Meet the Chinese military’s newest recruit: A gun-wielding robot dog showcased during Golden Dragon 2024 exercise


China unveiled its latest military innovation, gun-toting robot dogs, during a joint exercise with Cambodia. These robots, equipped for combat and reconnaissance, highlighted China’s technological prowess. The Golden Dragon 2024 exercise, involving 2,060 troops, emphasized non-traditional security threats like counter-terrorism and anti-piracy. This event underscores China’s strategic partnership with Cambodia, reflecting its significant investments and geopolitical interests in Southeast Asia and the South China Sea.

In a significant technological demonstration, China introduced its latest recruit, a gun-toting robot dog, during a joint military exercise with Cambodia. This showcase marks a step forward in the Chinese military‘s efforts to integrate advanced robotics into combat and reconnaissance missions.

The two-minute video released during the exercise showcases the robot dogs’ impressive capabilities. These mechanical canines are seen walking, hopping, lying down, and carrying rifles, demonstrating their potential utility in a variety of combat scenarios.

An unnamed Chinese military official commented on the development, saying, “These robotic units are designed to enhance our operational capabilities and provide tactical support in complex environments.” This statement underscores the strategic importance that China places on leveraging cutting-edge technology to bolster its military prowess.

Technological Features of Robot Dogs

The Chinese Army presented two versions of the robot dog. One is equipped with an assault rifle for direct combat, weighing 50 kg, and the other, at 15 kg, is designed for reconnaissance missions. Both versions feature a 4D wide-angle perception system and can mimic real dogs’ movements, such as moving forward and backward, jumping, and lying down.

Operational Capabilities

The combat-ready robot dog has an assault rifle attached to its top, while the reconnaissance version can identify targets and provide real-time footage transmission to military posts. This lighter version can also plan routes, avoid obstacles, and approach targets independently. Both types are remotely controlled by soldiers and operate on batteries, with an operational time of up to four hours.

Development and Acquisition

These robot dogs were developed by the Chinese start-up Unitree Robotics. However, the origin of the devices used by the military remains unclear, as Unitree denied supplying its products to the People’s Liberation Army. The Financial Times reported that it is still unknown how the Chinese army obtained these devices.

Golden Dragon 2024 Exercise

The robot dogs were showcased as part of the Golden Dragon 2024 exercise, a 15-day joint military drill with Cambodia held from 16 to 30 May. This exercise, conducted on both land and sea, focuses on non-traditional security threats, including counter-terrorism, humanitarian relief, and anti-piracy operations, as reported by The Global Times. Other “intelligent equipment” showcased included cargo drones and armed reconnaissance drones, highlighting the PLA‘s combat capabilities.

However, the deployment of armed robots raises significant ethical and operational concerns, the CNN report said. Critics warn that the use of autonomous weapons systems could lead to unintended consequences, including potential violations of international humanitarian laws. An expert in military ethics highlighted these concerns, noting, “The deployment of autonomous weapons systems poses significant ethical challenges. It is crucial to establish clear guidelines and oversight mechanisms to ensure their responsible use.”

Strategic Partnership and Military Exercise

The annual China-Cambodia military exercise, initiated in 2016, saw the participation of 1,300 Cambodian and 760 Chinese troops this year. Cambodia is considered an important ally by China, with substantial Chinese investments in Cambodian infrastructure. Notably, more than 40 percent of Cambodia’s $10 billion foreign debt is owed to China. Additionally, China has stationed two naval vessels at the Ream naval base for over five months, indicating its strategic interest in Cambodian ports and actions in the South China Sea.

Geopolitical Context

Cambodia’s strategic positioning between China and the US enhances its geopolitical significance. The country recently renamed a road in its capital after Chinese President Xi Jinping. The visit of US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to Cambodia on 4 June, soon after the military exercise, underscores the region’s importance to both China and the US.

(With inputs from TOI)

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