Sunday, December 06, 2020

Why So Hard To Believe Super-Soldiers In The Age Of Disposable Robot Assassins?

lawfareblog |   Someone—almost certainly Israel—recently assassinated Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the leading scientist behind the Iranian nuclear program. The latest reporting from Iran suggests that the assassins employed a remotely controlled machine gun mounted on a pickup truck. If this reporting proves correct, the death of Fakhrizadeh will not be the first instance of successful or attempted assassination-by-robot: In 2018, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro survived a possible attempt on his life carried out by small drones armed with explosives. And the U.S., in targeting Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani with a drone strike, has made clear that it is not above the use of such tools in modern statecraft.

So how hard is it to build such a tool? How expensive? Unfortunately, the answer is “hard but doable” and “not much money”—with the further complication that in a few years, it will probably be possible to pick up the necessary equipment online from vendors like Banggood. I know, because this field is something of a hobby for me. For three years, I’ve been trying to build an autonomous computing package for drone-hunting drones, and this work has familiarized me with the relevant technology.

It doesn’t take much for a robot to kill an exposed person. 200 grams (seven ounces)—not that much more than a baseball—is enough explosive to kill anyone within five meters (15 feet). A small ground or air vehicle can easily carry that payload, creating a robotic assassin.

Currently, the remote control needed to maneuver such an assassin is easily defeated with broad-spectrum jamming, which interferes with the radio signals necessary for communication. This played out in 2017, when the Islamic State developed and deployed effective small drones until the U.S. and others employed jammers to disrupt the remote link. There is also reporting suggesting this is why the Maduro assassination attempt failed. In order to avoid this problem, successful robotic assassins will need to be autonomous, capable of identifying targets and attacking without any human intervention.

Likewise, a drone-hunting drone needs to be autonomous because it needs to deal with autonomous—and therefore fast-thinking—adversary drones. It also needs to be fast in order to engage its target while protecting a larger area from attack. And it needs to be cheap, because there are so many potential targets that need defending.

Basically, to fight autonomous robot assassins, I need to build autonomous robot assassins to assassinate the autonomous robot assassins.