Robotic Guns

Scary, but philosophically no different than land mines:

Developed by state-owned Rafael, See-Shoot consists of a series of remotely controlled weapon stations which receive fire-control information from ground sensors and manned and unmanned aircraft. Once a target is verified and authorized for destruction, operators sitting safely behind command center computers push a button to fire the weapon.

Posted on July 2, 2007 at 8:42 AM37 Comments


igloo July 2, 2007 9:03 AM

Not quite so bad as a land mine or scattered cluster bomblets in that it still needs a human bean to pull the trigger. At least it can be remotely (de)activated. The scary thing would be if full control was passed to so-called ‘intelligent’ sensing control programs that would quite happily mis-identify an innocent child as a terrorist – oh! hang on! a human bean can do that too….

Timm Murray July 2, 2007 9:20 AM

Can at least be removed easier than a land mine. Land mines can sit there long after the war is over and have become a serious problem in some countries.

Dewey July 2, 2007 9:21 AM

Seems very different from land mines:

  • a person is still making a decision
  • system will not function without a person in the loop
  • system dangerous only to “certain category” rather than “everyone”.

Of course, all these aspects could be changed and “fail safe” is an issue. Also, of course, these systems would be vulnerable to compromises that the old “one person holding a gun standing on a piece of ground” isn’t.

I think the big difference from the above is the lack of “sportsmanship” in that the shooter isn’t at risk. Despite many movies glorifying honor, chivalry, etc, I’m not sure that war is a good place for sportsmanship.

This is scary in many ways, but I think philosophically very different from land mines.

FP July 2, 2007 9:26 AM

@igloo: “The scary thing …”

No, once that is done, the robotic guns are equivalent to land mines. A land (or sea) mine also depends on its “intelligent” sensors and control programs (pressure, MAD, timer, etc.) to detonate. It is a philosophical debate whether “more intelligence” makes for better or worse weapons. Not that it matters to the dead.

Whether land mines (including cluster munitions) are morally acceptable has been discussed for decades.

lars July 2, 2007 9:26 AM

@igloo “close sensor-to-trigger circuit” is the goal, the human intermediary is just a means to error proof the system during development.

I do support the statement of Bruce. Whether your landmine is waiting for pressure-sensors and explodes or reacting on visual sensors and hurling ammunition makes no difference in the classification of the thing itself.

Albatross July 2, 2007 9:37 AM

A crucial difference between robotic (or remote-controlled) guns and land mines is that they work at a distance. Mines can with skill and luck be detected, given time and equipment. The fact that a robotic gun is pointed at you from a quarter mile away cannot.

And unlike mines, remotely-controlled guns are ideal tools of assassinations. Your assassin cannot be captured and interrogated, because after he fires his remote-controlled weapon at a victim a thousand feet away from it, he simply logs off and makes himself a cup of tea.

Just imagine the trouble after some of these guns fall into the “wrong hands.” Meanwhile, I’m trying to think of who I would consider the “right hands.”

SLR July 2, 2007 10:15 AM

I think it’s been mentioned, but to expound… one of the big problems with land mines is what happens when the war is over. They sit there, waiting for somebody to step on them.

This robotic gun system… well, the ground sensors sit there, waiting for somebody to step on them, but the gun has been taken home. Which is to say, people stop dying from left-over weapons from an already over war.

As for the other questions of morality in land-mining or robo-gunning? shrug I never quite worked out any sort of ethical boundaries in war, which is not to say there are none, I just never worked them out.

David Dyer-Bennet July 2, 2007 10:22 AM

The description here seems to have a man in the loop on the “robotic” gun. To me that’s the key difference from a land mine; the problem with a land mine is that it has no target discrimination and no off switch (I know some modern landmines are intended to self-disable after a time period).

PorkBellyFutures July 2, 2007 10:46 AM

“the problem with a land mine is that it has no target discrimination and no off switch”

Exactly. It’s a major humanitarian issue because you end up with hundreds of millions of these things under the ground all over the world, even after the conflicts that used them end. If land mines stopped killing people after the war was over, they wouldn’t be banned.

I’m not sure what Bruce meant by ‘philosophically no different’. If he meant ‘no worse than a land mine’, then I’d agree. If he meant ‘just as objectionable’, than I don’t think so.

Andy Dingley July 2, 2007 11:01 AM

The most significant difference here is simply the cost. Expensive complicated off-route landmines don’t main thousands in Angola et al., it’s the vast numbers of cheap AP landmines that do it.

markm July 2, 2007 11:06 AM

Land mines can be equipped with remote control, giving them the same discrimination capabilities as the remote-controlled gun. However, if the mine isn’t used and it’s location is forgotten – which is pretty likely to happen, since in a war troops die and headquarters get bombed, destroying the paperwork – it will eventually corrode into a state where it can explode when bumped even though not armed. Five, ten, even twenty years after a war, lost mines may still be killing farmers.

A machine gun that’s forgotten and left behind will probably be found and removed. Even if it’s so well concealed that it’s never found, rust and decay is far more likely to permanently disable it than to cause it to spontaneously open fire. Finally, if the machine gun is no longer linked to sensors through a functioning control system, in the unlikely event that it does fire spontaneously, the chances of hitting someone with random shooting are very small.

Dom De Vitto July 2, 2007 11:36 AM

There is a great video somewhere of a webcam connected to a PC which in turn controls a painball ‘sentry gun’.

Great video of the guy’s brother testing it out – he moves, and wham! Of course, that causes more movement 🙂

I was thinking of getting one for the from door – should make unwanted callers at least think twice – especially with a laser pointer and a voice saying “WARNING! Sentry guns ACTIVE – tracking, tracking, tracking…..”

But I’m evil 🙂

Pat Cahalan July 2, 2007 11:50 AM

Not sure these are “less dangerous” than land mines. They have a different class of exploitation.

Land mines have a pretty clear cut set of exception failures; they’re un-targeted and rely upon geographical proximity for classification of threat, and they don’t time-expire. They do have one major advantage, however, in that they are uncontrolled. The only way to game a minefield is to convince someone to go into it.

These gadgets have another, completely different set of exception failures; they are controlled (and potentially more dangerously, remotely controlled), which opens up a couple of new vulnerabilities. First, they can be exploited by someone taking over the command-and-control function. Second, they can be exploited by someone gaming the fire control information channel. If you figure out how to make your vehicles or troops look benign to the fire control channel (the unmanned vehicles or ground sensors or whatever), you’re not going to be flashing red on the remote operator’s screen. If you figure out how to jam the remote control, you can disable the system. Most fun, if you can figure out how to seize control of the command-and-control function, you can have your own remote operators shoot the guns where you want the bullets to go.

Tordr July 2, 2007 12:18 PM

They just have to cut out the human in loop and they have a fully automated gun. Just hook the gun up to a system which distinguishes humans from animal and then let the system run for itself. Much more efficient.

An automated gun will also be useful in wars. Just set it up and leave it to shoot at anything that moves, now you have a mine with a range.

The last implementation is to connect you automatic gun to a face recognition system. It will be silent, and unseen until your enemy shows up.

The thing is guns and computer system make perfect sense, they are never sleeping, never tired, following orders perfectly: the perfect soldier. The only problem is that these system can fail therefore we keep humans in the loop so far.

As movies have shown, fully automated systems can fail spectacularly and when these automated systems are mobile guns with lots of ammunition, you are looking at some real life threatening trouble. But make no mistake we will sooner or later get there.

Automated guns are much more than just mines.

Dom De Vitto July 2, 2007 12:23 PM

What a great idea!

The UK is already the most monitored place on earth, so all we just need some mini-guns strapped to the CCTV, and some sentry-gun software, and we’re ready to go !

Hey, maybe Glasgow airport would be a great place to test this out!?

Any fast moving objects full of fuel should be drilled with cannon-fire, if you ask me…..
…oh, yeah, forgot about the planes….

Anonymous July 2, 2007 12:24 PM

One of the fundamental differences between killing someone in a war and murder has always been that in the former case, your victim had a fair chance: presumably, you’re both soldiers, you’re both trained, you both have similar equipment, and it either of you could end up dead.

Automatic weapons like this take away that distinction: I fail to see how killing someone – even an “enemy combatant” – this way would be anything but murder.

That being said, I wonder what will happen when everyone in a conflict has these. Will there be any humans left on the battlefields at all? I’m just trying to figure out whether it would (ultimately) be a good thing or a bad thing if the answer to that was “no”.

Sez Me July 2, 2007 12:42 PM

@Anonymous at July 2, 2007 12:24 PM: “One of the fundamental differences between killing someone in a war and murder has always been that in the former case, your victim had a fair chance: presumably, you’re both soldiers, you’re both trained, you both have similar equipment, and it either of you could end up dead.

Automatic weapons like this take away that distinction: I fail to see how killing someone – even an “enemy combatant” – this way would be anything but murder.”

I should just keep my mouth shut, but sometimes it’s hard.

I wish there was no such thing as war, and it seems almost any thread ends up with someone posting universal condemnation of war.

The problem with this is that once you start condemning all war as murder, then only murderers will engage in it. And the danger in that is that the only side that won’t engage in it is the side that should win. The Hitlers and Husseins of the world would love it.

This isn’t about Iraq, Bush, or any of that. Honorable people can disagree whether or not a particular war is just. But I will say that I am very, very grateful that those who confronted Hitler didn’t see themselves as murderers.

Now, to get back on topic, I do not see such weapons as bad things. They seem better than landmines which served the purpose of keeping the enemy away. They may, ironically, reduce death because the enemies are less likely to stay and get shot at if they have no one to shoot back at–if these were actual guards who could attempt to make a capture, it would probably be a lot bloodier. Just like if landmines were replaced with people, there would be a shootout instead.

Best regards,

ElevenBravo July 2, 2007 1:32 PM

Any of you with real world military experience, please raise your hand.

That’s what I thought. Go back to gaming World of Warcrap.

guvn'r July 2, 2007 2:27 PM

@SM, “…enemies are less likely to stay and get shot at if they have no one to shoot back at…”

right, instead of staying home and taking shots in a one-sided engagement, they go far from home and buy box cutters and airline tickets.

tactically this is a great idea, don’t confuse tactics with strategy. Best way to win a war is before fighting it.

Anonymous July 2, 2007 3:07 PM

Wasnt this done in the movie Aliens? They were called sentry’s and I also think in Terminator 3? It was called Skynet and the computers killed off humanity.

Andrew July 2, 2007 3:15 PM

I saw a demo of one of these systems at ASIS in San Diego. Very impressive. The idea is to replace sentries, prison guards, etc. that are presently occupying (and great targets) in guard shacks and gun towers. If you have a central control running the guns, and free up the sentries as a reaction force, you can really mess up an attacker. Also you can predefine beaten zones, final protective fire, etc.

Of course, it’d make for a really great concentration camp, too. The LCD screen makes a great insulator from the reality of gunning down unarmed prisoners.

Police agencies who don’t have snipers can buy tripod-mounted remote operated sniper rifles and get almost the same effect for a lot cheaper than sending someone to sniper school.

Jon Sowden July 2, 2007 6:06 PM

@ Dewey
“Seems very different from land mines:
* system dangerous only to “certain category” rather than “everyone”.”

That applies to landmines as well. The difference is that with a landmine it is “EVERYone/thing within that class” (and the classes are fairly broad).

But it does apply.

The one philosophical difference I see is that landmines have been outlawed, ( )while these things haven’t. But then, I guess if you’re a ‘Mericun (or Russian, Indian, Chinese, or 36 others) the difference evaporates again 🙁


Jon Sowden July 2, 2007 6:10 PM

Sorry VWM, I saw your post after I posted.

One thing I noticed, reading through the comments, is that the remote operator is assumed to be infallible, and will only open fire on ‘valid’ targets. That seems like a fairly heroic assumption.


Jon Sowden July 2, 2007 6:22 PM

Last post, promise 🙂

From a tactical POV, it seems to me that – generally – these things would be reasonably easy to eliminate with artillery, direct heavy fire, or ECM or avoid altogether by going a different way. They’d work great once, maybe twice, but after that … ? Not on a modern battlefield. Also, they must be emitting RF, making detection and countermeasures somewhat easier.

They’d possibly be more useful in a prison-type situation where obstacles to movement are much more elaborate and effective and the ‘enemy’ (prisoners) have far less technology available.

Finally, people in the loop are good because they are inherently adaptive. People holding the weapons are even better because they are adaptive and can move autonomously. Robots are great at doing exactly what you told them to do, and that’s it. Overlook something in your ruleset and you’ve got a failure waiting to happen.

And you will overlook something in the ruleset.

@ elevenbravo
“Any of you with real world military experience, please raise your hand.”

raises hand
Can I stay now?


Zytheran July 2, 2007 6:40 PM

Isn’t this the same as those miniguns under the helicopters? They are remotely controlled, have a IR camera slaved to them and controlled by the gunner using a gimble stick. Ok, so they are only 8 feet away but the concept seems the same.
If the helicopter could be flown remotely then the gunner could be remote too?
Nothing new here?

However, one thing that does make these weapons different is the psychological aspect of been attacked by what can be perceived as a ‘machine’. I imagine most people would think twice even if their ideas are based on Hollywood movies and not fact.
And sooner or later the slow human will need to be taken out of the loop when the enemy, presumably with less scruples, removes theirs..

Anonymous July 2, 2007 10:07 PM

anon posted: “One of the fundamental differences between killing someone in a war and murder has always been that in the former case, your victim had a fair chance: presumably, you’re both soldiers, you’re both trained, you both have similar equipment, and it either of you could end up dead.”

So does firing Qassam rockets at civilians gives potential victims a fair chance?

It appears that if you don’t wish to be targeted by robo-guns you simply need to make sure you are nowhere near where they are placed. That seems much fairer than purposefully trying to murder civilians, the favored tactic of

Devin Croft July 2, 2007 10:53 PM

The East Germans had a system of automatic guns for stopping those attempting to get over the Berlin Wall. Of course the goal of that system was much different than this one. The German goal was to cut down anyone attempting to find freedom. The goal of this system is stop sociopaths from murdering innocents.

John Phillips July 3, 2007 2:46 AM

This is just a more sophisticated version of similar systems we used in the 70s using the GPMG setup in heavy mode on the battlefield. The only difference was that it wasn’t someone sitting in a bunker miles away using remote sensing equipment of various kind but someone nearby using mark one eye balls and controlling any number of them set up to cover predetermined arcs of fire. The other real difference here is that it is a static setup using I expect state of the art comms rather than the fire by literally wire we were using and the remote sensing of targets rather than mark one eye ball to identify the enemy. Plus it is not limited to the small arcs of fire covered by each GPMG as their arcs of fire were limited to the natural gyration of the GPMG on its heavy base when fired.

Being in a static location it is fairly easy and relatively safe, once all the bugs are ironed out, to set these up on automatic. For the simple reason that those on the other side already know that they are entering a ‘forbidden’ zone and are already at risk of being fired on by existing patrols and guards. It also has the advantage that once any conflict is over it is easy to dismantle or just switch it off, unlike most mine fields.

And yes, of course it goes without saying, that the majority of us would like to live in a world were such devices are not necessary. However, from the Israeli POV, it has two advantages, it leverages their technical expertise to remove their personnel from harm, and as someone else mentioned, it actually removes one possible source of conflict, attacks on Israeli guard posts to take hostages, as happened last year, triggering the Lebanon crisis. Thus, ironically, this could lead to a slight deescalation of conflict on the borders. After all, there is no point in taking a pillbox hostage, assuming they can get near enough to try.

John Phillips July 3, 2007 3:01 AM

And to those who have made comments about ‘fairness’, get real, as it is obvious you have never been in the forces, for there is no fairness in war. If you have a better or more effective weapon system than the enemy, you don’t say, hey lets not use it as it is unfair, you get it into the field as quickly as you can. As the more effective your weapon systems the less harm is likely to accrue to your side, and that is the only fairness in war, to win as quickly as possible and to minimise your casualties. If you can do that while minimising the enemies casualties also, all well and good, but it comes well down the list of priorities. If that comes across as callous, then sorry, but irrespective of the perceived legitimacy or otherwise of any particular war, war is about winning with minimum cost to your side and not about being fair. You can argue about fairness when the conflict is over and your personnel are out of danger.

Anonymous July 4, 2007 8:58 AM

“And to those who have made comments about ‘fairness’, get real […]”

Indeed, and this is exactly why I have no support whatsoever for “troops” of any sort at all: they are cannon fodder as far as I am concerned. Once the orders arrive, they are to follow them to the letter. If that means some or all of them die horrible deaths, hey, who said war is fair? If they are gassed to death, eaten alive by viruses, subjected to radioactive poisons, blinded with lasers, and shredded with claymores, well, that’s just part of the job. Shit like the Geneva Conventions are just a thin veneer of respectability added to keep those clueless politicians, and the people who elect them, shielded from the brutal truth of the matter of war. Who needs it? Why live a lie? As soon as we embrace Mr. Philips core position that there are no civilians, just soldiers, we can move on to accept stuff like automated gun systems, UAV’s, Qassam rocket fire and cluster bombs as a simple fact of life and move on. That some of these soldiers must face the direct wrath of the weapons he champions, while others get to sit in the safe bunkers while they rain death down upon others is one of those emergent properties of the system, as natural as gravity. If you don’t like your lot in life, stop whining and become a general or sycophantic attendant to same. Is not freedom a wonder?

John Phillips July 4, 2007 3:23 PM

Anonymous: Nice touch of hyperbole, where exactly did I say that there are no civilians only soldiers. Though to be fair to you, most wars have been fought with only a modicum of thought, if that, to the enemy’s civilians. Plus in many of the existing conflicts, such as the Middle East, Iraq and Afghanistan it is often very difficult to distinguish between the two.

But actually I was talking directly to those who complained that this particular weapon system was unfair compared to others, though my point about fairness in war is a more general one as well. Someone actually made the comment that it was unfair because it meant that those going up against it didn’t have the opportunity to inflict casualties on those operating it, or words to that effect. However, as it is, as planned at least, simply a static border defence system I see little difference to using it as a form of automated mine field. With the major advantage that unlike a mine field it is easy to disable/dismantle when the conflict is over.

On the other hand, all those worried about these systems have to do, or rather not do, is encroach on the border areas covered by these weapons. For as it is at present, if you encroach on those areas there is a chance you will be fired on, the only difference is that it will be a soldier on patrol or at a guard post or even now it will be done remotely using any number of distance weapons such as an armed UAV. Overall, all this weapon system does is what the West has done since the inception of the cold war, where possible, replace men with systems for a multitude of reasons, but all essentially political.

Igor July 5, 2007 9:41 PM

You all seem to forget a simple fact — a landmine can be used only once killing one person in the process and perhaps wounding others in close formation.

This gun is more sinister because it can “stay on duty” as long as needed and given the rapid aiming and firing capabilities it can kill dozens.

That is the fundamental difference between the turret and landmine.

Igor July 5, 2007 9:42 PM

You all seem to forget a simple fact — a landmine can be used only once killing one person in the process and perhaps wounding others in close formation.

This gun is more sinister because it can “stay on duty” as long as needed and given the rapid aiming and firing capabilities it can kill dozens.

That is the fundamental difference between the turret and landmine.

observer July 6, 2007 4:28 AM

It seems there is no limit to the cruelty of the decision makers in Israel. I am sure that they have ensured that there will never be peace in this area of the world. The utmost result of such a policy is Israel’s self destruction. Nothing else.

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