US killer robots take jobs from flyboys, dolphins

Breadline for Flipper

"Team Warrior", a killer robot manufacturing alliance led by General Atomics of San Diego, CA, announced yesterday that its Warrior Extended Range/Multi Purpose Unmanned Aerial Vehicle System (ERMP UAS) would enter production for the US Army, another step in the US forces' ongoing effort to automate most military activities.

The Warrior is based on the design of the existing US Air Force Predator, which is already in action in southwest Asia and has also been used by the CIA for assassination missions.

The Predator, however, is only partially automated, in that it is flown remotely by a fully qualified pilot. In a step change from the usual military aviation environment, British and American Predator pilots typically remain within easy reach of Las Vegas. The killer drones' human technical attendants – previously seen as having the safer job – are required to serve in the warzone.

With the Warrior, the US Army intends to go one step further, eliminating the pilot altogether. "Army Warriors will be configured to fly autonomously, and will include an automatic takeoff and landing system to reduce accidents," according to General Atomics. But the Rise of the Machines isn't yet imminent. "Manual control will be possible," the company says.

The Warrior will carry a relatively limited weapons payload, typically a quartet of Hellfire II missiles. It will be able to destroy no more than four tanks or buildings before reloading. However, its new General Atomics stablemate, the evocatively-named MQ-9 "Reaper" can manage up to a tonne and a half of varied ordnance, or as many as 14 Hellfires.

In other robot-themed defence news, the US Navy today announced the award of a $45m contract to Remotec Systems of Clinton, TN, for "robotic systems, accessories, spare parts, depot level repair support, and operator and technician training".

These droids, though, will be programmed to preserve human life rather than mowing down hapless fleshies like corn. They are intended for bomb and mine disposal duties.

Admittedly, the initial Navy contract is focused on dry-land systems. Nonetheless, the move toward automation clearly presents a threat to the jobs of traditional warm-blooded ordnance-disposal operators.

In the US Navy a high proportion of these employees have traditionally been from the cetacean community, favoured for their willingness to work hard underwater for a largely fish-based remuneration package.

Alternative employment for these individuals is scarce, limited largely to the entertainment sector, suggesting significant dolphin hardship should the USN's automation programme result in layoffs. ®

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