Art Pottery, Politics and Food
Monday, January 24, 2005

Fighting robots from the sky
Fearless cans that roll on by
Cans that blink, teleview and slay
The cold cans of the Tin Beret.

A disingenuous report spreading through European and US newspapers this morning announces the March or April 2005 arrival of “robotic warriors” onto the Iraqi battlefield.
These “robots” are reconfigured versions of Massachusetts-based Foster-Miller’s remote-operated TALON bomb-disposal devices.
These weaponized platforms made similar news on technical web sites in December of 2004 though many have suspected their use from the beginning of the wars on terror.
According to the previously linked Associated Press report:

The Army is preparing to send 18 of these remote-controlled robotic warriors to fight in Iraq beginning in March or April. Made by a small Massachusetts company, the SWORDS, short for Special Weapons Observation Reconnaissance Detection Systems, will be the first armed robotic vehicles to see combat.

The AP report strives to make this a good news for soldiers story and suggests the idea to reconfigure TALON came from foot soldiers themselves while thoughtlessly contradicting its earlier stated date of combat usage:

It was a "bootstrap development process" to convert a Talon robot, which has been in military service since 2000, from its main mission…employees of the robotics firm heard from soldiers "who said 'My brothers are being killed out here. We love the EOD (explosive ordnance disposal), but let's put some weapons on it.”

Aside from questions pertaining to morality, the long human history of battlefield honor, any pretense of an Iraqi version of Vietnam’s Hearts and Minds, the future economic impact on outsourced foot soldiery, battlefield sustainability of the devices themselves and personal revulsion, I’ve discovered, as previously indicated, problems with the future tense utilized in these news reports' lead paragraphs.
According to the manufacturers own web page:

TALON robots have been in continuous, active military service since 2000…TALON robots were the first robots taken into Afghanistan during action against the Taliban and Osama bin Laden in February 2002. They initially accompanied the Special Forces on a Classified mission, and are still there now doing EOD work. They were on the ground in Kuwait when coalition forces massed in 2003 and have been in Iraq ever since performing EOD/IED (improvised explosive device) missions. TALON robots have now completed more than 20,000 EOD missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The robot soldier travels on tank-like treads at 4 m.p.h., is equipped with night vision and zoom lensed cameras, is powered with a lithium-ion battery having a 1 to 4 hour charge, costs $200,000 per robot and should prove (and, likely has proved) short work and another psychological win for the dogged Iraqi insurgency.
Believe me when I say that I take absolutely no pleasure in describing what appears to be another military-industrial complex boondoggle courtesy of Washington’s short-sighted and tech-crazy war-planners.

Images:, AP
Apologies: SSgt. Barry Sadler, The Ballad of the Green Beret

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