Unmanned weapons systems — in the form of surveillance drones and bomb-detonating robots — have been hailed as revolutionary technologies that have helped U.S. forces gain an edge in recent wars. But the United States may soon see that advantage evaporate as robotics technology becomes widely available, says military scholar P.W. Singer in a book titled, “Wired for War.”
A version of Newton’s laws of physics applies to war, he says. “For every revolution in military technology there is an equal and opposite reaction.” When it comes to unmanned technologies, the bounce-back may be even quicker than previous examples in history, says Singer. “Robots are not like aircraft carriers, spacecraft or atomic energy, which require a massive industry complex to build and operate. Once developed, robotic technology is often cheap and mass producible.”
Adversaries used to have to steal technology in order to copy it. Today, they only need to go to an international air show or buy a commercial version online. “Not only do U.S. military robotics developers and makers face huge competition but many think that they are already behind in the field in certain areas,” Singer says. One survey of military robotics scientists found that Japan and Europe are ahead of the United States in legged robot research.