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All US Army combat units now to include robots

Automated tanks, gunships, even generals on the way

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The march of the droids continues, with news emerging over the festive season that ordinary US Army line units - not special forces or temporary trial formations - will now consist partly of war robots and other digitally networked automated killware.

The revelations come with the announcement last week that the US Army's "Brigade Combat Team Modernisation" programme "Increment One" hardware and software will enter initial production as of "early 2010".

This first tranche of modernisation to American combat brigades will see the deployment in every formation of the following items:

  • The "Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle" crawler war-bot, capable of "infantry and special forces" operations in buildings, caves and tunnels. The SUGV is unarmed (though it can mount a laser range finder and a manipulator claw) but it has a bigger brother which can be fitted with a "Metal Storm" multibarrelled grenade launcher capable of loosing off a devastating fusillade of 16 high explosive warheads in a fraction of a second.
  • The "Class I Unmanned Air Vehicle", aka the "Tarantula Hawk", a small hovering wastebin sized spy droid propelled by a ducted fan. British forces in Afghanistan already have a few of these, and US specialist elite units have lots; now they are to go mainstream.
  • The Non Line Of Sight Launch System, also known as "Netfires" or "Rockets in a Box", which replaces cumbersome batteries of artillery with a single automated crate about the size of a fridge. The NLOS-LS can be remotely commanded across the military net to spit out its 15 mini kamikaze-bot cruise missiles and send them off to attack targets many miles away. The missiles once launched become network nodes themselves and can pursue moving targets, homing in relentlessly on a heat signature or laser dot and sending live pics as they do so.

Other bits and pieces to be delivered as part of Increment 1 include scatterable networked sensors and bugs, and kit to deliver the underlying net which will support all these things.

"Brigade Combat Team Modernisation" is the new name for the ambitious Future Combat Systems networked-army plans, now officially torpedoed after massive cost overruns and accusations of irrelevancy, and indeed possibly of madness. The original vision for FCS included even more puissant war robots, including a heavily beweaponed droid kill-chopper and what was in effect a powerful robotic tank.

Despite the nominal disappearance of the FCS droid-legion plans, the robotank and slay-copter plans may yet come to fruition in future "modernisation increments". One might also note that there are plans afoot in the Pentagon to largely replace human headquarters officers directing the machinery with automated software as well. ®

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