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U.N. Report Singles Out Two Navy Weapons Programs

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An X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator aircraft is transported on an aircraft elevator aboard the aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman (CVN-75). US Navy Photo

An X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator aircraft is transported on an aircraft elevator aboard the aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman (CVN-75). US Navy Photo

An April U.N. report calling for suspending the use deadly robotic weapon systems singled out two Navy systems, the Phalanx ship protection weapon system and the Navy’s test platform for carrier-based unmanned vehicles as part of a report recommending an international moratoria on so-called “lethal autonomous robotics.”

Report author Christof Heyns, a human rights professor at the University of Pretoria in South Africa, mentioned the Phalanx and the Unmanned Combat Air System Aircraft Carrier Demonstration (UCAS-D) X-47B as examples of weapon systems with at least some degree of autonomous operation.

Heyns concluded that LARs, “may be unacceptable because no adequate system of legal accountability can be devised, and because robots should not have the power of life and death over human beings.”

Other systems mentioned in the report included:
-The US Counter Rocket, Artillery and Mortar (C-RAM) system can automatically destroy incoming artillery, rockets and mortar rounds.
-Israel’s Harpy is a “Fire-and-Forget” autonomous weapon system designed to detect, attack and destroy radar emitters.
-The United Kingdom Taranis jet-propelled combat drone prototype can autonomously search, identify and locate enemies but can only engage with a target when authorized by mission command. It can also defend itself against enemy aircraft.
-The Samsung Techwin surveillance and security guard robots, deployed in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, detect targets through infrared sensors. They are currently operated by humans but have an “automatic mode”.

A MK 15 Phalanx close-in weapons system (CIWS) is test fired on the flight deck aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70). US Navy Photo

A MK 15 Phalanx close-in weapons system (CIWS) is test fired on the flight deck aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70). US Navy Photo

Phalanx, in operation since 1980, was developed to protect high dollar warships from the threat of anti-ship missiles following the 1970s development of the fighter-borne French Exocet missile.

The system pairs a 20 mm Gatling gun with a radar system that is designed to track an incoming missile. The Phalanx is designed to create a cloud of bullets to destroy the missile. Due to the speed of the missiles the system can target and fire with a degree of autonomy.
UCAS-D builds off of already existing autonomous technology that allows carrier aircraft to land at sea.

The demonstrator is prelude to the Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike System (UCLASS), an armed unmanned aerial vechie the Navy hopes to deploy by 2018.

Though armed, UCLASS is planned to deploy weapons at the direction of a human operator.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ethan-Perks/100000866010072 Ethan Perks

    What is certain is that if these were Chinese or Russian systems the UN wouldn’t complain. The fact is that the US Military is on the threshold of a generational shift in war fighting ability. The gap is so great that China cannot steal the technology fast enough to make up the gap. ?Aren’t the other CIWSs also robotic?

    • David Kilpatrick

      Yes, and Bill Clinton isn’t around anymore to give it to them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/charlie.noble.1840 Charlie Noble

    It looks like our Navy is doing the right thing, and when you see objections to these systems, means someone is going to try to eliminate them. Yea, Navy!