I think most people in or out of the military loop have at least heard of US warfighters using a ground-based fighting robot in Iraq and Afghanistan. Perhaps not as dramatically as videos from Reapers and Predators dropping JDAM-equipped bombs and missiles, but show a picture of SWORDS (Special Weapons Observation Reconnaissance Detection System), and most people will see a miniature remote controlled CAT with cameras and a gun and get the idea.
There is a debate raging in Washington right now on whether or not “mechanized soldiers” have a place on the modern battlefield. Probably from bad press over collateral damage and questionable targets overseas. Lt. Col. Stuart Hatfield at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International conference said that misguided bullets can be even more problematic than misguided bombs because of the distances that can be traveled past the intended target when interviewed by National Defense Magazine.
More interesting I feel is how the weapons themselves were deployed when overseas. SWORDS; essentially a kitbashed TALON bomb disposal robot was used not as part of a mobile patrol as robotic fire support or as the crux of a structure entry team as envisioned, but as self-propelled remote sentry that watches a static position. If you’ve played any of the MechWarrior or MechCommander videogames or have seen the director’s cut to James Cameron’s 1986 film Aliens, you are supremely familiar with this concept.
Despite Lt Colonel Hatfield’s warning on the future of the mobile remote sentry concept, Qinetiq’s (Formerly Foster-Miller, creator of SWORDS/TALON) new MAARS (Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System) program is charging ahead undaunted. Capable of lifting more in payload than a fully kitted SWORDS robot weighs, the 350 lb. MAARS features a larger motor and transmission tooled to accommodate higher torque. The robot also has sealed and armored electronics, drive and actuator compartments. MAARS techs also enjoy easier access during field maintenance. The result is a faster, better protected, more easily maintained, and by far better armed mobile gun. Or mobile-stationary security system. However MAARS is ultimately employed.
As long as there is a human being behind the monitor making the decisions, I don’t see that there is much of a practical difference whether the bullets or grenades (or bombs or missiles for that matter) are triggered by a trigger or Microsoft Sidewinder D-pad.
At least with one of these guys, there is a video record of the events. Or atrocities. But that’s a different article- and a different blog.
Well bargained, and done.