Military-grade autonomous drones can fly themselves to a specific location, pick their own targets and kill without the assistance of a remote human operator.
According to a United Nations report, for the first time ever, such a weapon was used in Libya against Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s forces – the Libyan National Army.
The lethal autonomous weapons system (LAWS) was used back in March 2020.
The UN said that logistic convoys and retreating Haftar-affiliated forces were subsequently hunted down and remotely engaged by the LAWS.
It is unknown if anybody was killed by the system, but if so that would make it the first casualty to a fully autonomous system.
The Kargu-2 is an attack drone made by the Turkish company STM that can be operated both autonomously and manually and that purports to use “machine learning” and “real-time image processing” against its targets.
The Turkish-made kamikaze drone was praised for working “quite effectively” in autonomous mode without the need for human control.
The Kargu-2 indeed looks like any other quadcopter drone. The major difference is the software, and even if destroyed it would be difficult, if not impossible to salvage any semblance of it from the debris.
It has a range of 5 kilometers, and an endurance of 30 minutes. It flies at 72 km/h and has a maximum altitude of 2,800 meters, with its usual mission height sitting 500 m.
The lethal autonomous weapons systems were programmed to attack targets without requiring data connectivity between the operator and the munition: in effect, a true ‘fire, forget and find’ capability.
The creator of the Kargu drone, STM, says the device “can be effectively used against static or moving targets through its indigenous and real-time image processing capabilities and machine learning algorithms embedded on the platform.”
The UN in 2018 attempted to begin working on a treaty that would ban autonomous weapons, but the move was blocked by both the US and Russia.
Some are hailing the coming of the new age of war. The events in Libya may similarly divide the time when humans had full control of weapons, and a time when machines made their own decisions to kill.
The deployment of truly autonomous drones could represent a military revolution on par with the introduction of guns or aircraft — and unlike nuclear weapons, they’re likely to be easily obtainable by nearly any military force.
What’s concerning is that if a new technology is so cheap and attainable, it makes deterrence impossible and every actor is then forced to constantly attempt to be on the offensive. It is a considering tendency for many, while others are downplaying it.
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