USA

Obama boosts joystick funding for war on terror

The Obama administration has just handed over five billion dollars to the armed forces to buy more robots. The country's ongoing "War on Terror" employs more unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for its operations in Pakistan and Afghanistan than it does manned planes. Our Observer and expert in robotics tells us that the ethical concerns behind the programme have gone unnoticed. Read more...

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© U.S. Air Force

The Obama administration has just handed over five billion dollars to the armed forces to buy more robots. The country's ongoing "War on Terror" employs more unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for its operations in Pakistan and Afghanistan than it does manned planes. Our Observer and expert in robotics tells us that the ethical concerns behind the programme have gone unnoticed.

Below, videos of two of the planes in question. The first is an MQ-9 Reaper, capable of carrying 14 hellfire missiles. The second, its predecessor, is the MQ-1 Predator, which can take only two missiles onboard.

“Able to actually do something on the war on terror…”

Parody of a Mastercard ad, featuring one of the first self-flying UAVs and the more modern Predator. Posted on YouTube by "Lineback".

The console for the Predator

Posted on Flickr by "hudson".

“The training course to operate these things in the US is only a couple of weeks”

Noel Sharkey is a professor of artificial intelligence and robotics at the University of Sheffield, UK.

The upside of using unmanned air vehicles is that they can reach into difficult terrain and stay airborne for long periods of time, and they do not risk the lives of the military deploying them. In the US Army's case, the aircraft are directed by someone with a games console in Creech Air Force Base, Nevada. This means that US Air Force and CIA operatives can carry out missile attacks in Northern Pakistan with unmanned aircraft and then go home for dinner.

The training course to operate these things in the US is only a couple of weeks, and unlike in the UK where you have to be a pilot experienced in combat, in the US you don't even have to be a pilot at all. This represents an inevitable progression towards the deployment of robot weapons that will decide for themselves who to kill without discriminative capabilities or any idea of proportionality.

The robots are considered extremely militarily successful in the Afghanistan and Pakistan ‘decapitation raids', which refer to air-based raids which target top al Qaeda leaders. But while 14 of the aforementioned have been killed since 2006, so have more than 600 civilians, according to the Pakistani press. It's not good PR for the West. There's something very uncomfortable about these weapons not being manned. There is already an argument for putting nuclear weapons on these planes and I do think that it could happen.

Around 40 countries are already developing unmanned war vehicles, including Pakistan, India, Turkey, China and Russia. It's all going to change quite dramatically when everybody has them. What gave me hope was Obama coming into power, but while he's cut back on conventional weaponry, he's increased spending on unmanned weapons to almost $5.5 billion for 2010."

The Predator

A Predator MQ-1 striking a target. Location unknown. Posted on YouTube by "Kobusnl".

The Reaper

An MQ-9 Reaper at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada. Posted on YouTube by Nellispotters.com.