Pentagon Spends $1 Billion To Acquire More War Robots

According to a new report from Bloomberg, the Pentagon is spending approximately $1 billion over the next several years for a variety of robots designed to complement combat troops on the modern battlefield.

In addition to scouting and explosives disposal, these new war robots will reportedly be able to perform more complex tasks, including surveillance missions, detection of chemical or nuclear agents, and even have the ability to transport soldiers’ rucksacks.

“Within five years, I have no doubt there will be robots in every Army formation,” said Bryan McVeigh, the Army’s project manager for force protection. He applauded the efforts of the Pentagon to field more than 800 robots over the past 18 months.

“We’re going from talking about robots to actually building and fielding programs,” he said. “This is an exciting time to be working on robots with the Army,” McVeigh added.

Bloomberg says the Pentagon has classified its robot platforms into light, medium and heavy categories.

Last month, the Army awarded a $429.1 million contract to two Massachusetts robotic defense companies, Endeavor Robotics and QinetiQ North America, for miniature size war robots weighing less than 25 pounds. Not too long ago, Endeavor Robotics was awarded two other contracts worth roughly $34 million from the Marine Corps for medium size robots.

Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System. (Source: QinetiQ) 

In 4Q17, the Army awarded Endeavor a $158.5 million contract for 1,200 medium size war robots, called the Man-Transportable Robotic System (MTRS), Increment II, weighing around 165 pounds. Bloomberg said the MTRS is designed to detect “explosives as well as chemical, biological, radioactive and nuclear threats,” with a deployment date set for the second half of 2019.

Endeavor Robotics Product Overview. (Source: Endeavor Robotics)

“It’s a recognition that ground robots can do a lot more, and there’s a lot of capabilities that can and should be exploited,” said Sean Bielat, Endeavor’s chief executive officer. He points out “the dull, the dirty and the dangerous” infantry tasks are being supplemented by war robots.

The introduction of war robots onto the modern battlefield is undoubtedly intended to streamline tasks in combat situations for infantry troops, but the primary objective is to increase the survivability rate of America’s bravest warriors.

“The Army’s current approach is to field more inter-operable robots with a common chassis, allowing different sensors and payloads to be attached, along with standardized controllers for various platforms,” McVeigh explained to Bloomberg.  

While Trump signed the record-setting defense spending bill earlier this year, Bloomberg says the addition of robots on the battlefield is geared towards affordability. “If we want to change payloads, then we can spend our money on changing the payloads and not having to change the whole system,” McVeigh said.

The Army will have a ramp-up period to field the use of its newer, more advanced robots; indications point to more than 2,500 of the medium and small robots will enter the modern battlefield in the next several years.

Line-up of QinetiQ robots. (Source: QinetiQ) 

“Just strapping a conventional weapon onto a robot doesn’t necessarily give you that much” for ground troops, said Bielat, the Endeavor Robotics CEO. “There is occasional interest in weaponizing robots, but it’s not particularly strong interest. What is envisioned in these discussions is always man-in-the-loop, definitely not autonomous use of weapons.”  

There are significant concerns about the rapid development and deployment of advanced robotic technologies on the battlefield, especially the use of autonomous weapon systems.

Last year, a group of the world’s leading AI researchers and humanitarian organizations warned about lethal autonomous weapons systems, or killer robots, that select and kill targets without human control. About two dozen countries have called for the ban on fully autonomous weapons, though the U.S. failed to join.

Killer robots are closer than you think

“It seems inevitable that technology is taking us to a point where countries will face the question of whether to delegate lethal decision-making to machines,” said Paul Scharre, a senior fellow and director of the technology and national security program at the Center for a New American Security.

Last August, Tesla’s Elon Musk and over 100 experts sent a letter to the United Nations demanding the organization ban lethal autonomous weapons.

“Once developed, lethal autonomous weapons will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend,” the letter warned. “These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways.”

Peter W. Singer, a leading strategist on 21st-century warfare, chatted with Business Insider about the “the killer robots debate,” and said, “it sounds like science fiction, but it is a very real debate right now in international relations. There have been multiple UN meetings on this.”

As Singer put it, advanced robotic technologies have opened countless discussions about legal and ethical questions for which “we’re really not all that ready.”

“This really comes down to, who is responsible if something goes bad?” Singer said, explaining that this applies to everything from war robots to autonomous vehicles.

“We’re entering a new frontier of war and technology and it’s not quite clear if the laws are ready.”

It seems like the new frontier of war and technology is ushering in a “Terminator”-style dystopic evolution of warfare. It is inevitable that this new generation of weaponry could quickly make its way out of the military and into the hands of terrorist organizations. Nevertheless, with the Pentagon throwing billions of dollars at defense companies to manufacture war robots, we ask one simple question: what could go wrong?


r0mulus VWAndy Tue, 05/22/2018 - 03:10 Permalink

Robots are soooo great. They can fight way harder and more indiscriminately than humans, even through heavy nuclear fallout. Bombs go off? No problems- hunker down and let the robots keep going at it! BOO YAH! And the US DoD even already has something called Skynet. Isn't that so cool, that they copied that from Terminator, which made future humanity look sooo rad? /s

In reply to by VWAndy

True Blue Tue, 05/22/2018 - 00:37 Permalink

Always said the 'three laws of robotics' was utter nonsense, given that almost every robot yet devised has been made to kill people. (And yes, 'smart' bombs, homing torpedoes and any self guided missile counts.)

Mementoil Tue, 05/22/2018 - 00:37 Permalink

If previous governments needed the plebs as cannon fodder, future governments will not.
They will have armies of robots, and the people will become superfluous, nothing more than a nuisance to the elite.

desirdavenir Eyes Opened Tue, 05/22/2018 - 04:03 Permalink

nation states and democracies are built on the power of milicias made up of civilians and given a rifle (aka non-expert armies). Number is what matters, so governments must in the long term provide what the majority.

Now if a handful of billionaires are able to create an army with few compliant expert soldiers and a mass of capital (robots, drones,...) which is able to control the people, then it is ensured game over for democracy. 

Your antisemitism is just a distraction to the real issue at stake here

In reply to by Eyes Opened

desirdavenir css1971 Tue, 05/22/2018 - 04:47 Permalink

... for the moment, but it evolves at a much faster rate than humans. I am not talking about today, but about the long term. Already, consider China where the government can put in place a massive surveillance apparatus at next to no cost (social monitoring via online behaviour monitoring). Citizens are made (softly) to comply with the norm. What robotic army permits is to enforce hard compliance, that is to go from "consent of the mass is ensured by social engineering and social monitoring", which may fail at some point if enough people decide it's enough, to "consent of the mass is ensured, period", with no way of opting out for peoples. For this to play out we'll need first to see soft compliance fail (to motivate government and corporations to go to the next level), get the ideology that will authorize morally to kill civilians for the greater good (because chaos will be deemed worse than compliance at all cost), and then only can these robotic armies be deployed to provide security to the good, law-abiding citizens from their non-complying neighbours. So it's not for next year, and I won't give a timeline as this is event-dependent, but it will surely come, by planning or by accident. And technology will be in place.

In reply to by css1971

LetThemEatRand Tue, 05/22/2018 - 00:50 Permalink

At what point am I supposed to stop thinking Trump is going to stop this madness?  I mean, we're only 1.5 years in, and we all know he increased the military budget to build the wall, right?

dunce Tue, 05/22/2018 - 01:17 Permalink

Mobile robots are very expensive and hard to conceal from the enemy. There are situations where stationery low cost expendable sentries could be deployed. Tactically placed  and camouflaged, the enemy would not be easily able to tell they were being fired on by machines. Remote communications could bring in air support.

SybilDefense ItsAllBollocks Tue, 05/22/2018 - 03:39 Permalink

"Mr president, we must not have an AI killer Robot gap!"

Its time to go underground and breed prodigiously with females selected for their highly alluring characteristics. Don't want to be last in line when "it" hits.

Where are we going to dump all the wasted robots once they are shot to hell?  I hope they'll be recyclable at least.  I would hate for the alien invasion or Jesus to visit after its all over and think 'what they hell are all these robots lying around with holes in them.' How untidy and quite embarrassing... should anyone be around to give a crap.

In reply to by ItsAllBollocks

evokanivo Tue, 05/22/2018 - 02:05 Permalink

I disagree with most of the military actions taken over the last while, but building robots is a no-brainer. Whoever has better mass-produced killer robots will win all future non-nuclear wars. Period.

Eyes Opened evokanivo Tue, 05/22/2018 - 03:23 Permalink

"Whoever has better mass-produced killer robots will win all future non-nuclear wars. Period."


You make it sound like its a good thing...

The ability to wage war without human casualties simply means war is much more likely to be seen as the go-to option by governments... & if the citizens complain, well,  they will have robots to keep your RFID chippped ass in line...ACCESS DENIED !!


In reply to by evokanivo

evokanivo Eyes Opened Tue, 05/22/2018 - 04:29 Permalink

Well then let me be clear - it's not a good thing at all. It's just a fact. Look, you think China isn't going to build these? Russia already has autonomous tanks etc, in part because they know they have fewer troops than many potential competitors and huge land mass. So if China and Russia will make them, you bet your ass the stars and stripes are going to make them too. That's the issue with war/coercion in general, you have to build the capacity even if you don't plan to use it.

But of course we will use it - against others and against ourselves to keep the rubes in line. I'm not advocating for it, rather I'm predicting how our little prison planet game will play out.

In reply to by Eyes Opened