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Micro-suicide drones a real Xmas t(h)reat

Some lucky boys and girls are going to find micro-suicide drones in their stockings this Christmas! Get your orders in now!

I was idly scanning the website of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, as one does, and I came across a story on a new product from the Israeli defence company Elbit Systems: the Lanius loitering micro-suicide drone. There was a promotional video attached, and I just had to look.

It shows this palm-sized drone flying into a house, searching through the rooms one by one, finding its target (a “bad guy” with a gun), and eliminating him with an explosion just big enough to kill everybody in that single room. The company’s voice-over, delivered in the urgent, hyper-masculine monotone that is standard in the genre, is a classic of its kind.

“Elbit Systems presents Lanius! Search and attack in one! An innovative, autonomous, lethal system based on racing drones!….

“The Lanius is equipped with ALine technology that allows navigation to building, scanning the building to identify openings, mapping and object avoidance, enemy detection and classification, target incrimination by human, and lethality. The system identifies blocked openings and can perform ad hoc lethal ambush. Etc, etc.”

All this with noisy sound effects and dramatic music over footage of a bad guy (you can tell, because he’s wearing a ski mask) firing a machine gun out a window while the drone patiently, almost silently searches through the house, sneaks up behind him and blows him away.

And yes, there is “target incrimination by human”. The operator of the drone actually gets a video view of the target before he presses the button that kills him. So that’s all right, then.

Meanwhile, in San Francisco two weeks ago, the city’s board of supervisors approved the deployment of remote-controlled robots in emergency situations. The 11-member board is a political body where ideological posturing plays a big role, but the Police Department just pointed out that they have already been using robots for past 11 years.

They use them mostly to deliver warrants, said assistant police chief Dan Lazar, and they have no plans to give their robots guns. However, they could deploy robots equipped with explosive charges to deal with situations like “active shooter incidents and suicide bombers”.

Dan Lazar, meet Elbit Systems. I think you guys could do business together. And don’t forget my finder’s commission.

Actually, if Mr Lazar can wait a year or two, he probably won’t have to go to Israel for this technology. The Israelis commercialise “security” technology faster than most countries (like the phone-hacking military-grade spyware sold to foreign users by Israel’s NSO Group), but the major military players probably all have Lanius-style drones under development.

The minor players will also have access to these systems before long, because the “security” systems are very leaky. Moreover, the fact that drones of this sort have obvious tactical uses on the battlefield means that they will wind up widely distributed in the hands of ordinary soldiers in a few years’ time.

In fact, this technology is so small, cheap and convenient that it will become almost universally available — and what are the implications of that? For the military, not all that big.

These one-person-killer suicide drones would certainly be deployed in close-quarters static situations like the trench warfare that has set in along most of the Ukrainian-Russian front line, but there are already so many ways to kill people remotely on the battlefield, from land-mines to thermobaric weapons, that one more won’t make a big difference.

But for people interested in targeted assassinations of civilians, they are a dream come true. These drones are so small, agile and quiet they can get close to the target indoors or out without being noticed until the very last moment. Even if spotted, they are hard to destroy — and the operator has a fair chance of escaping unharmed.

It’s the high-value political targets who are most at risk from this new technology. They are already swathed in layers of security that isolate them from the public they are supposed to represent and serve. This will add an extra layer to that protection — and they will still be more exposed to danger than before.

Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries. His new book is ‘The Shortest History of War’.

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