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Non-Kinetic Uses for Robotics in Counterinsurgency

I am currently reading Wired For War: Robotics and 21st Century Conflict by P. W. Singer, as well as following the Wired for War Symposium at CTLab, previously mentioned here, so understandably robots are very much on my mind.

Matt Armstrong of MountainRunner has an article in the symposium that discusses the military robot in the context of General Charles Krulak’s ‘strategic corporal’.

“The intoxicating allure of technology risks unintended consequences in the psychological struggle for minds and wills in modern conflict. In my many conversations on the “public diplomacy” of unmanned warfare, few consider the robots, autonomous or remote controlled, in a war fought among the people. How do we build relationships with the locals in the sterility of robot-human interfaces? Will improved human-robot interfaces really overcome the understandable perception that American lives are worth more than locals?”

My question (via an on-line networking platform) was what were the possible non-kinetic applications of robotics that could contribute as effective and/or strategic aids to a counterinsurgency effort, yet not be percieved as ‘military’? Perhaps building infrastructure (I was thinking along the line of robotic street sweepers, pothole fillers, well diggers and underground pipe and cable layers).

Matt Armstrong quickly responded:

“Strategic aids” as you put it could include unmanned water and food trucks, even garbage trucks (remember SWET? “Sewage, Water, Electricity, Trash” as an effective COIN approach?). Then there’s tele-medicine, and more.”

Seeing as how 5GW, being a response to 4GW guerilla/insurgent warfare, has greater non-kinetic than kinetic utility what else could the “and more” include? How could robotics (autonomous, semi-autonomous, or remotely controlled) be deployed as part of a larger 5GW effort? What sort of scenarios might they be involved in?

Already on the table:

Street sweeping

Road repair

Well drilling

Underground pipe and cable laying

Water and food delivery trucks

Garbage trucks



3 responses

  1. D

    There’d also be a 5GW effort if everyone of these robots also had hidden combat capabilities. Similar to the Marine Corp doctrine of ‘Every marine a rifleman’, but in this case ‘every robot a battlerobot’. Kinda like the transformers e.g. a streetsweeper that gets activated in his sector via other sensors to turn into a hunter-killer bot.

    04/18/2009 at 7:48 AM

  2. Thanks for the comment D!

    When a 5GW actor uses kinetic force it is most likely to cause a very specific system disruption. Even when the act is very public and splashy, a bombing that highlights a specific vulnerability or a campaign of violence that creates a specific affect on a target group or actor. Even if it appears to be random, it never actually is. With doctrines of the fifth gradient, the use kinetic force requires focus and restraint in order to confine its effect or it loses its utility through unintended consequences in the second or third order effects and gets derailed or diluted.

    The idea of hidden combat capabilities in innocent appearing service robots is interesting but probably better suited to lower gradient doctrines (in 4GW it might have particular utility). Hidden or not, robotics holds great promise for kinetic force projection, and this is widely explored in everything from the Terminator movies to Singer’s book. However, the utility of robotics in 5GW doctrines is that they allow allow for force-multiplication for non-kinetic activities, something that hasn’t been explored in as wide a breadth or in as much detail, yet is in no way less important for thinking strategically, operationally or tactically about conflict and confrontation.

    04/18/2009 at 2:14 PM

  3. Pingback: Robot News (links – no post) « PurpleSlog – Awesomeness & Modesty Meets Sexy

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