Skip to main content

'Optionally manned' robotic gun is Army's latest step toward autonomous weapons


There's an interesting division among journalists covering autonomous technology in the defense industry. One faction is adamant that attempts to create "virtual crewman" to replace human pilots in tanks and ground vehicles is distinct from so-called "killer robots." 

Special feature

Cyberwar and the Future of Cybersecurity

Cyberwar and the Future of Cybersecurity

Today's security threats have expanded in scope and seriousness. There can now be millions -- or even billions -- of dollars at risk when information security isn't handled properly.

Read More

The other faction thinks this is all the first step toward a Terminator-like dystopia.

The latest chapter in the ongoing debate concerns an automated tank turret. Under direction from top brass, the Army's Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate -- an Army development laboratory -- is now working on an automated turret for live-fire testing next summer. The news was first reported by Breaking Defense, which follows the defense industry.

The turret will use the Army's controversial Artificially Intelligent Targeting System (ATLAS), which can detect and aim a 50mm gun while autonomously determining whether a target is hostile. The system is not set up to pull the trigger, a step that still must be taken by a human actor.

ATLAS, announced earlier this year, is an ambitious program to combine computer vision, AI, and machine learning to create ground vehicles capable of making targeting decisions and taking appropriate preparatory action at superhuman speeds. In a sign that some things haven't changed since the Old West, the idea is that the quickest draw will typically win a fight.

Must-see offers

Officially, autonomous and semi-autonomous weapons systems are subject to strict limitations under Department of Defense Directive 3000.09, which requires a human in the loop in use-of-force situations and prescribes limitations on autonomous weapons to prevent them from firing in case communications are lost.

But critics argue that these restrictions, which, it bears pointing out, are subject to being changed through another DoD directive, don't go far enough to safeguard against the proliferation of autonomous weapons. The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots is one group that wants more stringent assurances that humans will continue to exercise total control over the use of force, ideally in the form of a global autonomous weapons ban.

In 2017, following a letter from more than 100 notable technology personalities, including Elon Musk, the UN's Review Conference of the Convention on Conventional Weapons began formal discussions on the threat of autonomous weapons. 

Nevertheless, development of such systems has been speeding along. Last April, robots cleared obstacles and breached barriers for manned tanks in a joint U.S.-British training exercise and demonstration in Germany, the first time robots have been used for that purpose. Another Army program called Operation Wingman has included range tests of self-driving vehicles equipped with fully autonomous weapons systems. 

Mirroring the nuclear buildup of the 1950s and later, the quandary of autonomous weapons systems is further blurred with the understanding that countries like China and Russia are developing their own unmanned weapons platforms. That could mean we're already well on the way to a future in which robots are commonplace on the battlefield. One potential consequence of that outcome, as I've written, could be that operators in the field are less likely to hesitate before engaging an unmanned system, upsetting long-standing operational restraints that serve to avert escalation to armed conflict.

According to an interview with Breaking Defense, the Army's acquisition chief, Bruce Jette, has left the door open to a less hands-on form of control, wherein humans are supervising a larger number of autonomous guns, such as the ATLAS-powered turrets.

Beep Boop Bop: A brief history of robots,... SEE FULL GALLERY 1 - 5 of 14



I simply wished to appreciate you once more. I do not know the things that I would've followed without the entire creative concepts shared by you on that subject matter. It previously was a very horrifying problem in my opinion, nevertheless finding out the expert fashion you processed the issue forced me to weep over contentment. I'm just thankful for this guidance and in addition hope you really know what an amazing job you have been undertaking teaching men and women via your blog. I know that you've never met all of us. ultra boost 3.0

I must express my love for your kind-heartedness supporting folks who must have help with this one concern. Your special commitment to getting the solution all through came to be remarkably effective and has surely encouraged girls much like me to achieve their pursuits. This valuable help and advice entails a whole lot a person like me and much more to my fellow workers. Warm regards; from each one of us. kobe basketball shoes

I truly wanted to make a simple word in order to express gratitude to you for these wonderful points you are giving at this website. My extensive internet search has finally been compensated with reputable know-how to talk about with my family and friends. I 'd repeat that we site visitors are really fortunate to exist in a useful site with very many awesome individuals with valuable opinions. I feel very much blessed to have come across your entire website page and look forward to many more amazing times reading here. Thank you once again for a lot of things. lebron 14

Thank you a lot for providing individuals with an exceptionally brilliant opportunity to read from this blog. It is often very brilliant and also jam-packed with a great time for me and my office friends to search your website not less than thrice weekly to read through the new issues you have got. Of course, I am also actually happy with the excellent thoughts served by you. Certain two facts in this posting are in truth the most impressive I have had. off white jordan 1

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
The comment language code.