A United Nations expert called Thursday for a global moratorium on the testing, production and use of armed robots that can select and kill targets without human command.
(New York Times, hat tip to Adam Elkus)
I wonder how much people discussing this (and I've seen some really, really inept comments on drones both in English and German) are aware about arms technology.
|Bat guided glide bomb|
The earliest robots capable of lock-on after launch (that is finding their target after launch without further aid from the launch platform) appeared during the Second World War; 1943 IIRC. These were mostly autonomous torpedoes, but also at least one air-surface glide bomb with an active radar seeker.
Lock-on after launch missiles have since become quite common; all torpedoes have this capability in principle and it's the standard mode of operation of lightweight torpedoes. Anti-air and air-air missiles with active radar seeker or modern wide field of view infrared seeker employ lock-on after launch as well. Anti-radar missiles have this capability as standard, and one (Alarm) is meant to be launched even if no emitting radar was detected yet. Anti-ship missiles all employ LOAL modes. Several 'smart' artillery munitions meant to engage tanks employ LOAL (SmArt155, Bonus etc.).
These are munitions, of course. And save for the Alarm missile, all of them are typically aimed at a particular target, not launched to seek and engage targets which were not identified earlier.
Now let's add one more example; the Brimstone missile, which can be launched at a general area (such as a road) and tasked to engage enemies there. Is this killer robot enough?
Maybe one step closer to the "drones"; the cancelled Taifun missile/drone, a ground-launched drone (missile) which was meant to do the same as Brimstone, just slower and with more endurance. The Harpy drone does the same, just specialised on radars.
Is this killer robot enough?
Is the difference between "ammunition" (expended by use) and weapon (re-usable, usually dispensing ammunition) really relevant for the ethics et cetera?
I suspect some drone critics who see drones as something new and especially dangerous are too ignorant to realise that this Pandora's box has been opened decades ago already.
Others merely seem to consider drones as scary-enough low-hanging fruit. Chemical and biological weapons were banned already, most mines were banned and the small arms vilification effort is predictably doomed to fail. They may have selected the scary 'drones' as their new low-hanging fruits in a general anti-military effort.
edit: What about CAPTOR, a capsuled torpedo mine? The capsule could be interpreted as a fully autonomous weapon, with the torpedo as the munition..