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Robots on the battlefield in 2023

by Marco van der Hoeven

This year, the dark side of AI and robotics has reached a point of no return. Of course, robots and AI have already played an important role on the battlefield. But never before have they been used so widely, in so many theaters worldwide, simultaneously. Despite calls for regulation, unprecedented amounts of money are being spent on research and countermeasures.

Killer robots

The primary ethical concern against deploying robots and AI on the battlefield is the technology making life-and-death decisions. Despite assurances about maintaining some form of human control ‘in the loop’ or ‘on the loop’, that line has been crossed. For example, Russia, a country not exactly known for prioritizing human rights, is employing autonomous armored vehicles where an algorithm recognizes and engages the target.

Russia sends ‘killer robots’ to the front

And Israel, in response to the October 7th terrorist attack by Hamas, now utilizes AI to rapidly identify a large number of targets in Gaza, raising questions about the extent of human control over engaging such a large number of potential Hamas-related locations in a short period.

AI picks targets in Gaza war

Less lethal is the rise of logistical support robots. The most successful autonomous vehicles to date are those produced by MilRem Robotics, headquartered in Estonia. At the start of the war in Ukraine, Russia offered a reward for capturing their flagship, the TheMis Unmanned Ground Vehicle. Recently, a new contract was signed between Ukraine and MilRem Robotics.

Milrem Robotics partners with the Ukrainian Defence Industry

European project for developing combat robots

Another task particularly well-suited for robots is addressing improvised explosive devices, landmines, and unexploded ordnance. In this domain, the use of robots is quite widespread. U succesfull example is the Teledyne FLIR Centaur robot.

Teledyne FLIR Defense Delivers 1,000th CentaurRobot to U.S. Army


The most conspicuous application of technology in combat is the use of drones, a striking example of asymmetrical warfare. Social media platforms are replete with videos showcasing successful drone strikes on battlefields worldwide. Drones are relatively inexpensive yet capable of inflicting significant damage on costly military hardware. Both Ukraine and Russia have utilized numerous drone attacks; Hamas employs drones against Israeli tanks; and the US fleet in the Red Sea, with equipment worth many billions of dollars, faces threats from cost-effective Houthi drones.

Military drones are a booming market

Swarm Robotics Market Set for Explosive Growth by 2028

Elbit Systems Awarded a $95 Million Contract for Loitering Munitions

An interesting test has been conducted recently, funded by the US military, to turn a regular plane into an autonomous plane.

Reliable Robotics Flies Large Cargo Aircraft with No One On Board


A significant application of technologies such as AI, VR, and XR is training in realistic simulated combat situations. While not a new concept, it currently stands as one of the fastest-growing commercial uses of VR. It’s no coincidence that developers with roots in the gaming world are heavily involved in these types of applications.

AI and Drones Increasingly Incorporated into Military Training Simulations


European project for developing combat robots

These developments indicate that it’s inevitable for humans to become accustomed to the presence of robots and other intelligent technologies on the battlefield, whether as allies or adversaries. Research continues to enhance this technology, making it smarter, more effective, and more lethal. As the practical deployment of robots in the battlefield demonstrates, international regulation is necessary. However, the question remains: which countries will adhere to these rules?


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