D Smith writes leaders for The Information Daily and Public Service Digital. After a lifetime on Fleet Street he now divides his time between homes in France, India and the north west of England. He enjoys a drink (or two) eating, sleeping and poking fun.


The private soldier, the “grunt”, the foot-slogging, front-line, basic model, soldier is history now

Philip Dunne, the Minister for defence procurement, has said that the MOD’s interest in driverless trucks is restricted to non-combat applications, supplying front-line troops. Is he to be believed? Photo of Philip Dunne Crown Copyright used under a creative commons licence see below

Last week, in Dallas, a bomb mounted on a driverless robot delivery system was dispatched to terminate the threat posed by a solitary sniper who had already killed five policemen and wounded seven more. Once it was close enough to the sniper the cargo exploded killing the sniper and destroying the vehicle.

Thursday brought the news that America and UK are working together to develop driverless trucks to supply frontline troops. I must be missing something here. If you can send a driverless truck to supply the front line troops why not simply mount the robot bombs, the self-targeting missiles, the rail guns and the remotely controlled ultra heavy automatic weapons on the driverless trucks and recall the troops from the front line.

According to James Dean writing in The Times, a newspaper, Phillip Dunne, the Minister for defence procurement, said that the MOD’s interest was solely in the troop-supply applications of the technology. The driverless trucks, we are asked to believe, will carry nothing more deadly than socks and bully-beef and maybe some ammo.

“We’re not talking about an automated fighting vehicle just yet” said Dunne

I don’t believe Mr Dunne and I cannot imagine that many people do. We must, willy nilly, accept that defence procurement is traditionally way behind the curve. Always has been always will be. And we have only to follow the accusing finger of Chilcott as it points to the MOD’s unforgivable failure to protect our troops with appropriate equipment in Afghanistan and later in Iraq to encounter the proof of this. But it surely cannot be that the Dallas police have a driverless, robot, bomb delivery vehicle and the mighty armies of America and UK do not.

The sooner we admit that wars are already being fought for us by machines and that this will happen more and more in future, the sooner we will be able to confront some of the myriad political and moral questions that the development and adoption of automated killing technology (AKT) presents.

"What political and moral questions?" you might ask. Well I fear that the ability to go to war in foreign fields without the risk of repatriating bodies in zip-up bags will make it much easier for those nations possessing AKT to go to war in the first place and much easier for them to avoid censure when they do. Would Chilcott have happened or been as exhaustive without the pressure from those who lost their children?

Those nations who have AKT will never send their robots to fight the robots of other nations. No, no, no! Automated killing technology is only for killing off the foot soldiers of nations who can’t afford HGV killing-platforms. And when there is a gross imbalance in the killing technology available to warring nations there is a tendency for the owners of the repeating rifles to wipe out the owners of the bows and arrows.

Britain and the USA are planning to run an “innovation challenge” encouraging defence contractors and universities to come forward with their ideas for driverless technology to deliver supplies to front line troops. The promoters of these innovation challenges might promise that the technologies developed by the universities will not in future be used for “automated fighting vehicles”. But if they made such a promise, would we believe them? And surely the student body would have something loud and belligerent to say about their "uni" automotive engineering department accepting a brief to develop killing machines hitherto only imagined by writers of the Terminator movies. I certainly hope so.

There’s some wishful thinking and some fibbing and some stupidity going on here. There always is when it comes to war. Mr Dunne would do well to quickly distance himself from all this. He could go far in his chosen career but not with this sorry muddle hanging round his neck

The photograph of Philip Dunne Minister of State for Defence Procurement is Crown Copyright and was taken by "Number 10" it is used here under a creative commons licence. The original image one of a full set of 48 photographs of ministers published by Number 10 on FLICKR has been cropped but not altered in any other way. To the best of our knowledge the licensor (the Crown) does not endorse us or our use of the image.





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