Rise of the Machines The British military's push towards autonomous war machines continued as the Royal Marines tested various items of robot battlefield equipment during a recent exercise in Cyprus.
Marines from the Littoral Strike Group, which spent the last three months deployed to the Mediterranean and Black Sea, tested what the Ministry of Defence described as "innovative tactics and kit" based around new technologies.
Those new technologies included quadcopter drones carrying up to 60kg of ammunition to resupply frontline troops on beach landings – technology that, if the MoD statement is to be believed, potentially outclasses civilian-equivalent drones currently in use in the UK.
"The marines have had to swiftly learn how to use the new equipment and integrate it. That kit has included state of the art communications technology and autonomous resupply aircraft, totally transforming the battle space," said Sergeant Adam Sperry of 30 Commando in a canned statement.
Amphibious assault ship HMS Albion also tested a Puma airborne drone, a small craft launched by throwing it like a big paper dart. Puma is a potential fleet-wide replacement for the much larger Scaneagle drone, which was withdrawn from Royal Navy use after budget cuts forced admirals to make hard decisions.
Although the British military as a whole has been looking at futuristic tech for years, the Royal Navy has been pushing ahead with whole units dedicated to experimenting with new tech. One such unit is NavyX, the RN's Autonomy and Lethality Accelerator, which is dedicated to finding new ways of creating robotic killing machinery.
Similarly, last year A Company 40 Commando tested self-driving ground drones for ammo and equipment resupply on Tregantle Beach in Cornwall, using equipment procured by NavyX from miltech boffinry establishment Qinetiq. British defence chiefs have been open about adopting autonomous technology for logistics and battlefield resupply, though they have kept mostly silent about using the same tech for killing enemies; for now, the policy is that a human soldier will always make a judgment call before pulling the trigger clicking the mouse button.
The only flaw in the plan is that tech ain't cheap and the Ministry of Defence's budgetary black hole is only getting larger.
Other branches of the British Armed Forces have been playing with autonomous technology to varying degrees of success. The Army tried its hand at operating surveillance drones with terrible results, while the Royal Air Force has pinned its future fighter jet hopes on the "optionally manned" Tempest from BAE Systems. While the concept makes for nice wooden mockups and lots of talk, the US Loyal Wingman fighter drone is undergoing live ground testing down in Australia. ®