Armed Predator drone

Military robots are autonomous robots or remote-controlled mobile robots designed for military applications, from transport to search & rescue and attack.

Some such systems are currently in use, and many are under development.


Soviet TT-26 teletank, February 1940
British soldiers with captured German Goliath remote-controlled demolition vehicles (Battle of Normandy, 1944)

Broadly defined, military robots date back to World War II and the Cold War in the form of the German Goliath tracked mines and the Soviet teletanks. The introduction of the MQ-1 Predator drone was when "CIA officers began to see the first practical returns on their decade-old fantasy of using aerial robots to collect intelligence".[1]

The use of robots in warfare, although traditionally a topic for science fiction, is being researched as a possible future means of fighting wars. Already several military robots have been developed by various armies. Some believe the future of modern warfare will be fought by automated weapons systems.[2] The U.S. military is investing heavily in the RQ-1 Predator, which can be armed with air-to-ground missiles and remotely operated from a command center in reconnaissance roles. DARPA has hosted competitions in 2004 & 2005 to involve private companies and universities to develop unmanned ground vehicles to navigate through rough terrain in the Mojave Desert for a final prize of 2 million.[3]

Artillery has seen promising research with an experimental weapons system named "Dragon Fire II" which automates loading and ballistics calculations required for accurate predicted fire, providing a 12-second response time to fire support requests. However, military weapons are prevented from being fully autonomous; they require human input at certain intervention points to ensure that targets are not within restricted fire areas as defined by Geneva Conventions for the laws of war.

There have been some developments towards developing autonomous fighter jets and bombers.[4] The use of autonomous fighters and bombers to destroy enemy targets is especially promising because of the lack of training required for robotic pilots, autonomous planes are capable of performing maneuvers which could not otherwise be done with human pilots (due to high amount of G-force), plane designs do not require a life support system, and a loss of a plane does not mean a loss of a pilot. However, the largest drawback to robotics is their inability to accommodate for non-standard conditions. Advances in artificial intelligence in the near future may help to rectify this.

In 2020 a Kargu 2 drone hunted down and attacked a human target in Libya, according to a report from the UN Security Council’s Panel of Experts on Libya, published in March 2021. This may have been the first time an autonomous killer robot armed with lethal weaponry attacked human beings.[5][6]


In current use

Foster-Miller TALON SWORDS units equipped with various weaponry
The Platforma-M variant of the Multifunctional Utility/Combat support/Patrol. Serially produced by the Russian Army.


In development

The Armed Robotic Vehicle variant of the MULE. Image made by the U.S. Army.

Effects and impact


Autonomous robotics would save and preserve soldiers' lives by removing serving soldiers, who might otherwise be killed, from the battlefield. Lt. Gen. Richard Lynch of the United States Army Installation Management Command and assistant Army chief of staff for installation stated at a 2011 conference:

As I think about what’s happening on the battlefield today ... I contend there are things we could do to improve the survivability of our service members. And you all know that’s true.[17]

Major Kenneth Rose of the US Army's Training and Doctrine Command outlined some of the advantages of robotic technology in warfare:[18]

Machines don't get tired. They don't close their eyes. They don't hide under trees when it rains and they don't talk to their friends ... A human's attention to detail on guard duty drops dramatically in the first 30 minutes ... Machines know no fear.

Increasing attention is also paid to how to make the robots more autonomous, with a view of eventually allowing them to operate on their own for extended periods of time, possibly behind enemy lines. For such functions, systems like the Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot are being tried, which is intended to gain its own energy by foraging for plant matter. The majority of military robots are tele-operated and not equipped with weapons; they are used for reconnaissance, surveillance, sniper detection, neutralizing explosive devices, etc. Current robots that are equipped with weapons are tele-operated so they are not capable of taking lives autonomously.[19] Advantages regarding the lack of emotion and passion in robotic combat is also taken into consideration as a beneficial factor in significantly reducing instances of unethical behavior in wartime. Autonomous machines are created not to be "truly 'ethical' robots", yet ones that comply with the laws of war (LOW) and rules of engagement (ROE).[20] Hence the fatigue, stress, emotion, adrenaline, etc. that affect a human soldier's rash decisions are removed; there will be no effect on the battlefield caused by the decisions made by the individual.


See also: Lethal autonomous weapon and Campaign to Stop Killer Robots

Human rights groups and NGOs such as Human Rights Watch and the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots have started urging governments and the United Nations to issue policy to outlaw the development of so-called "lethal autonomous weapons systems" (LAWS).[21] The United Kingdom opposed such campaigns, with the Foreign Office declaring that "international humanitarian law already provides sufficient regulation for this area".[22]

In July 2015, over 1,000 experts in artificial intelligence signed a letter calling for a ban on autonomous weapons. The letter was presented in Buenos Aires at the 24th International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI-15) and was co-signed by Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, Steve Wozniak, Noam Chomsky, Skype co-founder Jaan Tallinn and Google DeepMind co-founder Demis Hassabis, among others.[23][24]


American soldiers have been known to name the robots that serve alongside them. These names are often in honor of human friends, family, celebrities, pets, or are eponymic.[25] The 'gender' assigned to the robot may be related to the marital status of its operator.[25]

Some affixed fictitious medals to battle-hardened robots, and even held funerals for destroyed robots.[25] An interview of 23 explosive ordnance detection members shows that while they feel it is better to lose a robot than a human, they also felt anger and a sense of loss if they were destroyed.[25] A survey of 746 people in the military showed that 80% either 'liked' or 'loved' their military robots, with more affection being shown towards ground rather than aerial robots.[25] Surviving dangerous combat situations together increased the level of bonding between soldier and robot, and current and future advances in artificial intelligence may further intensify the bond with the military robots.[25]

In fictional media

Main article: List of fictional military robots


See also


  1. ^ Steve Coll, Ghost Wars (Penguin, 2005 edn), pp.529 and 658 note 6.
  2. ^ Robots and Robotics at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific Archived 1999-02-20 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ "Welcome to Grandchallenge". Archived from the original on 2007-10-11.
  4. ^ Talbot, David. "The Ascent of the Robotic Attack Jet". MIT Technology Review.
  5. ^ Hambling, David. "Drones may have attacked humans fully autonomously for the first time". New Scientist. Retrieved 2021-05-30.
  6. ^ "Killer drone 'hunted down a human target' without being told to". New York Post. 2021-05-29. Retrieved 2021-05-30.
  7. ^ ""Платформа-М": Роботизированный комплекс широких возможностей". Archived from the original on 2016-03-04.
  8. ^ Guardium Military robot Archived 2005-10-26 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ Korean gun bots Archived 2011-01-15 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ "Gravitas: China deploys 'Robot Soldiers' along the border with India - Gravitas News".
  11. ^ Schafer, Ron (July 29, 2003). "Robotics to play major role in future warfighting". United States Joint Forces Command. Archived from the original on August 13, 2003. Retrieved 2013-04-30.((cite web)): CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  12. ^ a b Page, Lewis (21 April 2009). "Flying-rifle robocopter: Hovering sniper backup for US troops". The Register. Archived from the original on 24 April 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-21.
  13. ^ "U.S. Army Tests Flying Robot Sniper". Fox News. 2009-04-22. Archived from the original on 2009-04-26. Retrieved 2009-04-23.
  14. ^ Hambling, David (May 2009). "UAV Helicopter Brings Finesse to Airstrikes". Popular Mechanics. Archived from the original on 2009-04-21. Retrieved 2009-04-21.
  15. ^ Hambling, David (April 21, 2009). "Army Tests Flying Robo-Sniper". Wired, "Danger Room" blog. Archived from the original on April 23, 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-21.
  16. ^ a b "Military wants to transform Segway scooters into robots". 2003-12-02. Retrieved 2009-04-24.
  17. ^ Cheryl Pellerin (American Forces Press Service) - DoD News:Article published Aug. 17, 2011 Archived 2015-07-14 at the Wayback Machine published by the U.S. Department of Defense, WASHINGTON (DoD) [Retrieved 2015-07-28]
  18. ^ "Robot soldiers". BBC News. 2002-04-12. Archived from the original on 2011-01-25. Retrieved 2010-05-12.
  19. ^ Hellström, Thomas (June 2013). "On the moral responsibility of military robots". Ethics and Information Technology. 15 (2): 99–107. CiteSeerX doi:10.1007/s10676-012-9301-2. S2CID 15205810.
  20. ^ Lin, Bekey, Abney, Patrick, George, Keith (2009). "Robots in War: Issues of Risk and Ethics". Archived from the original on 2015-11-23.((cite web)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  21. ^ Bowcott, Owen Bowcott (9 April 2015). "UN urged to ban 'killer robots' before they can be developed". the Guardian. Archived from the original on 2015-07-28. Retrieved 2015-07-28.
  22. ^ Bowcott, Owen (13 April 2015). "UK opposes international ban on developing 'killer robots'". the Guardian. Archived from the original on 2015-07-29. Retrieved 2015-07-28.
  23. ^ Gibbs, Samuel (27 July 2015). "Musk, Wozniak and Hawking urge ban on warfare AI and autonomous weapons". the Guardian. Archived from the original on 2015-07-27. Retrieved 2015-07-28.
  24. ^ "Musk, Hawking Warn of Artificial Intelligence Weapons". WSJ Blogs - Digits. 2015-07-27. Archived from the original on 2015-07-28. Retrieved 2015-07-28.
  25. ^ a b c d e f Nidhi Subbaraman. "Soldiers <3 robots: Military bots get awards, nicknames ... funerals". NBC News. Archived from the original on 2013-10-06.

Ethical and legal concerns


News articles/press releases