Ever since human beings started use of weapons to fight, technology started playing greater and greater roles in successive wars. Technology was always aimed to be used by warring parties to enhance their capabilities and effectiveness. The growth of technology made the weapons more lethal and effective and created options for warriors to use weapons even from farther distances. Each new military technology, from the bow and arrow to the bomber plane to unmanned vehicle has moved soldiers farther and farther from their foes.
Since the beginnings of civilization man has had a fascination for a human-like creation that would assist him. Societies in the early part of the first millennium engaged in slavery and used those slaves to perform the tasks which were either dirty or menial. Having slaves freed, the enslavers concentrated on what they perceived as more important tasks such as business and politics. Man had discovered mechanics and the means of creating complex mechanisms which would perform repetitive functions such as water wheels and pumps. Technological advances were slow but there were more complex machines, generally limited to a very small number, which performed great functions.
Electronics became the driving force of development instead of mechanics with the advent of the first electronic autonomous robots created by William Grey Walter in Bristol, England in 1948. The first digital and programmable robot was invented by George Devol in 1954 and was ultimately called the ‘Unimate’. Devol sold the first Unimate to General Motors in 1960 where it was used to lift pieces of hot metal from die casting machines in a plant in Trenton, New Jersey  . Since then we have seen robots finally reach a more true assimilation of all technologies to produce robots such as ASIMO which can walk and move like a human. Robots have replaced role of slaves in the assistance of performing those repetitive and dangerous tasks which humans prefer not to do or unable to do due to its own limitations or external constraints.
With the development of the General Atomics MQ-1 Predator, robotic weapons came of age. The operations of this Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Northern Africa in the last few years have given us a glimpse of the future of high tech war. Perhaps more importantly, it is likely that in future wars, decisions about when weapons are fired and who they are fired at may increasingly be in the hands of machines. Finally, it is a future that is likely to come about not because it represents a better, less destructive, way of fighting war but because the dynamics driving the development of unmanned weapon systems (UMS) are likely to dictate that they be used more often in more and more roles. Now that we have had a glimpse of this future, it is time to begin thinking about the dynamics of development and deployment of robotic weapons and its effect on warfare.
This paper aims to identify and highlight the developments in the field of Robotics and its effect on warfare.
What is a Robot?
Robots are physical agents that perform tasks by manipulating the physical world. To do so they are equipped with ‘effectors’ such as legs, wheels, joints and grippers. Effectors have a single purpose to assert physical forces on the environment. Robots are also equipped with sensors, which allow them to perceive their environment. Present day robotics employs a diverse set of sensors, including cameras and ultrasound to measure the environment, and gyroscopes and accelerometers to measure the robot’s own motion  .
There is no single definition of the term ‘robot’ which satisfies everyone. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica a robot is ‘any automatically operated machine that replaces human effort, though it may not resemble human beings in appearance or perform functions in a humanlike manner’. Merriam-Webster describes a robot as a ‘machine that looks like a human being and performs various complex acts (as walking or talking) of a human being’ or a ‘device that automatically performs complicated often repetitive tasks’, or a ‘mechanism guided by automatic controls’.
Type of Robots
Although there is no universally accepted classification of robots, the robots can be differentiated on the basis its size, applications or construction. The robots can be broadly categorized in one of three primary categories.
Manipulators are physically anchored to their workplace, for example in a factory assembly line or on the space station or in defence laboratories. Manipulator motion usually involves an entire chain of controllable joints, enabling such robots to place their effectors in a position within the work place. Manipulators are by far the most common type of Industrial Robots installed in large number worldwide. The International Organisation for Standardization gives a definition of a manipulating industrial robot in ISO 8373 as “an automatically controlled, reprogrammable, multipurpose, manipulator programmable in three or more axes, which may be either fixed in place or mobile for use in industrial automation applications.” This definition is used by the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), the European Robotics Research Network (EURON) and many national standards committees.
Mobile robots have the capability to move around in their environment and are not fixed to one physical location. Mobile robots move about their environment using wheels, legs or similar mechanisms. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), Unmanned Land Vehicle (ULV) and Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUV) are examples of mobile robot. Mobile robots are found in military and security environments. Mobile robots are the focus of a great deal of current research. They have been put to use in moving containers at loading docks and delivering food in hospitals.
It is a mobile robot equipped with manipulators. Humanoid robot is an example of hybrid robot whose physical design mimics the human torso. Hybrid can apply their effectors further afield than anchored manipulators can, but their task is made harder because they do not have the rigidity that the anchor provides.
Importance of Robotics
The field of robotics has gained its importance because it encourages bringing evolutionary changes and creating machine with intelligence and other related capabilities. Many developed and technologically advanced countries foresee potential in the robotics technology with an opportunity to overcome human limitations in area of military, industry and service sectors and look for a better future. Some of the probable reasons for importance assigned to robotics are as follow.
Advantage in Warfare
Robotics can save war fighters lives by detecting chemical, biologic, and explosive hazards. Robots neither fear nor are required to be fed. They do not feel distressed if soldier next to him has just been shot. A survey found that saving lives of soldiers was the greatest benefit and the greatest concern was the risk to civilians by use of robots. Robots could make better war fighters. There are five ways that robots could be better equipped than human soldiers: Robots do not need to protect themselves. Robots can have better sensors. They don’t experience or act on emotions which can affect their judgment on the battlefield. They can limit illogical conclusions. Robots can integrate more information and more rapidly, including macro level battlefield situations. Robots can also detect mines five times faster than humans and in a test of a robot’s guns, it hit the bulls–â€eye seventy out of seventy tries, its rockets hit the target sixty-two out of sixty–â€two times and its antitank rockets hit the target sixteen out of sixteen times.
Increased Productivity and Changing Demography
Robots will be a key technology to greatly increase the productivity of individual humans. Demographic trends worldwide especially in developed countries demand the increased utilization of robots due to strain on its future work force. The countries will face profound challenges in populating its military, in providing construction labor, in nursing and elderâ€care, in fire fighting and emergency services, in all aspects of service industries, and in manufacturing. These trends point to the problem of who will fund social security and take care of aged population as the ratio of older and largely retired people to younger working people increases.
Sensitivity towards Casualties
The advancement of information and communication technology, global awareness to war and invasion of media has brought war in drawing rooms and bed rooms. This has made human life valuable. The families, societies and nations are either averse or less tolerant to war causalities. Although human life is equally important and costly all over the world, however, losses are less acceptable to developed nations.
Prospect of Arms Trade
Technology at all time has been the driver of arms trade. Also development of technologies costs significantly. The entrepreneurial motive always drives technology with the aim to commercialize at last so as to recover and reinvest in the future technologies. The relationship among corporate, industries, government institutions and academic institutions mutually supports each other’s interest to a great extent. Technology, industry and trades are vehicles of prosperity. Lead in these areas ultimately facilitates Arms trade and adds to the well being of nations and its people at large
Exploitation of Technological Superiority
Nations have invested over years in technology, infrastructure and human resources in order to gain and maintain supremacy and continue to reap the fruits of technological advancements. Countries will certainly like to exploit opportunities associated with their technological leadership. The global impact of robotics on military, industry and service sector is important to the countries involved in the growth of Robotics. A glance at global activity would unveil two countries at the forefront of robotics development: Japan and the United States. For a considerable time, Japan has been at the forefront of robot development. Japanese researchers-commercial and academic-have been responsible for many of the major developments in entertainment, domestic, and humanoid robotics. Robotics researchers in the United States have also been extremely influential, with key developments in autonomous vehicles, robots for security, defense robots, and domestic robots. Defense organizations like Defence Advance Research Project Agency (DARPA) generate substantial funding for R&D, and defense applications often act as a proving ground for innovative technologies including robotics and thus the impact of developments in this sector is extremely high. In addition, U.S. and Japanese researchers continue to make important developments in health care robots, autonomous vehicles (unmanned aerial vehicles and unmanned ground vehicles), and human-augmentation technologies (for example, exoskeletons). The greatest advances in robotics have been made in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), with U.S. in the lead, Israel following close behind and at least forty other countries trying to catch up.
At global level, the leading countries would like to keep the edge to exercise wider options for its geopolitical interest at an acceptable cost and human loss and certainly technological lead in the area of Robotics will strengthen its position in the world. The US currently enjoys an overwhelming superiority in arms and military technology-including robotic weapons-compared to any of its potential adversaries / enemies.
Democracy and Politics of Election
The use of robotic weapons is likely to greatly increase the likelihood and extent of asymmetric warfare. At the strategic level, the development of robotic weapons may lower the political costs of going to war by promoting the logic that war can be fought without casualties. It is understood that the possibility of removing American war fighters from the front line of combat and save their lives is one of the main factors driving interest in Unmanned Systems in the United States.
Relative Ease of Development
Many of the technologies involved in robotic weapons are “dual use”. The advent of robotic weapons makes it significantly easier for governments to avoid public scrutiny of their military. Much of the research that goes on in computer science and engineering departments in universities, into how to play robot soccer, pattern recognition, or search-and-rescue robotics, has obvious military applications. Unlike other weapons systems, the capacities of an unmanned weapon system are likely to be as much a function of its software as its hardware. Two weapon systems with the same engines, hydraulics, armament, and sensors may have very different capacities depending upon their programming. Moreover, as long as they can develop an accurate simulation of the performance of the system’s hardware, it may be possible for engineers to continue researching software for a weapons system without requiring any physical interface with the actual device. Having developed and tested new software in simulation, they might then radically improve the performance of the system simply by updating its programming.
Progress of Military Robotics
Caterpillar Tractors developed a prototype remotely controlled tractor that could be loaded with one thousand pounds of explosives and driven to up to enemy trenches to explode. This was during World War I, but the war ended before it could be used in combat. During World War II, the Germans developed a device, The Goliath, the size of goâ€cart with tank tracks on each side that resembles a modern military robot made by Foster Miller. The Goliath could carry 132 pounds of explosives. Both of these systems required human direction and detonation.
Most technologies go through a slow stage of initial development before they become widely adopted by successfully meeting the needs of the market or a market niche. The Director of the Robotics Program Office at the Army Research Laboratory, Charles Shoemaker, reiterates the difficulty of building autonomous UGVs, but expressed his conviction that they are going to develop systems that work for a whole range of tactical mission. Amounts spent on robotics have doubled every year since September 11, 2001 and the military has found many uses in Iraq. At the beginning of the second Iraqi war there were no robots in use and Singer estimates that in 2008 there were 12,000 in active use by the military. According to Bart Everett. a U.S. Navy robotics researcher, there are two factors that have caused this growth: robots that are sophisticated enough to accomplish useful tasks have become affordable and the world situation has changed with the lethality, variety, and sophistication of various threats. He sees, “the robot is our answer to the suicide bomber”.
There are two major manufacturers of military robotics, iRobot and Foster–Miller. Researchers started iRobot and the company focuses on invention. They also make the vacuuming robot known as the Roomba. Currently, they produce the PackBot, a relatively lightweight robot used mainly to defuse Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). The PackBot is modular with eight payload bays that allow users to customize it for specific uses as a mine detector, chemical weapons sensor, or as a remote demolition device. All of these applications can be seen as defensive against greater threats and the robot is still controlled by a human. However, they have also introduced the Warrior X700, which can carry rapid–â€fire weapons and looks like a small tank.
Engineers founded Fosterâ€Miller and the company focuses on more practical defense applications. “Fosterâ€Miller makes the PackBot’s primary competitor, the Talon which first hit the market in 2000. The Talon looks like a small tank, driven by two treads that run its length. Weighing just over a hundred pounds, it is a bit bigger than the PackBot. It too has a retractable arm with a gripper, but mounts its main sensors on a separate antenna–â€like ‘mast’ sticking up from the body and carrying a zoom camera. Talon can go up to speed of about 5.5 mph, the equivalent of a decent jog on a treadmill, a pace it can maintain for five hours”. Its capabilities exceed those of all but the most athletic war fighters. “Like the PackBot, the Talon comes in all sorts of different versions, including EOD, reconnaissance, and a hazmat (hazardous materials) robot. The real killer app, though, is its SWORDS version. This robot’s name comes from the acronym for Special Weapons Observation Reconnaissance Detection System. SWORDS is the first armed robot designed to roam the battlefield”. SWORDS still requires a tether via radio or fiber optics for human control. These two robotic weapons systems have changed from initially defensive systems to blatantly offensive weapons.
In addition to these two company’s products, “the Pentagon is pushing ahead with plans for new ground robots such as the MULE (Multifunction Logistics and Equipment Vehicle), a two and a-half ton truck that could carry supplies into battle or wounded soldiers out of it; the Armed Robotic Vehicle, a five–â€ton mini–â€tank that could be equipped with missiles or a 30mm chain gun; and the Soldier Unmanned Ground Vehicle, a thirty–â€pound, man–â€portable scout that comes equipped with weapons and sensors. There are all integral elements of the Army’s Future Combat Systems”. Companies have also developed robots to move about in tunnels and the sewer infrastructure beneath cities.
The greatest advances in robotics have been made in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), with the U.S. in the lead, Israel following close behind and at least forty other countries trying to catch up. By the time Iraq war began in 2003, the U.S. fielded six major UAVs: the Air Force’s Predator, and Global Hawk, the Army’s Hunter and Shadow, and the Marines’ Pioneer and Dragon Eye. These ranged in size from the 27,000 pound Global Hawk to the five-pound Dragon eye. What they had in common was they were all designed as surveillance systems. But in a pattern that echoes the history of manned flight, UAV’s such as the Predator were soon put to work attacking enemy positions  .
Soon to be deployed are drones built especially for combat-Boeing’s X-45 and Northrop Grumman’s X-47. Both are designed to be invisible to radar and to perform especially dangerous missions like suppressing enemy air defenses. The major difference is that the X-45 is supposed to take off from land like the F-15, while X-47 is to operate off aircraft carriers like the F- 18. Also in development is the Unmanned Combat Armed Rotorcarft, which designed to perform the functions of an attack helicopter like the Apache. An unmanned helicopter, known as Fire Scout, is already being bought by the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. Unlike the Predator, most of these new UAV’s do not require constant control by a human operator, newer UAV’s can be programmed to fly them and even drop munitions without direct human intervention.
The U.S. Navy is exploring robotic technology for a variety of its own missions. In addition to carrier-based UAVs (both fixed-wing and rotary), the navy is developing Unmanned Surface Vehicles and Unmanned Undersea Vehicles. Most of these drones would swim, but some might crawl along the ocean floor like crabs. They could perform such difficult missions as antisubmarine warfare, mine clearance, undersea mapping and surveillance in coastal waters.
All drones, whether operating on soil, sea or sky, offer major advantages over traditional manned vehicles. They can be deployed for longer periods because robots don’t need to eat to sleep; they can undertake maneuvers that might put too much stress on the human frame; they can be made much smaller and cheaper because they don’t need all sorts of expensive redundancies and life-support systems (no oxygen tanks, no ejection seats); and they can be much more readily sent on high-risk missions because, should anything go wrong, nobody has to worry about notifying the next of kin. These advantages have persuaded Congress to ratchet up spending on unmanned programs. Lawmakers have mandated that one-third of all U.S. deep strike aircraft be unmanned by 2010 and of all ground combat vehicles by 2015. Ground-based unmanned autonomous vehicles (UAVs) such as DARPA’s Unmanned Ground Combat Vehicle are already being created. These developments fit with a major goal of the Future Combat Systems project, with estimated costs to exceed $230 billion, to use robots as force multipliers; one soldier can be a nexus for initiating large-scale ground and aerial robot attacks. Robot autonomy is required because one soldier cannot control several robots.
There are two chief limitations on the use of robots at the moment. First, computers and sensors are not yet smart enough to deliver things close to the” situational awareness” of a human being. Second, a shortage of bandwidth limits the number of drones that can be remotely controlled at any one time. Both problems will be less acute with improvements in computer and communications technology.
Military Applications of Robots
By employing advanced sensor technologies, robots can potentially detect threats more readily than humans can-with clear advantages in combat and surveillance applications. Micro robots and robot swarms could prove extremely useful in surveillance and search-and-rescue roles. Autonomous robots could significantly improve the effectiveness of both ground and air forces. In addition, robots could reduce the number of military personnel injured or killed in combat situations. Relatively simple military robots are already in active service, providing important support to soldiers in many situations, but not engaging in direct combat. The capabilities of military robots extend to many domains where human soldiers are not able to or not willing to compete. Their deployment is thus prone to change the conduct of war both at tactical and strategic levels.
These are military robot used for transportation missions. It can be used for transportation of ammunition, weaponry, supplies or any thing else. These could be legged robots for rough terrains or may be wheeled robots. MULE (Multifunction Logistics and Equipment Vehicle) developed by is an example of this category.
Mine Clearance and IED Disposal
Mine clearance is another highly hazardous mission that can take human lives. Military robots for mine clearance are used all around the world now a day. These are usually remote controlled by an operator controlling from a safe distance. PackBot is an example which is a relatively lightweight robot used mainly to defuse Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).
Surveillance and Reconnaissance
Information and early warning are two important ingredients for effective planning and battlefield management. Different robots are used for surveillance and reconnaissance missions. Predator, Global Hawk, Hunter, Shadow, ‘ Pioneer and Dragon Eye are the unmanned aerial vehicles used by US Air Force, Army and Marine forces for surveillance and reconnaissance need of their forces . Military robots used for reconnaissance may be equipped with weaponry as well for its defensive or offensive roles
Search and Rescue
Robots are used for search and rescue missions in damaged bunkers or hazardous structures. Robots were used after the collapse of world trade center, where they entered structures deemed too dangerous for human search and rescue crews.
These robots can be armed with ammunitions for actions. Warrior X700 is an example in this category which can carry rapid–â€fire weapons and looks like a small tank.
Robots are increasingly used to assist surgeons in causality care and while operating on organs as intricate as brains, eyes and hearts. Robots have become indispensable in certain types high precision activities. Outside the operating room, researchers have begun to develop robotic aides for elderly and handicapped people, such as intelligent robotic walkers and intelligent toys that provide reminders to take medication.
Researchers have developed legged walking machines that can carry people around, very much like a wheelchair. Robotic tele-operation or tele-presence is another form of human augmentation. Tele-operation involves carrying out tasks over long distances, with the aid of robotic devices. All these systems augment people’s ability to interact with their environments. Some projects go as far as replicating humans, at least at a very superficial level. Humanoid robots are now available commercially through several companies in Japan.
Impact of Robots on warfare
The robotics technology has significant potential to make an impact on the future warfare. Some of them are as follows:
Disruptive Potential of Robotics Technology
A disruptive technology is defined as a technology with the potential to causes a noticeable – even if temporary – degradation or enhancement in one of the elements of national power (geopolitical, military, economic, or social cohesion). Robotics and its enabling technologies have already advanced to the stage where single-application robots and related systems (including autonomous vehicles) are being implemented in a wide range of defense and civil applications. Although a great deal of development is still required in terms of intelligence for robots, effective artificial intelligence (AI) and behavioral algorithms, many of the building blocks for disruptive robot systems are either already in place, or will be by 2025  . They include hardware (e.g. sensors, actuators, and power systems) and software (e.g. robot platforms). Key disruptive applications of service robotics will include uses in domestic and defense settings. In addition, robotics technology has the potential to diffuse into other application areas, for example, human augmentation and autonomous vehicles.
Robots are being designed to replace humans in a variety of applications, with each application having potentially far-reaching implications. Although truly intelligent robots are unlikely to emerge by 2025 (the key barrier being AI), robotics technology still has the potential to impact the four elements of national power: geopolitical, economic, military and cultural. Of all the four elements of national power, robotics is likely to have the greatest impact on the military element. Many robots and similar unmanned systems are already being implemented, although their capabilities are still limited. By 2025, unmanned systems with a much greater level of autonomy will have been implemented, and closely related/synergistic technologies (e.g. human augmentation systems) will extend the performance of soldiers significantly. The use of unmanned systems for terrorist activities could emerge because the availability of commercial civil robot platforms will increase significantly. The development and implementation of robots for elder-care applications, and the development of human-augmentation technologies, mean that robots could be working alongside humans in looking after and rehabilitating people including wounded soldiers.
Defensive to Offensive
Perhaps the most dramatic changes in future robots will arise from their increasing ability to reason. The field of artificial intelligence is moving rapidly from university laboratories to practical application in industry, and machines are being developed that can perform cognitive tasks, such as strategic planning and learning from experience. Increasingly, diagnosis of failures in aircraft or satellites, the management of a battlefield, or the control of a large factory will be performed by intelligent computers.
Lowering Threshold of War
The general strategic impacts of robots on human warfare, with focus on unmanned automated weapons system will lower the threshold for initiating wars. Under current conditions, such considerations have certainly limited significance for the army, where robots are preferably used as tools for highly specialized missions and the concept of a “war of robots” not likely to be realized in the near future. Unquestionably, such a notion has far more relevance for the Air Force where “unmanned air vehicles (UAV’s) like drones have effectively replaced conventional piloted planes. Such operations almost unnoticed by the public could be possible due to unmanned and precise surgical missions with least collateral losses. Wars would have been conducted very differently if only conventional manned aircraft were available. Tele-operated UAV’s may lower the threshold for warfare, as attacks can be effectively implemented by distant pilots sitting in front of computer displays somewhere in home base without leaving behind their families and civilian lifestyle and without risking personal injury and death.
In the large public opinion survey conducted by Moshkina and Arkin in 2007, most of the military as well as civil respondents 69% maintain the opinion that robots are facilitating the initiation of wars, while only small minorities about 5% have a contrary view. By facilitating war engagements without human losses, robots may give political and military leaders wider spheres of discretion. People are more likely to support the use of force as long as they view it as costless.
Robotics and Indian Military
Robotics as a technology is relevant because of its multiple applications in military, industry and home and for its promising future. Different countries have developed expertise in different applications and further pursuing the research as per their strengths, needs, circumstances and convictions. India, like any other countries, has its own strengths, circumstances and aspirations and reasons for pursuing a technology.
India has been using robots in military for different applications such as bomb disposal, armament handling and also for surveillance and reconnaissance. Most of the Robotics hardware used in Military is of foreign origin. India is yet to compete in conception and development of Robotics technology as compared to the leading nations in the field of robotics such Japan, South Korea, US, Israel etc.
The field robotics have not yet been able to find its right place in India either due to lack of vision, determination or perceived needs. Ideally the country with its vast technological manpower, industrial base and academic institutions is in better position to exploit the technology and make progress in the field of robotics. Robotics mainly being software intensive technology would have been ideal for development due to the countries inherent strength in the field of software. A modest attempt has been made in the design and development of NISHANT, an UAV, developed by ADE (Aeronautical Development Establishment) a branch of DRDO for the Indian Armed Forces DRDO.
Robots are significantly being used in industries mainly in automobile industries. Robots are yet to enter the India houses significantly. India being a developing country
Cite This Work
To export a reference to this article please select a referencing style below: