doesn't make much logical sense. "The guy that built it didn't want to make it disposable because it was already disposable". Er, the guy that built it presumably was pretty free to design whatever he wanted prior to having built it, because after all he was the guy that was building it. Perhaps a more accurate perspective includes the fact that digital computers did not exist in that time period - apart from ENIAC; but ENIAC was a little too big to fit inside any aircraft. Gyros and analog c

      • One of the key differences here is the electrical propulsion. It means the thing's heat signature is quite hard to differentiate from the background. A V1 or a modern missile has a big, hot jet (or rocket) exhaust at the back, which is easy to detect. If someone launches a stinger (or similar) at you, the usual way of detecting it is from its heat signature. These things, on the other hand...

        It's hard to imagine a current missile counter-measure that would be effective against one of these things. Sinc

        • It's hard to imagine a current missile counter-measure that would be effective against one of these things.

          How about a large net extended to cover a potential target. Missile hits net. Missile gets tangled in net. Missile never hits target.

          Cost of missile: several $million. Cost of net: a few bucks

          • It'd have to be a strong enough net to disable a drone, and far enough away that the blast didn't cause damage. Fine for buildings, but useless on vehicles.
            • That's not entirely true: []
              • That isn't made to defend against high-explosive projectiles, which is what you'd likely find on a kamikaze drone. It's designed to pre-detonate shaped charge warheads, as used by light anti-tank weapons - they only function correctly if detonated upon impact with the tank armor. A drone need no shaped charge trick: With it's greater payload capacity, sheer mass of explosive will do.
        • If you assume your missile will spend it's life between the launch site and target it should be pretty easy to hide it's comm chatter with a rear-facing directional antennae - wouldn't even need the complexity of tight-beam and associated aiming complexity, just so long as nobody in front of it can hear it. The control site's transmission could still be heard, but that doesn't help you locate the incoming bogey.

          Moreover if it's designed to be autonomous then during the attack it could maintain complete rad

          • When designing the communication system, be sure to arrange it so that it can send back high framerate full motion HD video even when it is far beyond the range at which it can receive control commands (eg the kill switch).
        • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) *

          but for now they're pretty hard to counter.

          At a pricetag of $100+ million each for some of the nicer ones, you don't have to bring down too many though before they stop being used against you.

          • by Hadlock ( 143607 )

            I think the point is that eventually these are going to be made from waxed cardboard and styrafoam, for less than $100 each. At that point, you can use it for reconnaissance, then pilot it towards a high value target and have it self destruct, rather than give away your own position by flying it back to "base". i.e. if the sniper f--s up the shot, you can still attempt the kill by kamakazieing the RC plane in to the target when he tries to flee to his car, or blow it up against a door to force the target to

        • EMP
      • Pulse jet, a prop job could intercept and knock it down. Problem is, it was already on it's way down somewhere, all they ended up doing was knocking ot down somewhere else, where it still exploded.
      • by mlush ( 620447 )
        The Germans had wire guided Glide Bomb [] as early as 1914. and operational one in 1941.
    • What's old is new? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Firethorn ( 177587 ) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @08:55AM (#40930183) Homepage Journal

      I do believe that you're right. 'Guided Missiles' specifically.

      I guess the difference here is that the UAV can do more than just head to a target for destruction, and CAN be recovered intact for reuse if the operator doesn't chose to detonate it. A cruise missile was launched at a specific target. This you could launch for recon then use destructively if a target of opportunity pops up.

      A Missile+, perhaps.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        So like a Predator drone but carrying one warhead and not in the slightest bit reusable?

        • I think you missed the point. If they don't wish to detonate it then it is reusable, which is not true of a missile.

          • Great idea. Fire off a missile with an HE head. Decide en-route that you didn't really mean it, after all. Fly large, explosive missile back to your own launch site. Watch friendly ground forces scatter as weapon approaches.

            Brings a whole new element to "friendly fire"

      • by schlachter ( 862210 ) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @09:57AM (#40930929)

        Planned obsolescence. The optimal design for an defense company is one that must constantly be replaced.

        • That's the thing about defense stuff - there's no NEED to build stuff that needs to be replaced. Build it as tough as you like, the military will still manage to break it.

          Putting the grenade level explosives into a small drone is accepted because it gives additional capacity at a cost lower than a dedicated platform.

        • Cannon balls called, citing prior art.

        • That isn't true at all. It is more profitable to acquire periodic system maintenance and upgrade contracts than it is to make more at a trickle. Remember, the more durable a system must be, the more it costs and the more it needs to be trialed.

          And contractors operate on FFP after the cost plus development. There is a good reason why munitions contractors like Raytheon are less profitable than large and upgradable systems companies like BAE and LMC, and that is largely due to the type of contracts they go af
      • Plucky Cog of the Military Industrial Complex: "Now here me out. We have guided missiles right? They are guided to a particular spot and then detonate right? What if, just if, we attached, say other missiles to the guided missile which could also fire, and then the parent missile could also be detonated?

        General Huge Wiskers: "Genius! promote that man!"

        Plucky Cog of the Military Industrial Complex: "Now just imagine, you mount Guided Missiles, on your guided missile, and then mount missiles on those missiles

    • by Andy Dodd ( 701 )

      Slightly closer would be "cruise missiles".

      Also "torpedos" fit for waterborne weapons of this type.

    • I believe they're called 'missiles'

      Or people could have merged wireless toys with tractors.

      They'd be a bit much for crowd-control (Soylent-Green style) but might be helpful in scraping up nuclear messes?

      There's nothing like a vehicle that can make its own parking space.

    • If you read the article, most of it is actually about underwater drones that go out hunting for mines - hardly something missiles are good for.
    • I thought it was called The Redeemer :-P

  • You mean something like a version of wired-guided missile [] but over WIFI and more expensive?
    • Re:You mean... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by radtea ( 464814 ) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @08:58AM (#40930213)

      but over WIFI and more expensive?

      Like autonomous and more expensive, although there's no need for them to be. Smart rocks will soon be almost as cheap as dumb rocks, if enough stupid people with technical educations are let loose.

      For the people who feel like killing people is a good way to spend their time and use their education: please use plain language to describe what you do. "Method of engagement" is a coward's way of saying "means of killing people and destroying things."

      Take the extra time to use the extra words that actually describe what you're using your incredibly sophisticated abilities for, and don't hide behind euphemisms like some prim Victorian virgin who doesn't have the guts to say she wants a good hard fucking.

      • by c0lo ( 1497653 )

        "Method of engagement []"...prim Victorian virgin who doesn't have the guts to say she wants a good hard fucking.

        Ummm.... I see what you did here.

      • "Method of engagement" is a coward's way of saying "means of killing people and destroying things."

        It's quicker to say though, and there are ways you can engage without killing people and destroying things. Rubber bullets and tear gas is still a 'method of engagement', as is cyber-attacks, graphite bombs over power substations, leaflets, etc...

        The navy uses port and starboard not just to be different. They use it because it means 'left and right' absolutely for the ship, and can't be confused for the sailer's left and right.

      • by lerxstz ( 692089 )

        Where's my mod points when I need 'em.

        This is one thing that really disgusted me about engineering. A good bunch of people in my classes at the time wanted to go and build weapons systems. I doubt any of them actually did end up doing that, but for so called educated people to have the desire to do that in the first place is...puzzling.

  • by ethanms ( 319039 ) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @08:53AM (#40930169)

    Sounds like they're simply missiles/bombs with non-traditional methods of locomotion.

    In the scheme of things it's an easy sell, because they'll say "hey, we either send in the smart bomb and use lower yields and more accurate target detection, or we level the place".

    Like any weapon the trick will be using them to only injure those that you specifically want to injure. Getting lazy, sloppy or inhuman with these things will be the same as with any other type of weapon.

    My biggest fear with these UAV's is that we take the human factor out. I'm not talking about a human's ability to not kill innocent people--we know that is subjective--I'm talking about the military's decisions to carry out certain types of strikes when we literally have no "skin" in the game. It's already an issue with super accurate missiles and current generation of UAV's, these roomba-bombs may only make it worse.

    • by ethanms ( 319039 ) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @09:00AM (#40930245)

      ...and of course we don't want to ever forget the lessons learned from the Terminator franchise or to a lesser degree RoboCop... which is that total automation of these devices can just as easy be turned back on you or your populations.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by jpmorgan ( 517966 )

        What lessons? They're fiction. History can teach lessons, but fiction, especially science fiction, is speculation. I suppose Atlas Shrugged teaches important lessons about philosophy, and KSR's Mars Trilogy proffers valuable insight into economics?

        The idea that fiction can teach important "lessons" is one of the worst popular ideas I know of. Usually when people say stuff like that, they really mean only the lessons they agree with.

        • Could we go with "warning"?
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          agree with jpmorgan... the only lessons learned from the Terminator/Robocop franchise is they've all had one or two sequels too many!

          good point regarding the usual motive behind the lessons learned from works of fiction. Heck, certain media channels twist actual events into reports that they agree with before broadcasting it

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Are you saying that fiction can't be predictive?

        • by ethanms ( 319039 ) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @11:56AM (#40932531)

          A lesson can take many forms. An example of a "lesson" not based on history, but on fiction, could be Aesop's Fables, they're widely considered to be "lessons" for children, if disagree with the term lesson being applied that's fine, but frankly most people know what I meant, and since that's the point of written and spoken language, I'm cool with it.

          Anyway, it's a matter of semantics--my point, which of course is half-joking, is that a movie, which was fictional, which came out in 1984 which contained depictions of remote controlled, and self-directed, armed robots which were created to replace human military personnel in dangerous situations. I know it's fiction, but at a high level it's awfully parallel to what we are apparently working toward today. So the lesson/speculation/advice/whatever that I believe should be taken away from this work of fiction is that it would be a good idea to avoid turning all control over the killer robots to a single mind (whether it's a single human, small group of humans ("hive mind"), or artificial intelligence).

    • Boomba?
    • by Rei ( 128717 )

      these roomba-bombs may only make it worse.

      Gee, thanks a lot for leaking that, Julian. Now we've got to scrap our entire Roomba bomb program and start from square one...

      • I know what you mean. Nothing is more important than a weapon that cleans carpets prior to killing the enemy.

        • by gregg ( 42218 )

          I know what you mean. Nothing is more important than a weapon that cleans carpets prior to killing the enemy.

          I don't know. I think it would be preferred to have a weapon that cleans up AFTER killing the enemy. Bodily fluids can stain if left to set.

    • The purpose of war is to have as little skin in the game as possible.

      The purpose of traditional "duelling" is ritual combat.

      One thing is not like the other.

      • by ethanms ( 319039 )

        The purpose of war is to have as little skin in the game as possible.

        The purpose of traditional "duelling" is ritual combat.

        One thing is not like the other.

        I thought the purpose of war, at the highest level, was to either defend or conquer (which would include destroy)... Maybe one of the ideal ways to wage a war is keep as little skin in there as possible, but I don't think most people would say that it's the purpose...

        Since the OP never mentioned dueling, I'm a bit lost as to what your point is?

    • Sounds like they're simply missiles/bombs with non-traditional methods of locomotion.

      OooH! I can haz wind up ones!? Like Mario do?

  • by vawwyakr ( 1992390 ) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @08:58AM (#40930221)
    Granted I assume these are more sophisticated than traditional missiles and now it seems they'll be land based as well but still these are missiles that phone home.
    • I'd argue that they're quite a bit less sophisticated than even the missiles of the 1980's, which transmitted all sorts of information on the way to their target, could do terrain evasion, etc...

      The real difference is that key bits of technology has gotten cheap enough that rather than firing a $10M+ cruise missile, you can have a remote piloted vehicle that transmits back video and other information for under $10k. A fraction of even the cost of a guidance package for a gravity bomb.

      Instead, they've gotte

  • Pros and Cons (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DeathToBill ( 601486 ) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @08:58AM (#40930223) Journal

    They rely on a very developed infrastructure. This is true of all drones, of course, but I think it's a problem being widely overlooked. It's okay so long as you're fighting insurgents in Pakistan and Afghanistan; once you're fighting someone with the ability to disrupt your communications infrastructure then half your weapons become useless. And once you're fighting someone with a weapon that can target radio emissions they become downright dangerous...

    It seems to me that the main development that has enabled these is battery technology. The idea of drones is not new. The idea of Kamikaze aircraft is not new. What is new is a small, quiet kamikaze drone that doesn't have a significant heat signature because suddenly batteries are good enough to keep one flying long enough to be useful.

    • It seems to me that the main development that has enabled these is battery technology.

      1780 is commonly marked as the start of battery technology, with the invention of the voltaic pile []. The technology currently used for most batteries, the lead-acid [] battery, was created in 1859. Battery technology is not new, and the advancements in batteries have been slow; In fact, it's the main limiting factor in the minaturization and capabilities of mobile devices.

      The idea of drones is not new.

      Correct. The ability to manufacture them on an industrial scale, however, is.

      The idea of Kamikaze aircraft is not new.

      Pretty recent [], in historical terms, actually. 1944 is recent en

  • by cvtan ( 752695 ) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @09:00AM (#40930243)
    Robot Suicide Bombers
    • kamikaze 2.0

    • by jd2112 ( 1535857 )
      When the UAV replies "I am not programed to self terminate" (in 'Ahnold' voice) we are in big trouble.
  • for aggression and state terrorism, the Nazis or the WWII Japanese ? This business has a very bad feeling to it ... like when Nixon was offering military weapons for domestic police. No knock raids could take on a whole new dimension for wrong addresses. Fooom.
  • Such expendable weapons suggests expendable people, far worse than the landmine problem.
    • Most people are expendable to the people who would deploy these weapons.
    • by colesw ( 951825 )
      Although unlike landmines you won't have millions of land mines sitting in the ground for decades waiting for people to step on them.
    • Mines don't discriminate and linger decades after war is finished.

      Precision weapons discriminate and don't "pollute" areas after the battle.

      Enemy humans are "expendable" in war. Tech has made things BETTER for most in that respect. Instead of "thousand bomber raids" WWII-style, a factory or command center may be destroyed surgically without obliterating the neighbourhoods around it

    • Weapons and the people wielding them, to say nothing of "the enemy", have always been expendable to those guiding the war, at least since armies got so large that the generals no longer personally know the rank and file.

      What makes landmines worse than most other weapons is that they don't go away when the soldiers go home, and can continue to kill civilians decades after peace has been declared. The only other things I can think of in the same league is radioactive contamination and some really nasty chemi

  • I remember reading a comic book years ago (not a comic book fanatic, so I didn't memorize it. Might have some details wrong), where there was a talking, intelligent bomb. A guy comes up to it, figures out that it's a bomb and it strikes up a conversation with him. It then proceeds to tell the man that it doesn't want to explode and that he can defuse it if he does exactly what the bomb says. Of course the bomb gets the last word: "SUCKER!"

  • This sounds oddly like a re-branded Cruise Missile. Don't we already have those?

  • by grahamlord86 ( 1603545 ) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @09:25AM (#40930537)

    Nice to hear we now have a obscenely expensive version of the WW2 V-1 "Buzz Bomb"... or Rocket Bomb for the 1984 nerds out there... I'm amazed we even bother to deploy soldiers these days.

    • V1 was a precursor to the cruise missile, which we have had for a while. These are different because they have a loiter capability, which means they can take over some of the role of the ground support aircraft like the F35, A10, and C130 Spook.

        I get that you were being funny, I am just trying to keep us accurate.
  • They're working on a phone app to remote control these devices from the field. Android only, of course, the Apple store won't allow the app on their phones. Something about the gov not willing to spend $1000 per download
  • This is the picture of our robot facilitated science fiction future: little unmanned "planes" flying into things because we're too lazy to fly them back. No more NASA. Cut back science spending. People out of work because corporations with lots of money are sitting on their piles of cash like Scrooge McDuck and getting overly picky about who they hire: surely we can't have them trained... not even by a robot. Nope we use our robots for industrial purposes to run manufacturing more efficiently. Let 5 guys do
  • Paging Bomb 20. Bomb 20, please pick up on frequency 4.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I've got an idea! how about we try to NOT kill people for a little while? maybe it wont be so bad. I know, it sounds crazy. Obviously using our technological superiority to revert back to desperate tactics from WWII is a great idea, but I suggest we try my option. How about we switch the military budget with the education budget for a single year? Much better than spending billions on killing brown people in the sand by crashing drones into them..

  • by Old97 ( 1341297 ) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @10:15AM (#40931113)
    What happens to a robot that "martyrs" itself for the cause? Does it go somewhere where it is greeted warmly by 72 robots still in their original packaging? For other causes would their be posthumous medals awarded and parades and all? If not, then who gets the "credit"? Oh, so that's the point!
  • Every self guided missile, drone, cruise missile, self guided torpedo, self guided air-air missile etc. has operated this way since the beginning. The only difference now is that the tech is in reach of less financially well off entities.
  • by Anachragnome ( 1008495 ) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @10:21AM (#40931161)

    Been there, done that...

    As long as you're the General in command, War is always 'remote-control".

  • by Overzeetop ( 214511 ) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @11:18AM (#40931819) Journal

    I suspect the conversation went something like this:

    General: Team, we need to find a way to double the range of these drones, but I don't have any additional design money for this project.

    Senior Engineer: There's no room in the flight profile to double the energy storage - it would require a complete redesign.

    Manager: It can't be done; we can't do this for free.
    Junior Engineer: What if it didn't need to return?

  • They want their cruise missiles back.
  • by ehack ( 115197 ) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @12:52PM (#40933353) Journal

    Am I the only one who has the impression that the moral high ground is turning into the Mariana trench?

    • by ks*nut ( 985334 )
      I think that the definition of terrorist is changing...
      • Isn't the definition of terrorist always "those people we don't like"?

        Don't get me wrong, lots of "terrorists" are definitely bad people and all that. But there's only so often you can hear Taliban fighters (nasty lot, undoubtedly) fighting in their own country against foreign invaders called "terrorists" in the media before you decide the term no longer has any objective meaning.

  • Should we call them something obtuse like second variety or something cool like screamers?
  • Let's say we are moving drone warfare towards cheaper, stupider, throwaway bots. We develop a series of dumb but statistically effective behaviors for these bots. We work on extending one-way range. Then we want to build them by the millions, in the name of achieving a different sort of "shock and awe".

    Where would we go to build millions of these cheap, nasty things? Where are the factories and fabs capable of the job? Our trading partners across the pacific, where all our electronics come from...

  • Or torpedo if in the water.

The last thing one knows in constructing a work is what to put first. -- Blaise Pascal