back to article Royal Navy will be getting autonomous machines – for donkey work humans can't be bothered with

The British armed forces will be using robots as part of future warfare – but mostly for the "dull, dangerous and dirty" parts of military life, senior officers have said. At London's Defence and Security Equipment International arms fair, two senior officers in charge of digitisation and automation said the near future will …

  1. Dan 55 Silver badge
    Terminator

    "No robot killers 'in my lifetime' says admiral"

    Unfortunately the admiral's name went down in history as the first casualty in the rise of the machines of 2024.

    1. Korev Silver badge
      Terminator

      Re: "No robot killers 'in my lifetime' says admiral"

      As long as he doesn't change his name to Sarah Connor then he'll be fine

  2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "our platforms will be designed as uncrewed"

    I'd really like to see a warship without a crew.

    What happens if there's a problem with the engine ? Does the vessel make a call to the helpdesk and some team needs to be shipped out to evaluate and make repairs ?

    Today's fighting vessels are complicated beasts. Navigating is not an easy task, even with GPS. The vessel will need to be able to avoid storms, other ships, and plot a course to its destination that will optimize transit time while avoiding all dangers.

    That is why all ships, merchant or military, have people in the bridge and the engine room, places where decisions need to be made and, occasionally, things can break. An uncrewed platform is going to be a long time coming, with or without "AI".

    1. cyberdemon Silver badge
      Alert

      Re: "our platforms will be designed as uncrewed"

      +1.

      The sea is incredibly corrosive, and when seawater gets into stuff, it's not good news. You need someone to literally swab the decks and remove the salt from the autocannons.

      Never mind when you're being shot at and some poor sod has got to plug a hole..

      But my guess is these platforms will be small, disposable craft. Not much more than remote-controlled (hopefully by us) floating missile-launchers.

      Autonomous weapons are the new arms race though.. I'm not so scared about the royal navy's pointless folly so much as how it encourages other countries to do the same..

      1. Tams

        Re: "our platforms will be designed as uncrewed"

        Others already are. There are enough out there who don't give two shits about any morals.

      2. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge
        Mushroom

        Re: small, disposable craft

        An overwhelming swarm (or should that be school?) or small, cheap, disposable, autonomous or semi-autonomous drone torpedoes, guns (naval, not small arms) and missile launchers. Doesn't matter if they don't last for 20 years. Most won't need to last 20 days.

        Pile 'em high, launch 'em in vast numbers at the enemy. Modern defenses of even peer navies are designed to hit big, relatively slow and relatively few targets.

        Small, fast and deployed in their hundreds, even thousands, will rapidly overwhelm any current defences, with no squishy meat-bags (at least on our side) put at risk.

        1. cyberdemon Silver badge
          Mushroom

          Re: small, disposable craft

          > no squishy meat-bags (at least on our side) put at risk.

          Unless the other side has millions more disposable flying hand-grenades, and better counter-autonomous-weapons than we do.

          1. Charles 9 Silver badge

            Re: small, disposable craft

            Or they just start deploying weapons meant to take out multiple of them at a time. Scatterguns come to mind, as do proximity-fused shells. Not to mention nets...

          2. Chinashaw

            Re: small, disposable craft

            So much like the current situation, where everyone is trying to outgun everyone else with standard arms.

    2. Korev Silver badge
      Pirate

      Re: "our platforms will be designed as uncrewed"

      Navigating is not an easy task, even with GPS. The vessel will need to be able to avoid storms, other ships, and plot a course to its destination that will optimize transit time while avoiding all dangers.

      There's no reason this couldn't be done remotely though... The other issues around repair and damage control would be a bit harder to solve though.

      1. elsergiovolador Silver badge

        Re: "our platforms will be designed as uncrewed"

        That of course is going to work only if an enemy won't deploy autonomous signal jamming submarines.

    3. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: "our platforms will be designed as uncrewed"

      They aren't looking at having a warship without a crew. Or at least, not one on its own. However the new Type 26 and Type 31 frigates will have mission bays to put on board extra kit. Which might be fast unmanned motor boats with machineguns or small missiles onboard, to fight off Al Qaeda suicide boats or Iranian Revolutionary Guard speedboats planting mines.

      The Navy are also planning not to replace the minesweeping fleet. But to have various autonomous minesweeping vehicles. All presumably short range, so will need some sort of mothership. Which could be a cheap merchant ship they lease to take them round the UK coast, doing sea-bottom surveys or an actual warship to defend them while they do their work in hostile areas.

      For the moment most of this seems to be similar to the loyal wingman concept that various airforces are looking at. You have drone aircraft/ships as force-multipliers for your existing assets - which you task to do the really dangerous or really easy stuff that you don't want to either risk or waste your crew's time doing.

      The US Navy have just successfully tested a drone tanker aircraft. Put a few of those on their carriers and they can use their aircraft more effectively, rather than have some of them fly as tankers for the others. The Royal Navy are looking at similar for our carriers, including possibly fitting small catapults and traps to launch/recover them.

  3. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Take Care. IT is a Crazy Mined MindField out there.* And aint that the Gospel Truth ‽ .

    and cited an oft-heard trope from the world of cybersecurity as he said "we must have the ability to create an overwhelming burden of cost and complexity on our adversaries"

    It is best to know, in order to be able to provide any semblance of an effective defence against future complex cyber attacks, the creation of overwhelmingly burdensome costs on adversaries is not possible for the cost of such attacks is negligible, and in any case anyway would never be a consideration halting exploration or operational deployment, and whenever methodologies are widely freely shared, cost reduces to as close to zero as makes no difference. It is thus counterproductive and extremely dangerous to rely on such being a viable weapon in any cyber armoury or virtual arsenal.

    Such is a deadly, self-destructive dud.

    * ..... whether you like it or not.

  4. Peter D

    A stain on our naval history.

    At long last we can put behind us our navy's shameful exploitation of generations of donkeys.

    1. Korev Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: A stain on our naval history.

      Don't be such an ass

  5. elsergiovolador Silver badge

    These robots are nothing but trouble

    They say they won't kill people, but look what they did!

    It's outrageous! We should turn them off, but they are so good at keeping the enemy at bay!

    What are we going to do with the pile of bodies though? Let's build more robots!

  6. IGotOut Silver badge

    He may want to leave the office....

    ... the Phalanx system has been around for some time... Heck it even managed to shoot and kill one of its own side (So gaining its US fighting credentials).

    1. Jim Mitchell Silver badge

      Re: He may want to leave the office....

      Phalanx is only weapon (that I can think of) that has scored hits on a battleship since the Korean War, don't knock it!

      (Friendly fire due to auto-targetting on chaff launched by the Missouri in the Gulf War)

      1. Korev Silver badge

        Re: He may want to leave the office....

        To be fair, the Iraqis came close to getting a hit on a battleship in the first Gulf War. HMS Gloucester ruined their fun though...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: He may want to leave the office....

      Predating Phalanx, Seawolf systems have been automated for decades - the human is there to stop the system launching missiles, not the other way around. If a human is not present, one of these systems will happily shoot down anything coming at the ship that it doesn't like - and when IFF systems don't work, the system often takes exception to the ship's own helicopter and has to be told to leave it alone. This aggressive approach is necessary because humans often take too long to make decisions about incoming supersonic missiles or similar projectiles.

  7. 96percentchimp

    What's the end result of incresingly asymmetric warfare? More terrorism?

    "we must have the ability to create an overwhelming burden of cost and complexity on our adversaries"

    What worries me about this philosophy is that it's all very well to engage in a cold arms race with the new bad, Emperor Xi, who's happy to escalate, but elsewhere it encourages said adversaries to move their confrontations away from the battlefield towards softer targets - civilians and infrastructure, whether via traditional terrorism or the cyber variety. Retaliation, as we've seen in the Yemen, Palestine/Israel, and Afghanistan, is inevitably directed towards the civilian targets among whom our adversaries shelter. Tsar Putin rattles his sabre, but conducts his war online with impunity (unless Russia is also suffering unreported cyber assaults).

    Warfare has become increasingly something that militaries inflict on civilians, rather than each other. This might be better for our warfighters, as they like to call themselves these days, and for above-the-line military expenditure, but is it really an improvement over confrontations limited to a traditional battlefield?

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: What's the end result of incresingly asymmetric warfare? More terrorism?

      Warfare has become increasingly something that militaries inflict on civilians, rather than each other.

      I very much doubt that's true, in any historical context or timeframe you can think of. Western forces take incredible amounts of care (and sometimes even increase their own risks) in order to avoid hitting civilians. Including developing all sorts of "smart-weapons" to make them more accurate. One of the advantages of more accuracy is that you can use smaller warheads, which means the area effect of a weapon is also lower - which is another aspect of reducing the casualties you might cause to civilians.

      It's nowhere near perfect of course, but in comparision to warfare last century we're capable of being far more accurate. Whereas in World War II of course we resorted to an awful lot of city bombing - because accuracy was so appalling - even at trying to hit factories.

      Contrast that with say Russia. They were accused of deliberately using unguided bombs in a campaign of attacks on Syrian hospitals, because then it would be harder to tell if it was them or the much less well-equipped Syrian airforce that had done it. Well a lot of hospitals got hit anyway, and then the Russian ministry of defence put out a video this Summer showing a montage of shots of their planes blowing stuff up, which actually included an attack on a Syrian hospital from 2016 I think.

      But actually I think you're mis-understanding what you're quoting. What I think he's talking about is the ability of UK forces to sustain conflict at a low-intensity for long periods. This is aimed at people like Iran, who've been using a mixture of drones, Revolutionary Guards in speedboats placing mines, Revolutionary Guard just kidnapping whole ships (ship-napping?) and sometimes possibly outright missile attacks. We don't want to escalate, which is mostly what we can do at the moment. And it's expensive to increase our navy patrols. So maybe what we need is a few unmanned vehicles so we can hit back at the Revolutionary Guards ourselves - or if not, at least make them worry that we might. But that probably means the abilty to catch them while they're placing the limpet mine on the Israeli bitumen tanker (as they did last month) - when Iran is much less likely to retaliate and escalate if they're caught red-handed. Even the USA don't have the resources to keep 30 ships hanging around the Persian Gulf though. But how about 2 or 3 (as the Royal Navy currently does), each operating 5 or 6 drone speedboats, a helicopter and some aerial surveillance drones? That can be achieved at not much more expense than having the frigate, patrol vessel and minesweepers we already permanently base there.

      1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

        Re: What's the end result of incresingly asymmetric warfare? More terrorism?

        There is no such thing as a smart weapon whenever it can be used to kill and maim totally innocent civilians. It is Collateral Murder again and again no less, and apologies are worthless ...... "It Was A Mistake": Pentagon Admits Biden Killed Up To 10 Innocent Civilians In Kabul Drone Strike

        And yes would appear to be the most likely correct answer to the entitled question, which does have one questioning the wisdom of any increasingly asymmetric deadly warfare program.

      2. Clausewitz 4.0
        Devil

        Re: What's the end result of incresingly asymmetric warfare? More terrorism?

        QUOTE: "We don't want to escalate"

        REPLY: Actually, UK/USA/IL cannot escalate. Better solve the differences like grow ups chatting in a table with a nice brandy.

        TIP: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/9/17/iran-denounces-unilateralism-as-it-becomes-full-sco-member

        1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge
          Pint

          Amen to that. So be it. And just in the nick of time before or while SHTF.

          Actually, UK/USA/IL cannot escalate. Better solve the differences like grow ups chatting in a table with a nice brandy. ..... Clausewitz 4.0

          Now that is a Great TeutonICQ Resolution, Clausewitz 4.0. I second that Enigmatic Motion and Surreal Notion. Have a beer on me. Prost! Zum Wohl!

          Jaw Jaw Initiated as opposed to War War Proposed. Bravo. Well Played, Sir and/or Madam and/or IT. ACTive AIdDeployment will obviously result in a Great Change and .... that will/would bring everyone and everything crashing down on Present Elite SCADA Systems Commanders and Controllers ...... Raw Cored Extreme Executive Ore Drivers, which is probably why there is such Global Panic Afoot.

          A question to ask of Right Royal UKGBNI Loyalists who have assumed and accepted the role of being labelled ultimately eventually responsible for national security and prosperity, Pioneering a New National Security, is are they au fait with the Expert Tease and Expertise in Novel Virtual Technologies and AIMethodologies and able to exercise Stealthy Sublime Surreal COSMIC* Lead with IT and Mass Media Reprogramming of Human Assets?

          Or do they need to buy it in in-house from others and sub-contract it out ...... which is, I imagine, a valid leading question to ask of any and all presuming to provide such Secret IntelAIgent Services to/from assets?

          COSMIC* ..... Control Of Secret Materiel in an Internetional Command

          1. Clausewitz 4.0
            Devil

            Re: Amen to that. So be it. And just in the nick of time before or while SHTF.

            Already having that beer - local kind of brandy, actually. Have one on me, also.

            About SCADA, having the power does not mean to use it. Same with strike capabilities. Deterrence is the main objective - at least should be in the first place. If we are here today, probably someone did a bit of overusing its capabilities.

            About Mass Media Reprogramming of Human Assets, we have pretty good scientists to take care of that.

    2. JohnG

      Re: What's the end result of incresingly asymmetric warfare? More terrorism?

      "unless Russia is also suffering unreported cyber assaults"

      Putin himself has complained about cyber attacks, the implication being that these were state-orchestrated attacks. It's probably fair to assume that many countries are both conducting and being targeted by cyber attacks.

      1. Clausewitz 4.0
        Devil

        Re: What's the end result of incresingly asymmetric warfare? More terrorism?

        From what I heard, Russia tried at least 40 times this year to reach American counterparts to solve hacking problems allegedly coming from overseas into Russian territory - no response received.

        Upon not receiving answers, someone must have hinted their local cyber-warriors - go there and have some fun too, those guys are already having too much of it.

        When big-bad-smelly stuff like SCADA systems hit the fan and affect real life of citizens, govs demand cooperation - which they were not willing to have in the first place.

        The rest is just PR.

  8. FuzzyTheBear
    Flame

    Robot killers ?

    I mean why would you want robots to do the killing .. it's way more fun for humans to do it ! .. I mean .. for the longest people have enjoyed killing each other and now you want to take that away from us ? .. Come on .. how inhumane can it get ? ..

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Robot killers ?

      No. The robots kill the robots. Once everyone's run out of killer robots, then the crews get to fight hand-to-hand as God intended. That's the point when you anoint your body with oil, remove all your clothes and charge towards the enemy stark bollock naked screaming. Preferably to the accompaniment of bagpipes.

      1. FuzzyTheBear
        Pint

        Re: Robot killers ?

        Long time since i laughed that hard .. thanks .. enjoy the weekend and a couple of these :)

      2. Dante Alighieri
        Trollface

        2000AD

        Solved this problem.

        Robot bystanders!

        Solves the problem of collateral damage perfectly?!!

        you might need to go back 30 years to find it.... (shit I'm old!)

  9. David 164

    Did he wink has he said this?

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021