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American foes are working hard to develop highly autonomous military robots, with China and Russia in particular making big strides in the process. Russia is developing a robot that can independently carry out military operations. The Pentagon is anxious to keep up this development, deputy Defence Secretary Robert Work told a Centre for New American Security National Security Forum.

“We know that China is already investing heavily in robotics and autonomy and the Russian Chief of General Staff [Valery Vasilevich] Gerasimov recently said that the Russian military is preparing to fight on a roboticized battlefield and he said, and I quote, ‘In the near future, it is possible that a complete roboticized unit will be created capable of independently conducting military operations.’”

Some of the development in Russia is focusing on the Armata T-14 from Russian defence manufacturer Uralvagonzavod. Recently, Vyacheslav Khalitov, the company’s deputy director general, has said that “we will be able to show prototypes in 1.5 to 2 years. We are gradually moving away from crewed machines.”

In March 2014, Russian Strategic Missile Forces announced plans to deploy armed sentry robots able to independently seek and destroy targets at five of its installations.

Work emphasised the need for the US to “dominate” the robotic race in the fields of machine learning and artificial intelligence. However, the US strategy is markedly different than the one employed by Russia and China, with far more emphasis on human control and supervision.

“I will make a hypothesis: that authoritarian regimes who believe people are weaknesses … that they can not be trusted, they will naturally gravitate toward totally automated solutions. Why do I know that? Because that is exactly the way the Soviets conceived of their reconnaissance strike complex. It was going to be completely automated. We believe that the advantage we have as we start this competition is our people,” he said.