A United Nations (UN) report revealed that unmanned combat aerial vehicles and lethal autonomous weapons systems bombarded rebels in Libya last year.
The drones, which can be operated manually, were self-guided during the encounter – using onboard cameras and machine learning to find and target enemies.
According to the March report from the UN Security Council’s Panel of Experts on Libya, Kargu-2 quadcopters were deployed in the North African nation in March last year. The incident occurred during a skirmish between the Libyan government and forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar, commander of a breakaway faction of the Libyan National Army.
Kargu-2 destroys target with explosive charge
The drones “were programmed to attack targets without requiring data connectivity between the operator and the munitions.
Fitted with an explosive charge, the Kargu-2 drone can be flown remotely by a human operator or use its onboard camera and artificial intelligence (AI) to seek out targets autonomously. Its explosive charge detonates on impact.
The Kargu-2 has a top speed of about 90 mph and an endurance of half an hour. In standard mode, it is controlled directly by an operator from up to six miles away. When a target is spotted the drone locks on to it and dives in, destroying it with an explosive charge. The concept is similar to the switchblade loitering munition used by the Special Forces, although the Kargu-2 has a much bigger warhead.
According to the report, Kargu-2 drones ‘hunted down” and “remotely engaged” Haftar’s forces as the latter retreated.
Haftar’s forces “were neither trained nor motivated to defend against the effective use of this new technology and usually retreated in disarray,” the report stated. “Once in retreat, they were subject to continual harassment from the unmanned combat aerial vehicles and lethal autonomous weapons systems.”
The information was provided by a confidential source, according to the magazine New Scientist. If accurate, it would be the first known incident of an autonomous drone attacking humans.
While there were no confirmed deaths, the report stated similar lethal autonomous weapons caused “significant casualties” when deployed against Haftar’s manned Pantsir S-1 surface-to-air missile system.
Risk is too high without humans making judgment call
Critics of lethal autonomous drones like the Kargu-2 claim that the technology is too imprecise.
“Current machine learning-based systems cannot effectively distinguish a farmer from a soldier,” Zachary Kallenborn, a homeland security specialist, wrote in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. “Farmers might hold a rifle to defend their land, while soldiers might use a rake to knock over a gun turret. Even adequate classification of a vehicle is difficult.”
According to Kallenborn, the risk is too high without humans to make a judgment call.
“Any given autonomous weapon has some chance of messing up, but those mistakes could have a wide range of consequences,” Kallenborn wrote. “The highest risk autonomous weapons are those that have a high probability of error and kill a lot of people when they do. Misfiring a .357 magnum is one thing; accidentally detonating a W88 nuclear warhead is something else.”
Jack Watling a land warfare specialist at the Royal United Services Institute think-tank, told New Scientist that the drones are in something of a grey area when it comes to regulation of AI weapons because only the drones’ controllers would know whether the machines were being remotely controlled at the time of the attack.
“This does not show that autonomous weapons would be impossible to regulate,” he said. “But it does show that the discussion continues to be urgent and important. The technology isn’t going to wait for us.”
Kargu-2 may have swarming capabilities now
STM, the Turkish company that produced the Kargu-2, has not replied to a request for comment about the report’s allegations. The company develops radar, satellites, autonomous systems and other technology in the private and military sector.
The Drive reported in June last year that STM is developing “swarming capabilities” for the Kargu-2 that would allow 20 drones to work in tandem.
An operator on the ground can manually control any of the Kargu series drones and use their onboard sensors, which includes electro-optical and infrared video cameras and a laser imaging system, or LIDAR, to conduct general surveillance and identify and track targets.
STM CEO Murat Ikinci told Turkish newspaper Hurriyet that Kargu has facial recognition, suggesting it can seek out specific individuals. It is described as being engineered for “anti-terror and asymmetric warfare scenarios.”
Since the incident mentioned in the UN report, Libya’s Government of National Accord has been dissolved. A new regime was established on March 10 – the Government of National Unity led by Chairman Mohamed al-Menfi and Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh.