u.s. robots will do the killing: three drones dispatched to Iraq

First Armed Robots on Patrol in Iraq (excerpt from Danger Room)

By Noah Shachtman EmailAugust 02, 2007 | 5:56:00 PM

Swords Robots have been roaming the streets of Iraq, since shortly after the war began.  Now, for the first time — the first time in any warzone — the machines are carrying guns. 

After years of development, three “special weapons observation remote reconnaissance direct action system” (SWORDS) robots have deployed to Iraq, armed with M249 machine guns.  The ‘bots “haven’t fired their weapons yet,” Michael Zecca, the SWORDS program manager, tells DANGER ROOM.  “But that’ll be happening soon.”

The SWORDS — modified versions of bomb-disposal robots used throughout Iraq — were first declared ready for duty back in 2004. But concerns about safety kept the robots from being sent over the the battlefield.  The machines had a tendency to spin out of control from time to time.  That was an annoyance during ordnance-handling missions; no one wanted to contemplate the consequences during a firefight. 

So the radio-controlled robots were retooled, for greater safety.   In the past, weak signals would keep the robots from getting orders for as much as eight seconds — a significant lag during combat.  Now, the SWORDS won’t act on a command, unless it’s received right away.  A three-part arming process — with both physical and electronic safeties — is required before firing.   Most importantly, the machines now come with kill switches, in case there’s any odd behavior.  “So now we can kill the unit if it goes crazy,” Zecca says.

and a reader’s response:

Wow, this is really a low point in the honor and integrity of our armed forces. The more we remove ourselves from the moral responsibility of taking human life, the more we will be willing to take it without regard to the consequences.

To me this is another reason why we can’t win this struggle against these extremists, they are all to willing to put everything on the line, while we look for ways to get out of the fight and engage from air conditioned command centers.

“If these robots kill an innocent civilian, who will be held responsible?”

Probably no one, they’ll write it off as some sort of malfunction and bad officers will finally free themselves from the responsibility of command.


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