WASHINGTON — Robot soldiers being developed by the Pentagon may invade hostile terrain, shoot enemies and care for wounded human comrades within the next decade, defense analysts say.
Some warn that the rapidly approaching era of robots able to operate independently on the battlefield will change the relationship between armies and societies, making it possible for advanced industrial nations to wage war without the human pain and sadness that for centuries have helped check war-making impulses.
Robots play key roles in the Army's $160 billion Future Combat Systems initiative, which aims to deploy armies that are agile and lethal.
Some robots and unmanned aircraft already are being deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and every week the Pentagon announces new contracts.
Last week, the Army announced it was extending research and development work by scientists at Car-negie Mellon University on robot war teams.
Confronting "unknown opponents," each machine in such a team keeps track of its own movements and those of its teammates and makes decisions on its own, according to progress reports that researchers at the Pittsburgh university have submitted every few months to the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency.
Veteran weapons analyst John Pike says the era of robotic warfare is approaching faster than most people realize.
"We are probably seeing the last manned tactical fighter being built now, and in a few years there will be no manned tanks or artillery," said Pike, director of the nonprofit think tank globalsecurity.org.
"By the end of the century there will be virtually no humans on the battlefield," said Pike. "Robots do what you tell them and they don't have to be trained."
He added: "If they are damaged, you can recycle their parts or take them to a repair shop. There is no condolence letter or funeral."
Projects that other contractors are working on include:
!? Big Dog, a quadruped robot that walks like an animal over all types of terrain and carries up to 200 pounds on its back.
!? RHex, a small six-legged robot that swims, walks and climbs stairs.
!? RISE, a climbing robot that can shinny up trees or brick walls.
!? The WASP, a hand-launched, half-pound surveillance aircraft with a 16-inch wingspan and a pair of color video cameras.
Some analysts predict that within 20 years, robots will think and act completely autonomously.
"I have a feeling that if there is consistent funding for research and development, there can be a robot cognitively as good as humans (at fighting on a battlefield) somewhere between 2020 and 2030," said Robert Finkelstein, president of Robotic Technology Inc. in Potomac, Md.
Finkelstein predicts that robots will unlock doors with keys, load, aim and shoot rifles within the next five years and will administer injections, carry soldiers to safety and perform tasks like changing a tire in 10 years.
But he said he worries that it may become easier to "interfere in other countries when parents are not yelling about the human casualty count."
He also wonders about the political consequences when "First World countries assemble robot armies, but Third World countries still use humans."
Others, such as Georgia Tech robotics expert Ronald Arkin, disagree.
"Robots behave more humanely in battlefields than humans because they are not concerned with their own destruction," Arkin said, and because their judgment is not clouded by anger.
Arkin is developing an artificial conscience mechanism to govern a robot's behavior during warfare.
"By the end of the century there will be virtually no humans on the battlefield. Robots do what you tell them and they don't have to be trained."
Future Computing and Cutting-Edge National Security
Selling the threat of bioterrorism
An ex-Soviet scientist raised fears, helped shape U.S. policy and sought to profit.
"And, as Alibek raised fear of bioterrorism in the United States, he also has sought to profit from that fear.By his count, Alibek has won about $28 million in federal grants or contracts for himself or entities that hired him."
"Sea Breeze 2007"
Joint Black Sea Exercise To Start On July 9
KYIV, July 8, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Ukrainian officials say "Sea Breeze 2007," a multinational naval exercise, will start on July 9 in the Black Sea.
Naval and terrestrial forces from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Canada, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Latvia, Macedonia, Moldova, Romania, and Turkey will join Ukrainian and U.S. forces in the two-week-long exercise.
In 2006, "Sea Breeze" exercises were cancelled because of protest actions by pro -Russian groups.
Ukrainian defense minister Anatolii Hrytsenko told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service today that Ukrainian law enforcement agencies will not permit the protestors to block the exercise this year, and that the laws must be upheld.
(RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service)
"Exercise Eagles Eye"
Major military exercise starts
UP to 1,500 troops are to take part in one of the largest Army exercises in the country this year on Salisbury Plain, starting tomorrow.
Exercise Eagles Eye, which runs until July 27, will involve also involve 500 vehicles from Colchester-based 16 Air Assault Brigade, the Army's premier rapid reaction fighting brigade.
16 Air Assault Brigade has to be ready to fulfil the UK's commitment to respond to incidents anywhere in the world at five days' notice.