Control over heavily armed US war robots fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan was lost last year after a cat climbed into machinery at an American command base and "fried everything", a US officer has confirmed.
The news comes from Colonel Grant Webb, describing technical problems at Creech Air Force Base outside Las Vegas, Nevada. This is famously the location from which US Air Force "Predator" and "Reaper" robot aircraft are controlled during missions overseas*.
"A cat climbed into one of the electronic nodes and fried everything," the colonel says (skip to about 0:40 seconds in the vid above). We're indebted to the excellent DEW Line blog for the vid - and speculative analysis suggesting that the feline saboteur was in fact a highly trained al-Qaeda suicide martyr moggy.
It should be noted that when the satellite link to a Predator or Reaper is lost, the roboplane doesn't plunge to Earth or embark on a frenzied orgy of mechanised slaughter or anything. In general the plane simply circles where it is, awaiting further commands.
After power has been restored, operators at Creech can generally relocate the errant wardroid and gain control over it again. There has, however, been at least one case in which a mutinous robot has refused to acknowledge any further orders: on that occasion the rebellious machine was shot down by a manned fighter plane before it could violate the borders of a nearby neutral country.
Although losses of drone control are seldom serious, then, with a Reaper able to carry up to 14 Hellfire missiles (each capable of destroying a tank) such occurrences are scarcely reassuring. ®
*For landing and takeoff the planes are handled by pilots located at the base in question, to reduce latency, but the bulk of each flight is run from the USA.
The US Army, by contrast to the air force, keeps its robocraft controllers in theatre with the other troops. It is also moving to automate landing and takeoff, removing any need for drone operators to be fully-qualified officer pilots. Instead, Army roboplane operators - while highly trained - are less-expensive noncommissioned technical personnel.