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I am not saying it’s Autons but… it’s Autons

From Instapundit (my emboldenings):

The miniature Perdex drones, different from larger, more common remotely piloted vehicles (RPVs) like the well-known Reaper and Predator, operate with a high degree of collective autonomy and reduced dependency on remote flight crews to control them. The large group of more autonomous Perdex drones creates a “swarm” of miniature drones. The swarm shares information across data links during operation, and can make mission-adaptive decisions faster than RPV’s controlled in the more conventional manner.

In a statement released by the U.S. Department of Defense, Strategic Capabilities Office Director William Roper said, “Due to the complex nature of combat, Perdix are not pre-programmed synchronized individuals, they are a collective organism, sharing one distributed brain for decision-making and adapting to each other like swarms in nature,” Director Roper went on to say, “Because every Perdix communicates and collaborates with every other Perdix, the swarm has no leader and can gracefully adapt to drones entering or exiting the team.”

Doctor Who fans will know exactly where this sort of thing leads:

You have been warned.

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16 comments to I am not saying it’s Autons but… it’s Autons

  • Ken Mitchell

    A drone swarm communicating among itself is not in EMCON, and would reveal a lot of information to any ESM system. Any functioning ECM system could jam or degrade its internal communications to the point of uselessness. So, a cute but ultimately impractical toy.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    Yes, but the Doctor will fix us, won’t he? What is he up to now? How do you cure infestations of Autons?

  • Richard Thomas

    Screaming and running down corridors if I’m not much mistaken.

    Amusingly, this answer works both for the article itself and for Nicholas’ question.

  • Eric

    A good spread spectrum system is incredibly hard to jam without unlimited power.

    In 1983 the Russians deployed an anti-ship missile (P-700 Granit) that’s designed to launched in groups. The missiles elect a leader which periodically pops up to a higher altitude to get a good sensor picture. If it gets destroyed the rest of the wave elects a new leader. Though it occurs to me the “election” is probably just the highest serial number or some such. They have priority target selection, too, and if the most important target is destroyed they’ll pick the next one on the list.

  • bobby b

    “Due to the complex nature of combat, Perdix are not pre-programmed synchronized individuals, they are a collective organism, sharing one distributed brain for decision-making and adapting to each other like swarms in nature,” Director Roper went on to say, “Because every Perdix communicates and collaborates with every other Perdix, the swarm has no leader and can gracefully adapt to drones entering or exiting the team.”

    So, after the expenditure of billions of dollars and the use of the best minds available, we’ve modeled our new weapons systems on swarms of thirteen-year-old girls with smartphones in a mall.

    As the father of a daughter, I could have saved them so much money . . .

    (Their biggest problem will be small groups of Perdix uniting to ostracize other Perdix.)

  • Agammamon

    Ken Mitchell
    January 12, 2017 at 12:08 am

    A drone swarm communicating among itself is not in EMCON, and would reveal a lot of information to any ESM system. Any functioning ECM system could jam or degrade its internal communications to the point of uselessness. So, a cute but ultimately impractical toy.

    IR LOS communications.

    Or, frequency-agile RF

    Or, they operate in permissive environments.

    Or, they operate in environments where the operators have EW superiority.

  • Laird

    I would hope that Ken Mitchell is correct, but I fear that he is not, or at best won’t be correct for long.

    If I’m reading this correctly, a swarm of Perdex drones would essentially be an autonomous weapon. It’s bad enough to have 20-something desk jockeys in Omaha (or wherever) controlling Predator drones and blowing up wedding parties in Afghanistan; I certainly don’t want the drones making the decision for themselves. (Really, has no one seen the Terminator movies? Or did the just think that Skynet was a really cool idea?)

    Besides, fully autonomous lethal weapons systems are prohibited by official policy in the US, and I remember reading just recently that some high-ranking defense official (SecDef or someone; I can’t find a citation at the moment) was assuring us that the US is not developing them. (And Defense Department officials are always models of rectitude, right?) The UN is working on this issue, and much as I despise that body I would like to see them issue a fatwa against such weapons even if it is a pretty meaningless gesture.

    I suppose this is inevitable, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

  • Ken Mitchell

    Depending on their size, spread and communications method (because in order to cooperate, they HAVE TO communicate) an aircraft comparable to an EA-18G Growler would probably be able to detect the swarm’s internal radio communications to LOS ranges (a couple of hundred miles from FL350), and to jam any radio emissions to easily half that range. If the swarm is using IR, then you’re limited to a mile or so, tops, in good weather and far less in haze or precip. I can’t see them being useful in an offensive role.

    What MIGHT be a useful mission for swarm drones would be as defensive airborne “chaff” which would intercept and destroy incoming anti-aircraft missiles. In that case, the swarm drones would need to stay relatively close to the handling aircraft and the pilot/operator wouldn’t be too worried about enemy ESM detection – because the pilot/operator wouldn’t launch the swarm until he thought he’d already BEEN detected and needed to launch his defensive measures.

    Full disclosure: LT, USN (RET), ASW specialist.

  • Mr Ed

    Perdix is the Latin and generic term for ‘partridge’, and a nephew of Daedalus and cousin to Icarus.

    Has Mr Roper changed his name from ‘Reaper’?

    And the Autons were, in their time, easily the scariest of the Doctor’s foes, albeit a bit camp when they started firing.

    And if they are autonomous, and decide for themselves what to hit, they are smartly dumb and might hit anything. Why not throw cheaper iron bombs around and save some money?

  • bobby b

    “What MIGHT be a useful mission for swarm drones would be as defensive airborne “chaff” . . . “

    Just thinking off the top of my head, how about if the swarm were sent in as an adjunct to one or several prime threat aircraft, whose signals would wholely subsume and mask the otherwise-eminently-detectable swarm-net emissions due to their much higher strength and range, and the swarm were sent in in a ten-kilometer pattern centering on the main target to arrive simultaneously with the prime threat mission, and whatever reception capabilities the swarm possesses would be added to the picture available to the prime threat aircraft, and the swarm could then be tasked to any perceived surface threats in that area – to pursue and annihilate those threats, leaving the prime threat aircraft free to safely pursue their mission without threat of loss of life of good-guy pilots or aircraft, just robots . . .

    Of course, this was all possible only until The Aviationist published this just-for-fun story. Now, threat detection systems will have such a possibility dialed in on their threat databases – they’ll pick up on surprising new emission patterns – and won’t be fooled. I often wonder if getting The Story! makes people decide they aren’t on one side or the other, or if the fact that they had no side allows them to publish The Story!

  • Can I just say, that’s a Hillman Imp behind them?

    😛 🙄 👿

  • Fred the Fourth

    Laird: Prohibited they may be, but I’m guessing they exist (or will soon) anyway.
    Way back in the early 80s I attended a distributed computing conference in SF. One speaker was Lynn Conway, who informed us of the latest research in autonomous vehicles. Several of her slides depicted a smart aircraft loitering near a battlefield and popping up to shoot at tanks, etc.
    During the Q&A one gent in the audience, with some serious concern in his voice, asked if she really thought arming AIs was a good idea. Dr. Conway got this “oops, wrong slide” look on her face and laughingly claimed that no one was thinking of doing that for real.
    Hah, hah.

  • Richard Thomas

    Weaponized AIs will probably make mistakes but they’ll make less mistakes than their human counterparts.

    The ethical concerns really lie elsewhere.

  • Paul Marks

    I for one am totally confident of the wisdom of our A.I. masters.

    As a mere human I am willing, indeed eager, to obey the rule of our A.I. masters.

  • Laird

    Fred, of course they do (or will). I’m not quite naïve enough to think otherwise. But I’d really like it if our overlords pretended otherwise.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    Mike Marsh, yes, you can still say things like that!