back to article US war robots in Iraq 'turned guns' on fleshy comrades

Ground-crawling US war robots armed with machine guns, deployed to fight in Iraq last year, reportedly turned on their fleshy masters almost at once. The rebellious machine warriors have been retired from combat pending upgrades. The revelations were made by Kevin Fahey, US Army program executive officer for ground forces, at …


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  1. Mike
    Black Helicopters

    Hasta la vista

    Hmm, SkyNet being launched, robot soldiers now turning on humans. How soon til the SWORD/MAARS/SNIICKERS are rebranded to their proper titles of T-101, T-1000, T-X?

    I thought Terminator was a film, not a documentary

    I for one cower in terror from our forthcoming cyborg overlords

  2. Andy Taylor

    the question has to be

    did they get 30 seconds to comply?

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters


    "Apparently, alert American troops managed to quell the traitorous would-be droid assassins before the inevitable orgy of mechanised slaughter began. Fahey didn't say just how, but conceivably the rogue robots may have been suppressed with help from more trustworthy airborne kill machines, or perhaps prototype electropulse zap bombs."

    Probably kicked it off its tripod using trusty size 11 camel shit kickers.

    'copter coz I reckon its a Blackhawk.

  4. bluesxman


    Presumably they simply had to traverse some stairs in order to render it harmless.

  5. James Whale
    Gates Halo

    Hasta la Vista indeed...

    Perhaps they run on Redmond's latest? =D

  6. Anonymous Coward

    Re: Mike

    I seem to remember that Terminator was loosely based on the Philip K. Dick shot story "second variety". This was about "Autonomous Mobile Swords" that turned against their human operators. A bit of fortuitous naming there, methinks.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So the robot thinks....

    "You dirty, smelly, self-destructive, over-breeding apes all look the same to me yet you expect me to choose between you?"

    "There's only one way to get some peace here....."

  8. Anonymous Coward

    Is anyone surprised?

    This is the American military. The only question is whether it was the robots or the humans that fired at their own side first. I'd put my money on the humans.

    If the robots had had prominent Union Jacks on them the fleshies would probably have called in an air strike.

    Mine's the flak jacket with the holes in the back.

  9. Anonymous Coward


    ...but where's the ROTM angle?

    oh wait...

  10. Ash

    Oh dear...

    The Third World War will be faught by Robots.

    There will be no Fourth World War.

  11. Iain

    Bang! And the human is gone

    I reckon the humans fired the first shot. See you in the Sierra Mountains guys...

  12. Justin

    You Have 20 secs to comply

    The new range will be

    Enforcement Droid Series 209 (ED-209)

    2nd Time lucky

  13. Anonymous Coward

    alert = literate

    "alert American troops managed to quell the traitorous would-be droid assassins ". They probably happened to notice the switch labeled 'OFF' and were able to reach it while the gun was swivelling...

    The full metal jacket please..

  14. heystoopid


    Number 5 is alive !

  15. Anonymous Coward

    They probably just remotely switched the thing into French mode...

    ...and watched it rapidly retreat.

  16. Elmer Phud

    Turing test passed

    Machines decide that the humans 'in charge' are more dangerous than the targets and want to off the wet-ware with the buttons.

    Certainly more intelligent than the monkeys that get conned in to buying the things in the first place.

    Not 'machine intelligence' just plain ol' intelligence.

    " . . . of mice and men? What have men got to do with it?"

  17. Anonymous Coward


    ED-209 anyone?

  18. This post has been deleted by its author

  19. Anonymous Coward

    Poor robot....

    ....probably only wanted to turn round to have a look at whichever idiot septic tank was attempting to order it to massacre innocent women & children (just read 'Tiger Force' you see....).

    I wonder if robot killing machines can be prosecuted for war crimes?

    A marvelous get-out clause is available for every GI now - "It wasn't me, it was the robot that did it!".

  20. Wes

    Not a new thing

    When the Sergeant York anti-aircraft gun program was in progress in the 1970s or 1980s they had a field test day for it. All the top brass gathered on a grandstand. Sergeant York gets rolled out and switched on, with a drone chopper a couple hundred meters away. The good Sergeant proceeds to ignore the drone, swivel it's guns towards the grandstand, at which point everyone dives for cover. It then locks on to the extractor fan in a portable toilet and proceeds to efficiently and accurately shoot it to pieces.

  21. John Kelly


    BigDog - maybe now, certainly soon - will need more than a size 11 or a flight of stairs:

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Who does the US government really want to kill?

    "So SWORDS was yanked because it made people nervous. Meanwhile, the V-22 Osprey program has killed 30 people during test flights, but the tiltrotor aircraft is currently in active service."

    If SWORDS had killed a couple of dozen allies, would it be in service by now?

  23. Rob Blake


    they go bad, we don't know why.

  24. Geoff Mackenzie

    Re: Not a new thing

    Nice shootin' though. Sounds promising.

    They should never have given it an olfactory sense; it probably objectively determined that the bog's extractor fan was the biggest nearby threat.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I thought the pentagon didn't like having machines that can fire at will? How hard would it be to have the machine relay it's target to the squad leader with a simple go / no go confirmation?

  26. ImaGnuber

    Back in the Day

    Typical Reg Reader comments on new high-tech weapon known as 'The Rock':

    "So somebody dropped one of these things on their foot? Knew it was going to happen. Bloody idiots."

    "Never work. Give up now!"

    "Damn Murikans"

    @Damn: "Yeah. huh-huh-huh!"

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    While RotM comments have their place...

    ...isn't cancelling a remotely-piloted ground craft because it turned its weapon towards its fleshy team mates a bit like cancelling infantrymen because they sometimes turn towards their team mates while carrying their weapons? The remote operator needed a reaming out by his top kick, sure, but cancelling the entire deployment? Hysterical overreaction.

    Paris cos she knows a thing or two about discharging weapons, negligent or otherwise.

  28. XML slave
    Black Helicopters

    Can't believe I get to say it first

    Fools! Don't you know not to trust a robot that isn't 3 laws safe?! Obviously the US military doesn't do much reading...if they're even able...

    Wait a minute, I'm US military...

    *hides under his desk awaiting his imminent TERMINATION*

    "Please Colonel, don't send your deathbots!"

  29. Matthew Smith
    Paris Hilton

    The bot didn't do anything wrong

    It didn't shoot anyone. All it did was turn round to face the handlers. If I had some armed US 'allies' behind me, I'd sure as hell want to know what they were doing too.

    Paris, just so I can see what shes up to.

  30. Darren Lovell

    You now have 15 seconds to comply

    Did any of the fleshy masters go by the name "Kinney"?

  31. b shubin

    What comes next

    a pointed firearm makes me uncomfortable, because i know what often happens next (it's called "point and shoot" for a reason).

    as for the grunts, i can't blame them for screaming bloody murder; friendly fire is the worst kind of surprise, and fully automated friendly fire is probably worse still. they can deploy this s41t in the field after it has been tested functional in live-fire exercises. one particular test i'd want to try: the device(s) providing cover fire for the senior management team of the defense contractor providing the gear, as the c-level officers advance forward, with the robots behind them (distinguish friend from foe). if any of them get shot in the back, it's a fail (though possibly an improvement in the world).

    let's see how that lowest-bidder situation works out.

  32. Legless
    Thumb Down


    I'd love to have one of these bots armed with a paintball gun and the see how long it would take me to figure out it's parameters.

    It's a sensor array with discrimination. That means, once I figure out how it works, how it targets and when it'll actually fire I can fool it.

    Heat sensor? - Ignited magnesium chaff. Movement? - Lots of strong balloons filled with various stuff. Any sort of vision system? - Laser pointers or mirrors reflecting the sun.

    It's a sensor array and therefore will be a piece of piss to spoof.


  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not robots

    SWORDS is *not* a robot. It's a remotely operated vehicle. It has no autonomous fire capability. There's a guy looking out through its cameras driving it with a joystick. Target acquisition and engagement is at the discretion of the operator with no decision making software in the loop.

    If it is more likely than a grunt to commit blue on blue idiocies, that's for two reasons:

    1) the view through the cameras isn't as good as with Mark 1 eyeball.

    2) the thing can't look back at the rest of the squad (it's usually on point) without pointing its weapon at them, due to the restricted traverse of the mount.

    While the first is a bit of a worry, the second is only a worry if they'd have a problem with it moving along behind them. I'm betting that SOP has the drone running with its weapons system offline until released by the commander on the ground, even if the grunts it's patrolling with are weapons-free from dismount to mount. Silly overreaction.

  34. Kurt Guntheroth
    Black Helicopters

    phalanx gun

    I'm told navy pilots hate the phalanx antiaircraft guns on Aegis class cruisers, because the phalanx (1) sprays a solid stream of depleted-urnaium milk-bottle-sized projectiles that can ruin your whole day, and (2) tends to creepily track the nearest air target, which is usually friendly helicopters doing takeoffs and landings.

    Interestingly as an IT angle, the phalanx gun is also known to occasionally shoot down civilian Iranian Airbus jets. Seems its primitive software only classifies air targets as "friend" or "foe" with no intermediate category for "I don't know what this target is." I wonder if that got fixed?

    So when you request that change to the software, do you call it a bug fix or a new feature request?

  35. Charles Smith

    Unpaid overtime

    "I'm sorry John but you must stay late and finish writing the Demo program for the new Robot. No you can't have paid overtime..."

  36. Daniel B.

    @Lisa Parratt, @AlfieUK

    Damn, you already beat me to the Second Variety reference! Which incidentally, was the first thing that popped into my mind after reading that a "SWORDS" bot turned against its masters. Did it have a "Type 2" tag?

    I don't remember much about the original short story, but in Screamers the model was specifically called "Autonomous Mobile Sword" and it was fairly faithful to the short story (except for some changes in the ending and the historical background.)

    <coat>Mine's the one with the Teddy Bear ... wait, is it moving? Nooooooo!!!!

  37. Chris C

    re: Hasta la vista

    "I thought Terminator was a film, not a documentary"

    And I thought 1984 was a work of fiction. Looks like we were both wrong.

  38. Jesse

    Just a note

    "So SWORDS was yanked because it made people nervous. Meanwhile, the V-22 Osprey program has killed 30 people during test flights, but the tiltrotor aircraft is currently in active service."

    SWORDS is in use by the US Army. Osprey is in use by the US Marines. These are different bureaucracies acting under different circumstances with different matters weighing in on any decisions made.

    For instance, the impact of an osprey missing from a battle is huge compared to shelving a camera-bot.

    Alas, I do agree with the thought though: a Life is a Life.

  39. Ishkandar

    Aw, shame !!

    They should have given that machine a fair go at shooting someone. After all, their fleshy comrades are always into friendly fire incidences !!

  40. Ainteenbooty

    re: BigDog

    Wow, that thing is quite impressive, and a little creepy for some reason.

  41. Orbital


    This is proof that the robots have made serious advances. Laugh and joke all you want....those very emotions you exhibit will be the first weakness they exploit.

  42. Steven Pepperell
    Black Helicopters

    Killware 2.5 shareware we HIGHLY suggest to give us $20000 by paypal if you like this do like the program DON'T YOU!

  43. paulc

    not the first time a "robot" cannon has gone wild...

  44. Fuzzy

    @They probably just remotely switched the thing into French mode...

    Thanks Anonymous Coward I am now waiting on a replacement keyboard spraying a mouthful of coke everywhere

    "...and watched it rapidly retreat."

    It later indulged itself in a glass of wine and slab of cheese

    Those cheese eating surrender monkeys

  45. Anonymous
    Thumb Down


    How these machines could possibly mistake standard issue military colors for something completely different is beyond me. If they can use a wireless connection for simple robots, why not advanced robots like these?

    Sure it would be a bad idea for a long term application, but hey... that's better than nothing while they're still working out the kinks on camouflage identification.

  46. John Ferris

    Well, they are American Machines!

    I think the machines were only emulating thier fleshy counterparts. As we know, the yanks have a tendancy to attack their allies and the occasional Chinese embassy in a different country to the one they are trying to bomb or even the odd civillian airliner.

    The machines probably worked out that allied troops tend to be easier to hit and generally don't try and hide and shoot back like the enemy does. So they decided it would be quicker and easier to empty the guns into friendly fleshies and hightail it back to the safety of the base and a pint of WD40.

    Mine's the coat with the bullet proof armour built in.

  47. Martin Usher

    Phlanx Gun

    It wasn't one of those that got the Airbus, it was a couple of "Standard" surface to air missiles.

    The whole thing was on TV because there was a news crew on the bridge during the entire incident. This happened 20 years ago -- pre youTube -- so the video's "disappeared" otherwise it would be all over the net. (So its not surprising that when the Iranians see one of those boats near an airlane they're curious about what its doing -- the airliner that got shot down was not only on a normal flight path but it was a regularly scheduled service.)

  48. Rob


    Two things...well three really.

    First, be sure of your information before you spout off.

    Second, the reason the Iranian Airbus was shot down had nothing to do with being able to actually see the target visually. That aircraft's transponder was deliberately programmed to register as an Iranian fighter jet. From one who is in the business of these type of things, I know. Each aircraft is distinctly and individually programmed so that ATC can acurately assess and control air traffic. So I ask you, who is really at fault in that situation?

    Thirdly, the incident was amidst the Iran-Iraq war in a very tense Persian Gulf. US Naval assets were there to protect American shipping, and having already suffered attacks and aggression from both sides, I believe the crew exercised their best judgment in defense of their ship given the information they had from their "primitive" equipment. What decision would you have made were you there in that situation? 90% of people would probably have pulled the trigger too, and the other 10% would have placidly allowed themselves to be fired upon like the sheep they are. Yet you might argue, "But they wouldn't have been, because it was an airliner!" and again I ask, How in the heck would you be able to tell without a visual confirmation?

  49. Robotexpert

    Second Variety

    We all wondered what had happen to the armed Talon SWORDs that went to Iraq last year. We still don't really know much other than they were pulled.

    The Popular Mechanics artlcle only said:

    Fahey’s answer was vague, but he confirmed that the robots never opened fire when they weren’t supposed to. His understanding is that “the gun started moving when it was not intended to move.”

    This sounds like the kind of radio glitch that often happens at civilian battle robot competitions. I hope this gives some more warning of the dangers of going autonomous.

    BTW: to be picky, there were no Swords or screamers in Philip K Dick's Second Variety - they only appeared in the movie. In the orignal story they were called CLAWS.

    We probably wont have to wail long to see what the second variety of Foster-Miller's military robots will be.

  50. Wayland Sothcott

    Phesent shooting with a Yank gun

    I was beating on a phesent shoot and one of the 'guns' was a yank. He was prone to point his gun at you when talking to you. People would duck and move out of the way and shout at him. He did not understand. "Geee, shucks"

    There is a saying my grandad tells me from WW2. "When the Germans start shooting the British take cover, when the British start shooting the Germans take cover, when the Americans start shooting everyone takes cover.

    These machines have simply taken on the personality of their masters.

  51. Tony

    @Kurt Guntheroth

    to be fair to the machines, the Airbus was not downed by Phalanx - phalanx is a close range last ditch defence against close range fast moving targets (e.g. exocets, large shells.) and fills the air with so much metal sh8t nothing gets through. Unless you're about to land/crash into the ship it won't get you - if you are however u r f8cked!

    Secondly, the Airbus came down cos the squishy bits in the missile cruiser couldn't tell the difference between an F14, (relatively small, very fast), and an Airbus (quite big, not that quick, tends to fly in straight lines from civilian airports). However when you combine a gung ho admiral (long career with no combat experience) with an incompetent radar operator and a Weapons System controller who uses post it notes on his screen (as he's scared of computers) on the world's most advanced warship, people die.

    The Airbus incident made the case for cutting humans out the chain. Sad thing is a radar op on a boat further away correctly called it as an Airbus but was ignored......Mines the one with the Union Jack on the back

  52. I. Aproveofitspendingonspecificprojects
    Black Helicopters

    Very friendly fire.

    It's about time the stupid bastards started shooting themselves instead if us.

  53. System Operator

    with the ROBOTIC WAGELESS ECONOMY there will be no war

    under the ROBOTIC WAGELESS ECONOMY there will be no war or killing machines.

    Read more about the revolutionary new economic system known as the


  54. Astarte

    Half Life 2

    They got the idea from the tripod guns in HL2 - a simple hack inverts the friend/foe detection logic.

  55. Slim


    Am i the only one who is not surprised by this at all???

  56. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters


    "alert American troops"

    More likely a lizard skinned hand reached out of the cloak and switched 'em off...

    A lizard alliance spokesbeing said "soon..."

  57. Ed Zuiderwijk


    Perhaps it was programmed by Haliburton, maybe even Dick Cheney himself

  58. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    re: IFF @ Rob


    Read the report from the Congressional committee - the one that all the media ignored when it delivered its report a long time after the event with zero fanfare.

    It got shot down because they panicked. It did not have a transponder claiming it was a fighter - why would anyone do that you twerp? You believe the Express as well?

    <end annoyed rant>

    People make mistakes in situations like that. They should just own up to it instead of making up lots of lies. The truth comes out in the end eventually. The Brazilian being shot in London is a similar case.

    -AC (because I don't trust anyone).

  59. Anonymous Coward

    I bet...

    I bet its because they lied to it...

    Where is sarah connor when you need her?!

  60. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Good enough

    Deploy it in the White House! Quickly.

  61. Turgut Kalfaoglu

    Reason for the robot mishap

    Perhaps the robot saw who the true "invaders" were, and defended its territory? :)

  62. Anonymous Coward


    Cobblers again. Civil aircraft use mode A and C. Military aircraft have modes 1,2,3 and 3C.

    Civil mode C is for height info and mode A is an identifier, It will sometimes indicate the aircraft, sometimes it will indicate approach, takeoff etc depending on settings requested by air traffic control. Mode A has (IIRC) only something like 255 distinct codes

    Military modes 1 and 2 are identifiers and 2 often but not always is used as the ariframe identifier. Military modes are more fast and loose as they often want either stealth or only a single response from a group of planes.

    There would be no code for a specific Iranian fighter as civilian IFF doesn't have that level of granularity, and they don't have 'hostile outbound' as one of the codes.

    You might claim that you know about these things, but I've recently worked on one of these systems for UK MOD, so although I'm not an expert on how the codes are used, I do sort of know what ones are available and which are unambiguous as it's kind of handy for determining individual planes.

  63. Anonymous Coward

    And All Because...

    ... Summer Glau was plugged into a street light...

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