Questioning Singapore’s foray into military robotics

15 Feb

According to an AP news report, two US rockets, fired by a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) has caused the deaths of 12 civilians in the Afghanistan town of Marjah. The rockets missed by 300 yards off target and destroyed a house instead of the targeted insurgents. This has prompted the coalition forces to suspend the employment of HIMARS until a ‘thorough’ review has been conducted.

In September 2007, the Singapore government has requested the acquisition of 18 HIMARS from its manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, which has since been delivered and tested in late 2009. According to this blogger, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) has been upgrading its capabilities into the latest 3G or ‘third generation integrated strike force’. SAF has also conducted a military exercise, dubbed as ‘the mother of all war games’,  last November in Texas that included HIMARS and other recent military technologies including ‘unmanned aerial vehicles‘.

The blogger has also reproduced a diagram (possibly sourced from local press) to illustrate how the third generation fighting force will work (see below):

The city state is also hosting a Defence Summit Asia this March exploring the use of recent military technologies. One of its umbrella conferences is entitled, ‘Military Robotics’, that is poised to explore the ethics in the deployment of such robots that will become increasingly used in the battleground.

A robotics expert, Noel Sharkey of the Sheffield University in UK has cautioned on the use of such autonomous robots which may not be able to discriminate between civilians and the enemy. He has also pointed out that Singapore is company to states such as the US, Canada, South Korea, South Africa and Israel that are contributing to the military robotic arms race.

This latest farcial and deadly tragedy of HIMARS has raised doubts for the Singapore government and its armed forces.

First, what would the SAF do with the costly acquisition of HIMARS given that the US has decided to suspend its use in Afghanistan? There is a need not only to question taxpayer’s money being spent on such a system, but also whether it would be deployable in a combat situation.

Second, and more importantly, taking the bigger picture into consideration, should the government continue to focus on 3G or using the latest military technologies, including the deployment of semi-autonomous and autonomous robots since they involve unresolved ethical implications.

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3 Responses to “Questioning Singapore’s foray into military robotics”

  1. contrarian February 17, 2010 at 11:54 pm #

    Do you suppose that conventional tube artillery is not susceptible to mistakes (including human calculation mistakes) in trajectory?

  2. Gerald February 19, 2010 at 9:44 am #

    To start with, HIMARS was not designed to fire into densely populated civilian areas.

    Besides, where is the proof that it was semi-autonomous or autonomous robots that pulled the trigger, and not a human?

  3. fillet February 7, 2011 at 2:37 pm #

    in singapore, defence spending is equated to spending on education or healthcare.

    to us, our children deserves not only good education and proper healthcare, but more importantly, a safe and secure nation to live in.

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