Pocket sized attack robots being developed

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Pocket sized attack robots being developed

This looks like the future of modern warfare, forget massed troops and tanks to defeat, how do you stop small bands of troublemakers?. By using small single person, mini attack robots.

Fred Davis, technical director of the Assessment and Demonstrations Division of the Air Force Research Laboratory Munitions Directorate at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, confirmed that the United States has ambitious plans for future micro-munitions, which he says will be pocket-sized with mission-specific payloads.

"You're not going to be knocking down walls," says Davis. "What we're looking at is functional defeat."

This means preventing the target from carrying out its mission, rather than destroying it, Davis says. A truck, for example, can be put out of action by destroying its tires; a MAV can do this by squirting them with few milliliters of a catalytic de-polymerization agent, causing them to disintegrate rapidly.

Davis sees future MAVs landing and hopping or crawling on the ground like insects, enabling them to get inside buildings. Once inside, an entire command center can be disabled by targeting the power supply.

"You could short out the circuit box," says Davis.

The MAV could do this by physically crawling inside like a wayward squirrel, or it might release a cloud of metal-coated fibers -- similar to the "soft bombs" the Air Force used to shut down power stations in Kosovo with a cloud of conductive whiskers. Such fibers could effectively destroy PCs and other electronic gear as well as interrupting power to a building.

But what about attacking people? The smallest munitions ever used by the Air Force were "gravel mines" or "button bombs" dropped by the millions in the Vietnam war, some weighing just a quarter of an ounce. A crawling MAV could deliver this type of bomb to the victim's most vulnerable spot.

Or, as Davis suggests, the tiny vehicle itself might be the warhead.

"You can make the structure of the craft out of reactive (explosive) material," he says. Any unused fuel can add to the blast, a technique already used in some surface-to-air missiles, and the explosion would convert the rest of the MAV into lethal shrapnel.

Others have suggested "fire-ant warfare" with tiny robots that can only do limited damage individually, but have enough cumulative effect to overwhelm an opponent.

Poison needles or stings have also been proposed (.pdf). Treaty obligations would prevent the military from using this approach, but the CIA developed lethal needles using shellfish toxin in the 1950s, and the technology is on the shelf.

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By netchicken: posted on 28-1-2007

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