Killer Robot Drones are Awesome

Drone technology is awesome, that is unless you are a terrorist having a little visit from a Hellfire missile.

But opposition is hotting up, and predictably it is the woofters at the UN who are agitating the most. Foreign Policy has a list of the killer drones.

With the United Nations Human Rights Council debating the development of lethal robots at its meeting in Geneva today, Human Rights Watch is ramping up its campaign to get world governments to preemptively ban the use of killer robots that can decide to attack a target without consulting their human controllers first. Despite the fact that the Pentagon has said thatU.S. drones will not be able to fire weapons without “appropriate” levels of human control, HRW worries that battlefield necessity will do away with such voluntary restrictions.

“While a positive step, [DOD’s policy on lethal drones] is not a comprehensive or permanent solution to the potential problems posed by fully autonomous systems,” reads a May 28 Human Rights Watch statement. “The policy of self-restraint it embraces may also be hard to sustain if other nations begin to deploy fully autonomous weapons systems.” 

While these real-life Terminators don’t exist yet, Killer Apps thought we’d compile a list of robot weapons that are leading the drive toward autonomy. Although the U.S. military isn’t looking to field fully self-functioning killer robots, it does want to get its drones to the point where one person can control a fleet of them. Under the current setup, several pilots and sensor operators are needed to fly just one of the military’s larger drones, such as the MQ-1 Predator or the MQ-9 Reaper. The same thinking can be applied to ground robots and those that prowl the seas, above and below the waterline.

DreamHammer is a company that makes a system called Ballista, which allows one person to control multiple drones. Its CEO, Nelson Paez, explained to Killer Apps how such a semi-autonomous fleet might be used:

An operator providing medical evacuation support could have a multitude of surveillance assets that finds the wounded and then be able to manage unmanned helicopters and/or ground vehicles going into unsafe areas and quickly picking up the wounded. Another example, would be a single sailor (or a coordinated set of sailors) on a Navy ship on a common control station with the ability to manage unmanned intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance [ISR] assets that find targets and then utilize strike weapons such as Tomahawk [cruise missiles] to take out a target and use the unmanned ISR assets for battle damage assessment.

They pick the Air Force drone, the Northrop Grumman-made X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System demonstrator (UCAS-D) as the sexiest.


First up is the U.S. Navy’s favorite drone (and perhaps the sexiest of all drones?), the Northrop Grumman-made X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System demonstrator (UCAS-D). It’s the history-making stealthy jet that took off from and performed touch-and-gos on the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush earlier this month. (Not only is the X-47B the first jet-powered drone to launch from an aircraft carrier, it might be the first stealthy jet to take off from a ship via catapult launch.) The X-47B is designed to fly missions semi-autonomously, meaning that a human “mission operator” tells the jet to do things like take off, land, and search for targets without actually controlling the plane as it executes these functions. The Navy wants to use the tech developed for the X-47B to field a class of carrier-borne stealth drones by the early 2020s that can perform long-range surveillance and strike missions with one operator controlling multiple aircraft.


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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

To read Cam’s previous articles click on his name in blue.