His report cites these examples, among others, of fully or semi-autonomous weapons that have been developed:
_ The U.S. Phalanx system for Aegis-class cruisers, which automatically detects, tracks and engages anti-air warfare threats such as anti-ship missiles and aircraft.
_ Israel's Harpy, a "Fire-and-Forget" autonomous weapon system designed to detect, attack and destroy radar emitters.
_ Britain's Taranis jet-propelled combat drone prototype that can autonomously search, identify and locate enemies but can only engage with a target when authorized by mission command. It also can defend itself against enemy aircraft.
_ The Samsung Techwin surveillance and security guard robots, deployed in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, to detect targets through infrared sensors. They are currently operated by humans but have an "automatic mode."
Current weapons systems are supposed to have some degree of human oversight. But Heyns notes that "the power to override may in reality be limited because the decision-making processes of robots are often measured in nanoseconds and the informational basis of those decisions may not be practically accessible to the supervisor. In such circumstances humans are de facto out of the loop and the machines thus effectively constitute LARs," or killer robots.
Separately, another U.N. expert, British lawyer Ben Emmerson, is preparing a special investigation for the U.N. General Assembly this year on drone warfare and targeted killings.
His probe was requested by Pakistan, which officially opposes the use of U.S. drones on its territory as an infringement on its sovereignty but is believed to have tacitly approved some strikes in the past. Pakistani officials say the drone strikes kill many innocent civilians, which the U.S. has rejected. The other two countries requesting the investigation were two permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, Russia and China.
In April, an alliance of activist and humanitarian groups led by Human Rights Watch launched the "Campaign to Stop Killer Robots" to push for a ban on fully autonomous weapons. The group applauded Heyns' draft report in a statement on its web site.
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