Robots to Replace Troops on the Battlefield
Policy + Politics

Robots to Replace Troops on the Battlefield

20th Century Fox

The Pentagon is considering replacing thousands of troops with robots, a military commander said recently, marking the first time a DOD official has publicly acknowledged that humans would be replaced with robots on the battlefield.

Gen. Robert Cone, head of the Army Training and Doctrine Command, made the comment at the Army Aviation symposium on Jan. 15, according to a report in Defense News, a trade publication covering the military. He said that robots would allow for “a smaller, more lethal, deployable and agile force.”

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“I’ve got clear guidance to think about what if you could robotically perform some of the tasks in terms of maneuverability, in terms of the future of the force,” Cone said.

DOD did not respond to a request for comment on Cone’s remarks.

Cone also said that one-quarter of a 4,000 troop Brigade Combat Team could be replaced by robots or drones. His announcement comes as the entire Pentagon is shrinking, including troop reductions. DOD officials have said that the size of the force would shrink from 540,000 to 450,000 by 2020.

The Pentagon and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have been aggressively pursuing robot technology. DOD has already invested billions of dollars with companies like Boston Dynamics, now owned by Google, to develop the technology.

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So far, the company has developed the AlphaDog robot, designed to haul heavy military equipment for soldiers. Last year alone, DOD spent $7 million on the Avatar Program, which is attempting to find a way to upload a soldier’s consciousness to a robot. It also spent $11 million on a program that is developing robots that act autonomously.

These robots, combined with the already widespread use of drones and robots to detect bombs, are prompting fears that the human element would be removed from combat. Human Rights Watch and the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, an international coalition concerned that robots could replace humans, have launched preemptive campaigns to ban their use.  

If more advanced robots are used in battle, it would be years down the line. Lt. Gen. Keith Walker told Defense News that widespread use of robots could not occur until the “deep future” - sometime between 2030 and 2040.

“We’ll need to fundamentally change the nature of the force, and that would require a breakthrough in science and technology,” he said.

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