According to the report, anti-government Libyan National Army fighters, under military commander Khalifa Haftar, were retreating last March following an unsuccessful attack on Tripoli, when they ran into a swarm of terrifying aerial opponents.
They were “hunted down” by unmanned drones, as well as “lethal autonomous weapons systems,” the latter of which can be programmed by controllers to seek out and attack targets, and carry out these instructions even if communications with the controllers are severed.
Haftar’s fighters “were neither trained nor motivated to defend against the effective use of this new technology and usually retreated in disarray,” the report continues. While in retreat, “they were subject to continual harassment” from the killer robots.
It is unclear whether the drones were in contact with human controllers during these reported attacks, or whether they were directly responsible for any casualties or deaths.
Were they operating autonomously, the scenario described in the report would likely mark a horrifying milestone: the first recorded incidence of truly independent robots attacking humans on the battlefield.
However, the report does not specify what level of autonomy the robots were functioning under.
The drones, known as “loitering munitions,” are quadcopter-type vehicles outfitted with cameras and carrying small explosive devices. Left in an area to operate, they identify targets and dive from the air, blowing themselves up upon impact.
The devices identified in Libya were ‘Kargu-2’ loitering munitions, deployed on the Libyan battlefield by Turkish forces allied with the UN-backed and Tripoli-based Government of National Accord.
Their deployment, the UN report noted, is in violation of a 2011 UN Security Council resolution prohibiting member states from engaging in “the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer” of arms to the country.
The move to autonomous weapons has been predicted by analysts for years now, and calls have mounted for a ban on such devices. The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, a coalition of peace activists, scientists, academics and politicians, is lobbying the UN to adopt an international ban.
“Current machine learning-based systems cannot effectively distinguish a farmer from a soldier,” security analyst Zachary Kallenborn wrote in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists last week.
“Farmers might hold a rifle to defend their land, while soldiers might use a rake to knock over a gun turret… various factors may inhibit an accurate decision.”
The tactical Kargu-2 drones – the name comes from an old Turkish word for a watchtower — have a high degree of onboard intelligence, and the forthcoming addition of swarming capability takes them to a new level.
The Kargu-2, produced by Turkish company STM, is a 15-pound multicopter with a top speed of about 90 mph and an endurance of half an hour.
In standard mode it is controlled directly by an operator from up to six miles away; when a target is spotted the drone locks on to it and dives in, destroying it with an explosive charge.
The concept is similar to the Switchblade loitering munition used by U.S. Special Forces, although the Kargu-2 has a much bigger warhead.
Kargu-2’s three-pound warhead comes in three varieties, an explosive/fragmentation version for personnel and light vehicles, a thermobaric version to destroy buildings and bunkers and a shaped charge for heavy armor. Unlike Switchblade, which is strictly one use only, Kargu-2 can return safely to the operator for re-use if no target is found.
The drone features LIDAR, daylight camera and infra-red imaging. While it can be controlled directly it is highly autonomous, able to fly a route and use deep learning algorithms to locate, track and identify targets without human assistance. STM CEO Murat Ikinci told the newspaper Hurriyet that Kargu has facial recognition, suggesting it can seek out specific individuals. It is described as being engineered for ‘anti-terror and asymmetric warfare scenarios.’ (It sounds a lot like the fictional Slaughterbots).
STM also make the ALPAGU, a smaller tube-launched kamikaze fixed-wing drone with many elements in common.
Header: Kargu-2 Autonomous Rotary Wing Attack Drone STM