The Israeli military made an exciting, if scary, announcement this week – in order to prepare for the next generation of urban warfare, it is modifying drones to carry machine guns.
The TIKAD drone has been influenced by recent conflicts in Gaza, where intense street-to-street fighting led to many casualties. Lt. Col. Raziel Atuar, who served 20 years in the Israeli military before teaming up with robotics engineer to develop the new drone, has also offered the drone to the US military.
He told defenseone that the high casualties caused by modern urban warfare were the motivation behind the drone. Using a remote-controlled weapons platform, he hopes, will significantly reduce military and civilian deaths in this type of conflict.
The US military believe that this kind of close-quarter urban fighting will typify warfare in years to come, and so is investing heavily in weapons to meet the challenge.
At the moment, the drone is remotely operated. A human soldier will fly it around, and pull the trigger if required. There has been much debate in academic circles over the past few years about robotic soldiers, and the current consensus seems to be that, while computers can be used to target enemies, a human is still legally required to give the order to apply deadly force.
When the trigger is pulled, albeit remotely, you may have spotted a problem: recoil. Drones, even the most powerful ones, have to be really light in order to fly. The recoil produced by a machine gun firing is enough to push the drone backward pretty quickly.
The designers of the TIKAD claim to have eliminated this problem by distributing this momentum in a way that keeps the drone stationary in the air. However, the videos I’ve seen of guns mounted on drones make me skeptical about the accuracy of the drone for anything more than single shots.
There have been experiments with mounting military weapons on drones before utilizing civilian camera equipment. In 2015, Israeli Special Forces took out a target with a sniper rifle fitted to an off-the-shelf consumer drone. However, loaded down with a 30-pound sniper rifle, the drone was only able to stay airborne for five minutes.
Defenseone is reporting, even so, that the Israeli military has confirmed an order for an unspecified number of the new drones.
The new drone is part of a broader move toward robot soldiers. The US Marines are already experimenting with robots working alongside “traditional” soldiers, and even local police departments are getting in on the act.
Some have welcomed these developments, because sending robots to do our fighting for us reduces the risk of humans being killed. However, it has also been pointed out that, with no “body count” to worry about, politicians might be more willing to commit to wars that only involve robots, and this could have a destabilizing affect on international politics.