Nations in Race to Develop Combat Robots

      October 22, 2009 10:50

      A military robot /Courtesy of the Army

      The age when unmanned robots will replace soldiers on the battlefield is not far off, said Kim Soo-hyun, a professor of mechanical engineering at the Korea Advanced Institute for Science and Technology, in a seminar hosted by the Army on Wednesday.

      Research is under way in the Army to develop a future combat system by 2025 where soldiers engage in combat alongside military robots. Kim said around the world combat robots that mimic a wide range of organisms including humans, dogs, scorpions, centipedes, lizards, fish and even grasshoppers are being developed.

      China, France, Japan, Switzerland, the U.K. and the U.S. are developing robots that resemble fish which can function as unmanned submarines. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology already tested the "Robotuna," while research is under way for China's "Dongle," France's "Jessiko," Japan's "Robotic Koi" and Switzerland's "Boxybot." Research is also under way for snake-like amphibious robots.

      The United States leads the world in the development of military robots. "Packbot," which has already been tested in Afghanistan and Iraq, is equipped with a shotgun capable of sustained, long-distance fire, while a mounted camera relays images in real time. The U.S. military's favorite robots are the "Talon," designed to defuse explosive devices, the "Panther," which removes mines and the "Predator" drone used for unmanned aerial surveillance and bombing missions. Kim pointed out that robots are especially useful on dangerous missions such as scouting enemy territory or removing explosives.

      The Korean military deployed the "Aegis" robot for troops sent to Iraq. It is capable of guard duty and lethal attacks on enemy targets. The military plans to deploy Aegis robots along the demilitarized zone.

      According to Korea's long-term robot development plan, the initial focus will be on developing robots to detect and remove mines and conduct surveillance operations and move on to produce multi-purpose robots capable of both reconnaissance and combat missions. The ultimate goal is to develop military robots that can provide fire support in combat.

      Kim, who also heads research into automated defense systems at KAIST, said, "This is still a largely untapped area where Korea could become a leader if it focuses its investments."

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