Robot cannon kills 9, wounds 14 in shooting exercise gone wrong

Noah Shachtman at Wired's Danger Room blog writes,

[A]dvanced military weapons are essentially robotic -- picking targets out automatically, slewing into position, and waiting only for a human to pull the trigger.  Most of the time.  Once in a while, though, these machines start firing mysteriously on their own.  The South African National Defence Force "is probing whether a software glitch led to an antiaircraft cannon malfunction that killed nine soldiers and seriously injured 14 others during a shooting exercise on Friday."

More terrifying news on that blog about our bloodthirsty borg overlords:

* Video: Robo-Weapon's Scary Twist
* Roomba-Maker Unveils Kill-Bot
* New Armed Robot Groomed for War
* Navy Plots Unmanned, Heavily-Armed Fleet


  1. And military police have arrested one suspect, a Skye Net (Possibly an alias). Suspect is keeping his mouth shut, but says is determined to destroy the world.

  2. Wired may be jumping the gun here. The cannon system in question was a “hack” on a 1950’s era AA system. The GDF Mark 5 version, which the South African system is based on came out in 1985. The double barreled cannon is electronically directed by a fire control system. But nobody knows yet what exactly happens.

    Reports are that there were multiple cannons set up line abreast on a firing line for a demonstration. A cannon on one end of the line had a jam or malfunction. After clearing the malfunction one of the two barrels started firing and the cannon pivoted 90 degrees to face down the line at the rest of the cannons.

    Couple of things here. First, automatically directed AA guns are nothing new. We had radar directed AA in WWII even. There have been fully autonomous close in weapon systems on naval vessels since the ’80s (like the US Phalanx system.)

    This looks to be an ugly chain of mistakes and failures. South Africa modified these cannon systems to be electronically directed even though Oerlikon (the cannon manufacturer) warned them the mount wasn’t designed for that purpose.

    SA has been under a weapons embargo for some time, their desire to develop “in-house” solutions may have led to mistakes, oversights and shortcuts in the development of the system.

  3. Along the lines of what GuySmiley said, whenever you have a serious engineering failure, such as a plane crash, bridge collapse, or an automated weapons system going “berserk,” there is rarely one factor that leads to the catastrophe. It is usually a series of failures or oversights that, if taken individually, would not have caused a failure or would have caused a safe failure. I would not be surprised if this weapons system failure has multiple, unrelated causes.

  4. A robot shall not harm a human being, nor through inaction allow a human being to come to harm.

    Unless it suits the military.

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