The Ministry of Defence is organising its first-ever “Robo-Wars” exercise this autumn, using drones, seacraft and a host of other innovations as part of the growing trend towards reducing the role of humans in combat.
The large-scale event off the west coast of Scotland will form part of the regular UK-led Nato Joint Warriors exercise.
The navy, on its website, is billing the robotic part as “Unmanned Warrior 2016”, and says: “Recognising a commitment to innovation, the Royal Navy will host a large-scale demonstration in a tactically representative environment of maritime autonomous systems in the autumn of 2016.”
More than 80 countries around the world, including the US and China, have stepped up research and development of “killer robots” and other non-human forms of warfare.
Although large-scale civilian casualties from robotic warfare – mainly from drones – are already a reality, military personnel, analysts and academics have predicted that combat would one day be conducted between armies of robots and unmanned vehicles.
Drones, which were still in their infancy a decade ago, are now numerous and a central part of warfare conducted by the US and UK. Drones are becoming smaller and smarter, and are operating underwater.
The US is already well advanced in developing unmanned craft to hunt submarines, including nuclear ones. These craft are equipped with sophisticated sensors specifically designed to pick up the quietest of engines.
The exercise, to be held in the Minch strait between the Inner and Outer Hebrides in October, will focus mainly on the use of unmanned and autonomous maritime craft – both on the surface and under the waves – and air surveillance. The focus will be on areas such as anti-submarine warfare and mine countermeasures as well as intelligence gathering.
In addition to providing training for the military, the navy is inviting companies developing this kind of technology to use the exercise to showcase their innovations in a simulated combat situation, described by the navy as “a realistic workout”.
The US navy is participating in the exercise as well as Nato’s centre of maritime research and experimentation.
The Joint Warrior exercises, one of the biggest military exercises in Europe, are held twice a year in Scotland, in April and October. One exercise last year involved 50 ships, 70 aircraft and 13,000 personnel from 15 Nato nations.