Manual Lethality in Combat, A Study of the True Nature of Battle

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Soldiers from the two nations are on routine border patrol, each side accompanied by an autonomous weapon system, a tracked robot armed with a machine gun and an optical system that can identify threats, like people or vehicles. As the patrols converge on uneven ground, an Estonian soldier trips and accidentally discharges his assault rifle. The Russian robot records the gunshots and instantaneously determines the appropriate response to what it interprets as an attack.

In less than a second, both the Estonian and Russian robots, commanded by algorithms, turn their weapons on the human targets and fire. When the shooting stops, a dozen dead or injured soldiers lie scattered around their companion machines, leaving both nations to sift through the wreckage — or blame the other side for the attack.

Technological Prowess, Lethality, and the Civil-Military Divide

The hypothetical scenario seems fantastical, but those battlefield robots already exist today in an early form. Milrem Robotics, a company based in Estonia, has developed a robot called THeMIS Tracked Hybrid Modular Infantry System , which consists of a mobile body mounted on small tank treads, topped with a remote-weapon turret that can be equipped with small or large-caliber machine guns. It also includes cameras and target-tracking software, so the turret can pursue people or objects as programmed.


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This is a human-controlled system for now and Milrem, for its part, insists that it will remain that way , but the components are there for a robot that can interpret what it sees, identify likely combatants and target them, all on its own. The decision to use a lethal weapon in battle against combatants has always been a decision made by a human being. That may soon change. Under what circumstances can and should militaries delegate the decision to take a human life to machines?

The technology for weapons systems to identify and acquire targets independently has existed in basic form for several decades. The most advanced automated American weaponry has focused on defensive applications.

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It depends on how autonomous they are. This is his definition of a true lethal autonomous weapon system: an independent weapon that decides everything about who and what it destroys once a human has unleashed it. For Work, the third offset meant leveraging artificial intelligence and machine autonomy to create a smarter, faster network integrating humans and machines.


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It also meant watching how other states and nonstate actors developed their own autonomous capabilities, from expendable unmanned aerial vehicles to tanks or missile batteries augmented by artificial intelligence. Darpa the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has a program called CODE, or Collaborative Operations in Denied Environment, to design sophisticated software that will allow groups of drones to work in closely coordinated teams, even in places where the enemy has been able to deny American forces access to GPS and other satellite-based communications.

The program manager has compared it to wolves hunting in coordinated packs. The drones have to be able to search an area and find targets on the move. Group living places individuals routinely in close contact, and territoriality means that groups might potentially compete over resources.

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In my view, the importance of this study is not in confirming that humans as a species, unlike most other animals, have killing in their behavioral repertoire. Point granted.


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The key findings are apparent in their Figures 3c and 3d. Yet Gomez et al.

Second, their rates of killing increase dramatically over archaeological time periods, jumping upward in the Old World Iron Age, and the New World Formative periods. Third, their rates of killing increase dramatically with developing social complexity and political hierarchy. This finding is consistent with a wide spectrum of anthropological writing, that social complexity leads to more war. Their measured fall-off in killings with historic and contemporary states is not a surprise, since war in pre-state societies involves combat participation for virtually all fighting-age men, whereas states use specialized armies representing a much small fraction of the population.

And as Max Weber told us and Gomez et al. But murder is not the same as the collective social process of war. The findings in Gomez et al.

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That is a characteristic of our species, and is not for many others, so it can be legitimately called a part of our evolutionary heritage. Their cladistic analysis is very impressive, quantifying and clarifying contrasts, and I look forward to using their compiled archaeological statistics on perimortem trauma. But the real news in this article is that their numbers contradict the notion that human beings have always been plagued by war. Quitting the hominid fight club: The evidence is flimsy for innate chimpanzee—let alone human—warfare.

The views expressed are those of the author s and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Lethality in combat

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