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US forces developing 'miniature weapons' for killer robots

Phantom Works pocket missile ideal for 'suburban combat'

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US Air Force boffinry chiefs have decided to spend as much as $7m developing "miniature weapons" for use by killer robots in the Wars On Stuff.

Weaponry'n'aerospace globocorp Boeing was chuffed yesterday to announce that it had bagged an initial $0.5m deal to look into ideas, which will lead on into another $6.5m of work if the scheme moves forward.

At the moment, unmanned aircraft in combat overseas mostly use standard air weapons. Generally the lightest, most delicate option open to a prowling airborne killbot will be the Hellfire missile, a hefty hundred-pound laser guided rocket which was originally developed for the purpose of taking out heavily-armoured main battle tanks.

Against a more typical modern-war target such as a pickup truck, a small house or a 4x4, the Hellfire is a blunt instrument rather than a surgical one. Fired at a single person or single room, as it often is, Hellfire is major overkill and causes a lot of collateral damage and dead bystanders - perhaps so much so as to outweigh the value of hitting the target.

Hence the "miniature weapons" deal from the US Air Force Research Lab announced yesterday, under which Boeing's "Phantom Works" advanced-tech shop will produce something a bit more suitable to counter-insurgency work.

The new mini-missiles seem set to be at least as sophisticated as a Hellfire, perhaps more so. In addition to seeker and guidance tech, they will feature "radar options". This could be merely a matter of fusing, making the weapon go off at a certain distance from the target, but it might also mean the missile would be able to home in on its victims independently, without a guiding laser dot.

"The concept behind this technology is designed to generate very low collateral damage," says Boeing exec Carl Avila. "[It] allows warfighters to engage a variety of targets, including those in a suburban terrain environment." ®

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