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1/27/2014
02:36 PM
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Prepare For Robotic Warfare, Warns CNAS

Unmanned systems and rise of guided munitions could threaten US military's dominance, according to a report by the Center for a New American Security.

CES 2014: 8 Radical Robots
CES 2014: 8 Radical Robots
(click image for larger view and slideshow)

Specialized robots, guided munitions, and battle networking technologies are expected to play more significant roles on the battlefield in the not-too-distant future. That has prompted a sense of urgency for the US to "prepare for war in the robotic age," the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) argues in its latest report.

The US faces rapid proliferation of unmanned systems. At least 75 countries are investing in such technologies, according to CNAS, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that focuses on national security issues. The speed of adoption is also increasing, with other countries developing the skill to field advanced military capabilities. The report provides an example of a Japanese team dominating the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) recent competition to create rescue robots.

While the US military has thousands of unmanned systems of different types, authors Robert O. Work and Shawn Brimley wrote in the report that "these largely remotely piloted air and ground vehicles will soon be replaced by increasingly autonomous systems in all physical operating domains (air, sea, undersea, land and space) and across the full range of military operations."

[Robots are just one part of the military's broader outlook. Read Military Drones Present And Future: Visual Tour.]

"There is no reason to believe that other countries less friendly to the US will be unable to surprise the US by introducing militarily useful robotic systems," the authors added -- especially since the development and testing of robotic systems may be more difficult to detect than that for manned systems.

DARPA tests Big Dog quadruped robot. (Source: DARPA)
DARPA tests Big Dog quadruped robot.
(Source: DARPA)

There are other emerging technologies expected to disrupt the balance of the military worldwide. They include cybe warfare tools, advanced computing, artificial intelligence, electromagnetic rail guns and high-powered microwave weapons, 3D printing, and possibly technologies to enhance human performance on the battlefield. "All of these technologies are emerging today and hold the potential to spark a new military-technical revolution," said CNAS.

The report highlights four trends that may lead to this revolution:

  • The rise of guided munitions will require armed forces to develop new ways and means to operate and survive on ever more lethal battlefields.
  • The lethality of guided munitions warfare -- combined with the rising costs of manpower and crewed combat systems -- could lead to a smaller US military, which may not be able to overcome sophisticated rivals.
  • Advances in computing power, big data, artificial intelligence, robotics, and additive manufacturing, among other technologies, will make unmanned systems more capable and cost effective.
  • As countries increasingly employ guided munitions and unmanned systems, mass will likely once again become more prominent in US military force-on-force calculations.

The report concludes that the Defense Department must make it a priority to invest in military robotics. Even with declining budgets and rising internal costs, the US should find ways to overcome the challenges to maintain its technological superiority, CNAS said.

Elena Malykhina began her career at The Wall Street Journal. Her writing has appeared in various news media outlets. She writes about the federal government and NASA's space missions for InformationWeek.

Find out how a government program is putting cloud computing on the fast track to better security. Also in the Cloud Security issue of InformationWeek Government: Defense CIO Teri Takai on why FedRAMP helps everyone.

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WKash
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WKash,
User Rank: Author
1/30/2014 | 7:59:28 AM
Re: vulnerabilities?
Thanks jgherbert for sharing this link.  Interesting to read something close to the original story...and how much you can't trust what you read on the Internet (in this case, one estimate that said NASA spent $12B. Talk about inflated stories.  Haha.
jgherbert
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jgherbert,
User Rank: Ninja
1/29/2014 | 10:32:42 PM
Re: vulnerabilities?
Haha ;-) I'll be the boring one to link to the trth behind the old joke:

 

http://www.snopes.com/business/genius/spacepen.asp

 

There is a truth to the concept that military technology trickles down, so investment is good in theory, but figuring out where to focus funds must be a nightmare as those funds cannot be endless.

 

As mentioned earlier, there is a sight feel of being sponsored by a military vendor! ;-)
WKash
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WKash,
User Rank: Author
1/29/2014 | 4:50:01 PM
Re: vulnerabilities?
There's an old joke that when NASA astronauts discovered pens didn't work in zero-gravity environments, engineers spent $2 million (unconfirmed) developing a pen that finally did work.  The Russians solved the problem for less than $1 -- they used a pencil. Does the US overspend? Absolutely. Then again, that's partly because of Congressmen preserving jobs back home.  And let's not lose track of the fact that some of the advances we take for granted started because of the ability of the military to experiment.

 
WKash
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50%
WKash,
User Rank: Author
1/29/2014 | 4:47:52 PM
Re: vulnerabilities?
There's an old joke that when NASA astronauts discovered pens didn't work in zero-gravity environments, engineers spent $2 million (unconfirmed) developing a pen that finally did work.  The Russians solved the problem for less than $1 -- they used a pencil. Does the US overspend? Absolutely. Then again, that's partly because of Congressmen preserving jobs back home.  And let's not lose track of the fact that some of the advances we take for granted started because of the ability of the military to experiment.

 
Drew Conry-Murray
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Drew Conry-Murray,
User Rank: Ninja
1/29/2014 | 10:01:29 AM
Re: vulnerabilities?
This report sounds like it was sponsored by defense contractors: robots are expensive, therefore we need lots more of them! Otherwise the military balance will be disrupted. What military balance? According to this story in the Washington Post, the United States spent more on the military budget in 2011 than the next 13 countries combined. Cuts have been made since, but our military expenditures still put us far ahead of any potential opponent.
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
1/29/2014 | 9:12:45 AM
Re: vulnerabilities?
I've thought about this as well.  Then I realized how many airborne drones we have over other countries that should have enough technology to bring one down and we don't hear about that happening.  Part of the strategy is to keep the robots out of harms way the same we do with soldiers not actively engaged in fighting.  I think another reason we haven't seen high energy microwave weapons used is the whole high energy part.  It's not like they are going to retrofit radar towers to shoot down drones and it would be a game of cat and mouse.  If a drone spots a truck aiming at it chances are the truck will disappear before the drone falls from the sky.
Gary_EL
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Gary_EL,
User Rank: Ninja
1/28/2014 | 12:01:25 PM
Re: vulnerabilities?
I agree. High-energy microwave weapons are the big unsung military story. This sort of attack fries most sorts of IC's caught in their path, with the possible exception of Gallium-Arsenide. That's fried, destroyed, and not temporarily disabled. Given the potential of this type of weapon, it's absolutely amazing how little it is talked about.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
1/28/2014 | 11:56:35 AM
Re: vulnerabilities?
You have to wonder about the hacking possibilities, too. The security challenges here are cutting edge.
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
1/27/2014 | 4:20:54 PM
vulnerabilities?
How well will such robots be shielded against electronic attacks that fry their circuits? When the robots come, I expect it won't be long before high-energy microwave weapons render them inoperable.
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