Murphy's Law: Screwing With Superweapons


November 1, 2007: New weapons provide both opportunities, and problems. There have been lots of new weapons introduced in Iraq and Afghanistan, and all of them have presented situations no one anticipated. For example, the widespread use of micro-UAVs (like the U.S. Army Raven) forced the enemy to adapt. New weapons always do that. Before long, Raven users noted that alleyways were covered with palm founds or laundry drying, which enabled enemy gunmen to move about without being seen. Fortunately, that practice did not become widespread, for the enemy in both countries were not as adept as they could have been in spreading the word. Although Raven was quiet (it used an electric motor), it could still be heard in a quiet environment. Raven users quickly discovered that this noticeable presence of Raven overhead could be used to force the enemy to move, or at least show themselves. By having a Raven circle over a suspected building or compound, any enemy inside had to fear they had been spotted and that a smart bomb would be soon be on the way. Time to run, and then the U.S. troops would be waiting.

A lot of these enemy responses are hard to anticipate. And sometimes there are obstacles closer to home. This happened as armed robots were tested. These systems, called Swords (Special Weapons Observation Reconnaissance Detecting System) are 125 pound remotely controlled vehicles (they look like miniature tanks), armed with a 5.56mm machine-guns and 350 rounds of ammo). Also known as Talon IIIB, the army spent over a year testing them in the United States. They found there were many ways to mess with Swords, many tricks didn't even damage the equipment. Some methods (short of shooting the droids) were not permitted because the manufacturer was willing to let the army test, but not damage, the Swords bots. Unless the army wanted to buy one for that purpose. The army wanted to test before buying, and that debate went on for a while.

There were also intense discussions, often without lawyers present, over how Swords would impact the ROE (Rules of Engagement) the troops had to follow. Could you use Swords to intimidate civilians? Were some Swords tactics to be considered torture, and thus forbidden.

There were also earnest discussions of how best to use these valuable systems (Swords cost over $100,000) without "waste." Part of the high cost comes from the addition weapons safety systems installed, and tested. The problem is that Swords can defend itself, and be sent into a particularly dangerous location to kill or wound enemy troops. This is uncharted territory, but the troops assigned to be the "enemy" quickly demonstrated that Swords was not going to be a superweapon. However, the real foes in Iraq have not caught on to many of the droids weaknesses. At least not yet.




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