back to article Terrorist robots dissected - anatomy of a scare

There's a fresh flurry of robot-terrorist headlines on the wires, following an autonomous-weapons conference held on Wednesday at a military thinktank in London. The assembled military and academic bigwigs gathered in Whitehall were mainly thinking about the ethics of killer robot use by Western forces, but there was only one …

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Re: TERRORIST ROBOT COUNTRTMEASURES

"Second: I am sure dozens of volunteers would be available to take positions around sensitive areas with nothing more than a shotgun using a heavy bird shot. These Helicopters are extremely sensitive to the slightest damage and could be easily disabled."

If they're RF helicopters, yes. If it's a plywood cruise missile with a pulsejet, no, you're going to do jack squat with your bird shot.

Look up the V1. It wasn't that long ago. And it used a pulse jet too.

It was a royal headache to shoot down without some heavier radar-guided artillery. Even 20mm holes from aircraft mounted autocannons didn't actually do that much. It could have several of those right through the pulsejet and still fly merrily. Unless you managed to actually set off its warhead, it just shrugged it all off.

Just about the only relatively good counter-measure the RAF came up with, was flying next to it, and pushing one of its wings up with the tip of your own wings. Basically turn it upside down, so it flies into the ground somewhere before it reaches a city.

I'd like to see you do that with volunteers ;)

Just as reference: a pulsejet is just about the simplest jet engine you can think up. It's just a length of pipe with a valve at the forward-pointing end. Air flows in through there, you inject fuel, ignite it, the resulting pressure closes the valve so the blast can only go out the other end. Then the pressure drops, the valve opens, and the whole cycle repeats again.

That's what made the V1 buzz, btw. The many explosions per second in its pulsejet.

It's a very robust thing too, unlike the complicated turbojets used on normal planes.

Since it's a metal pipe, you won't shoot that down with bird shot. And since most of the thrust is really generated by the first 1-2 inches of it, even riddling it with holes won't reduce its thrust by that horribly much anyway.

Finally, as an ex-AA guy with some training on the subject matter, I can tell you that shooting down anything that flies isn't that easy. We wouldn't need things like the phalanx system and sophisticated tracking computers, if any hunter with iron sights could do the same and just as reliably.

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Anonymous Coward

Naive

Absolutely no jokes this time.

You have no idea how soft these potential targets are and how easy it is to predict where targets will be for considerable lengths of time. The effectiveness of fire and forget weapons is a reality.

This real threat can only be countered by GPS blocking. So for the future you can forget GPS in central London.

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Face recognition in commodity cameras

No idea how it works, but that suggests a potential terminal guidance mecahnism.

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Black Helicopters

Cheers

Our main weapon is fear, fear and surprise ....

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Pirate

Hand yourself in at the nearest police station

Hi,

You have published information likely to be useful to a terrorist.

This is illegal!

Please hand yourself in at the nearest police station

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Black Helicopters

Cruise missle for $5k, Guidance system for $500

The $5k cruise missile concept has been proven by the NZ inventor. After all the V1 was a very effective and cheap weapon to produce. A model aircraft autonomous guidance system has also been built which crossed the Atlantic a few years ago.

Put the two together and you can hit anywhere in the world to a few meters accuracy at a range of a couple of hundred miles.

None of it is beyond a university educated engineering student, who are well represented in al-Qaeda's ranks.

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Anonymous Coward

Flaws and issues and a question

Usually, I'm in the "Lewis fan" camp, but I think you spent too long nursing your hangover yesterday and dashed this off half an hour after you'd finished filling in all the Os.

As has already been pointed out: why target the Government? Infrastructure and mass targets (or both) are far more terrifying and likely to succeed. How about rupturing a gasometer with one drone and then detonating the resultant gas cloud with another device once there's a stochiometric mix? Or, how much gas would it take to turn a stretch of Oxford Street into a firestorm on a cold, still December afternoon?

Remote piloting doesn't have to be a death sentence if

a) you base your transmitter far from your control station and communicate with it securely.

b) the authorities don't know it's happening until too late to DF the signal.

Doing it more than once might be hard, unless you acquire all the materials for several operations before the first, and building the thing in a way that wouldn't lead the authorities directly to you, given the specialist materials you'd have to buy, would make the difference between doing it remotely and suiciding in person kindof academic, I think.

The control engineering for making a GPS-guided flight servo system isn't that complex; rigging up a leased light aircraft to FAB a football stadium before it could empty would be perfectly doable; the operator's security would rest on the quality of their ID and deception skills. Still a bit Mission: Impossible though.

So, an RC light aircraft carry say a thousand pounds of fuel and payload, plus some control systems. Most UK airspace is passively controlled, so if you disconnect the transponder and file some deceptive flight plans, there's no practical means of intercepting the vehicle before it hits its target. It probably won't be remarked upon if you pick one of the new edge-of-city stadia, until it strikes home.

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Boffin

Good piece but...

...perhaps a little less robust in its dismantling of the latest shock tactic than some. Essentially, as other people said, you're assuming that the average terrorist is going to go for a pretty difficult, very well-guarded target, such as the PM, rather than, say, the number 25 bus in Russell Square.

And so what your article boils down to is that the average terror clown (particularly in this country) is just too stupid to manage to do it. Which is in itself a fairly safe claim, as you pointed out in a previous piece about putting gas cylinders and nails in a car and expecting to see, well, anything at all. It could be a crass generalisation, but it's a fairly safe bet that someone stupid enough to think that blowing themselves up will prove a point is unlikely to be bright enough to work out a decent UAV delivery method.

Still, it does make you wonder exactly why this Admiral is in charge of anything at all. The man's clearly a terror-mongering loon, with the odd piece of good sense (well, the one about the Antipodeans...)

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Bronze badge

Hollywood Terrorism

It does sometimes seem as if people are inclined to trawl the Hollywood back catalogue to find terrorist threats they can use to justify their employment.

Maybe they should watch "Lawrence of Arabia" or "Hangmen Also Die", rather than another "Die Hard" movie.

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Stop

@easyk

"1) Anti-personnel grenades, the sort you might find in a MLRS or ATACMS (steel rain) rocket, are light, easily deployed when the target area is reached, and very very very nasty to flesh. I'm sure there are some you can pick up from the former USSR."

If it's so easy to get grenades into this country for a terrorist attack, why exactly are they using Panini bread mix to make explosives?

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Dead Vulture

Not what the reg used to say

To quote from a well known website (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2003/12/10/diy_5k_cruise_project_shut)

"Essentially, any self-respecting terrorist with some aeronautical knowledge, a garage and a mail-order catalogue could knock together a cruise missile and use GPS navigation to steer it to the target of their choice."

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Coat

@ Chris

"If it's so easy to get grenades into this country for a terrorist attack, why exactly are they using Panini bread mix to make explosives?"

They've watched far too many cookery shows and MacGyver repeats? *shrug*

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The point is...

Unless you've got terrorist geeks who like playing with toys, then why would they bother... Remember the Glasgow airport boys could have cause more terror, injuries and damage driving their 4*4 down the pavement on Saturday afternoon in the shopping centre... Of course that presupposes a rational decsion making process from the blokes with the bombs, which might not be certain.

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Unhappy

@A. Midgely - face recognition

It only picks out *features that could be faces*, you can't show your UAV a photo of your target and point it in their general direction...

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Rob
Black Helicopters

Are you sure about that?

"One more thing, when is it people are going to realise that the PM isn't that important? He's only an elected bod, the country can and does run without him. As soon as we start treating him and MPs as ordinary people the sooner they'll be less of a target for terrorists."

So maybe we should start treating him as more important, rather than a useless twat who hikes fuel@pump prices, we might be able to get rid of him quicker so the next fool can take over. In my opinion Politicians are expendable, it's us who aren't.

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Pirate

There's a much easier way

to terrorise the UK rather than remote control drones aimed at the PM.

Time: Saturday afternoon about 4pm

Location: 400-600m from every Premiership football ground with a match playing.

Weapon: 6-12 tube launched mortars of the sort the PIRA perfected mounted in a van or on the back of a truck. Each mortar armed with a 5-10kg explosive head wrapped with a mixture of bolts, nuts, screws, nails and rat poison.

Not only would something like this cause much more damage in terms of deaths, but there would be a chance of hitting some very high profile footballers whose death would make a much bigger splash amongst "the man in the street" than a failed attempt on the Prime Minister.

Drop a dozen rounds on the terraces and pitches of say 12 full stadiums all at the same time and the death toll would probably be in the thousands.

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@ chris

Failure of imagination maybe? It could be really difficult, to tell the truth I've never tried myself.

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Alien

Some Plans you can't Plan against

"If tomorrow he dwarves started pouring out from under mountains, and the elves came out of the woods riding unicorns, probably someone at some HQ already has some plan for _that_ scenario too." .... By Hans Mustermann Posted Monday 3rd March 2008 09:08 GMT

Now that one I would like to read. :-)

What about multiple coordinating elves and dwarves type scenarios, Hans? Are they Prepared for Stealthy Nymphs and Rabid Satyrs at Work Rest and Play?

How would they Battle in ITs PlayGrounds?

That would be a Silly Game which you Win Win when you Choose to Lose and Foreclose on Advantage.

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V1

The V1 was tactically a failure. Strategically it was worse.

It cost lots, was inaccurate (it MISSED london frequently) and its only danger was hearing the buzz stop.

Compared to a fighter plane load, it was pitifully weak.

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gps free

What about gps free gyroscopic navigation? Pretty sure that the guys from analog devices who made the accelerometers for the wii-motes are working on commericalising it. cant find the link though

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Dead Vulture

Re: V1

"The V1 was tactically a failure. Strategically it was worse.

It cost lots, was inaccurate (it MISSED london frequently) and its only danger was hearing the buzz stop."

1. It only missed London because of good counter-intelligence convincing the Nazis that they overshot, so they sent the next wave short. Even with that primitive tech, it was actually pretty feasible to make it drop roughly where you wanted it.

2. We're talking about a V1 with GPS this time, rendering the whole inaccuracy argument moot.

3. Believe it or not, the Tomahawk and the like aren't too far off from being just that. Essentially, ever since WW2, every single major military in the world, including the UK and the USA have dumped a bunch of money into (A) making a better V1, and (B) figuring out how to defend against a better V1. So surely the idea must have _some_ merits ;)

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Pirate

Bulls Eye Gold...... AIDirect Hit.

"So surely the idea must have _some_ merits ;)" .... By Hans Mustermann

Posted Monday 3rd March 2008 23:45 GMT

With the idea being to Control Spin, Hans? How very Enigmatic. Not something which just anyone can do .... for the Global Management of Created Perception is Loded with All Manner of Pitfalls and Honeytraps to Weed out the Junk Bondsmen who would profess to wannabe Good but are disenabled and/or unable to do Beta than Just Good with Good and IT.

Invariably, they will have fallen into some Moneytrap Honeypot which they are fearful of/would now be fearful of losing to AIRivals. More Woes and Calamities Virtually Raining down on their Reality Charade/Tirade/Parade.

Strangely enough, the Simplest of Common Sense would dictate that Sharing the Honeytrap Moneypot would have them United in Common Future Purpose with a QuITe SurReal NeuReal AIDirectXXXXion.

And that is Purely a Simply Complex AI Program which can be Bought whenever IT is on Sale/LeaseLend. And it doesn't come with any of those redacted passages hiding/revealing questionable intelligence practices and is not tied to Server any particular insular State but more enabled to Function in the Quantum State Mode which Resolves to satisfy traditional conflicting/bipolar opposite situations with a alternate, totally different premise ..... being the amalgam of all positive wishes and expectations and the rejection of all negative comment and sentiment to present an Artificial Mutual Intelligence which is theirs/ours, even though it be Created by IT and IntelAIgently Designed Virtual Machinery to Replace/SuperCede/SuperSeed lowly Individual Human Intelligence.

And if someone were to say that that is too much like an Obscure Sales Pitch to not be an Obscure Sales Pitch, then I would not be bothered to disagree with them and would save wasting any effort by immediately agreeing with them that it is Possible and probably Most Likely too.

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Anonymous Coward

Sorry Lewis - Don't agree with you on this one

"The purpose of terrorism is to terrorise" Lenin.

You don't have to HIT the target to produce terror, especially not with the current pack of 'bravehearts' in the UK government. Set off a grenade on the doorstep of No 10 within minutes of the PM leaving will cause enough panic, especially within the protection squads, to ensure that the PM's life is buggered up good stile. Small (1 to 2K) devices set of within crowded places will cause panic beyond their simple cost and complexity.

The PIRA went through a Darwinian process. The dumb ones were captured or killed quickly. This left the competent ones. The current Muslim terrorists will also be weeded this way. They also have two advantages. There are not afraid to die for their cause and they have state sponsors with money. So we are coming to a period when we will have smart terrorists, with money, who are willing to die to disrupt our way of life.

We have lost one of the main factors for our resistance of the PIRA. Then our government had (mostly) come through WW2. They could see the difference in threat from the PIRA. People were more used to 'coping' then than now. Now our 'leaders' act like frightened rabbits, running for cover at the smallest threat perceived or real. The Israeli have been the target for terrorist bombs for years and they still congregate, have parties and go to the market. The UK & US do not now have that attitude.

It is the scared leaders who place cameras around themselves for 'protection'. We in the UK have the most cowardly of all leaders.

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Alien

Selfless Sacrifice ..... a Needless Act.

"So we are coming to a period when we will have smart terrorists, with money, who are willing to die to disrupt our way of life." .... By Anonymous Coward Posted Tuesday 4th March 2008 12:33 GMT

Obviously I must have different smarts from you, AC, and terrorists with money ...... which is a relief .... certainly to me. The way of life of smart terrorists, with money, would most certainly be most dramatically disrupted, but out of sight, out of mind always works Wonders and Past Woes are soon forgotten in Future Opportunities ..... Just ask the Chuckle Brothers, Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley, for the Nitty Gritty Lowdown on that Conversion.

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@ Alan Wilkinson

If Mr. Simpson is alive and well, any chance I can get him to mail me the Pulsejet book I bought 4 years ago?:P I still have my email receipt where I could download the sample PDF somewhere....

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@ Sean, the shortsighted who slept thru history

if it was "imperialism" that causes modern terrorism, what caused it in the past?

1985, long before the current or even previous Gulf War:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Achille_Lauro

1801 (yes, barely 25 years after the start of the War of Independence and BEFORE the worldwide use of oil)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Barbary_War

711 AD (note: no America here yet. No Jamestown, no "imperialism"

http://spainforvisitors.com/archive/features/moorishinvasion.htm

That's only five minutes of using the Internet (google) for more than porn searches. Islamic violence towards the rest of the world has existed long before most European nations were capable of building navies, and long before America was even conceived.

Where it gets real interesting, is when you look to see Islamic terror incidents EVERYWHERE and against EVERY society where they reach a significant portion of the population or are neighboring any non-Islamic culture. Malaysia and Taiwan for starters, and if you can pull your head out of the Royal Saud-funded propaganda machine you'll come up with a few dozen incidents, recent and historical of non "imperialist" excuses for Islamic intolerance

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re "Sorry Lewis - Don't agree with you on this one"

"You don't have to HIT the target to produce terror, especially not with the current pack of 'bravehearts' in the UK government. Set off a grenade on the doorstep of No 10 within minutes of the PM leaving will cause enough panic, especially within the protection squads, to ensure that the PM's life is buggered up good stile."

And that's precisely the reason that I do not fear that terrorists are going to start building UAVs.

What is the cost of said handgrenade (or a similarly-sized C4 or diesel-and-fertiliser bomb) compared with a budget DIY UAV?

All the fanciful crap about Terrorist-controlled RoboWarriors and home-made Nukular (sic) bombs that the military big-wigs come out with to justify their budgets - and you can bet most of the budget doesn't go anywhere near countermeasures against such things because a) they know there's no point and b) they really wanted the money to buy caviar, Bollinger '67, Havana cigars and child pornography anyway - might make a great plot for a movie or the next series of "24" but in reality a suicide bomber hitting a civilian target and causing lots of casualties or scoring even a "near miss" on a political or military target is going to create the requisite amount of fear and outlandish headlines for far less effort and expense.

Tell you what, let's get together over drinks and make a small wager - we'll each start with a 250 quid budget and pick a separate town each. You can build a UAV and target whomever you feel would create the most panic and I'll make do with "low tech" methods - the one who causes the least panic and terrifying headlines within a month has to buy the other a drink.

I'm just kidding, obviously, but I hope you take the point: 250-quid expended on relatively low tech is going to give a lot more, as the USAians say, "bang for your buck" than the same amount spent on one leetle UAV.

That hypothetical grenade-sized charge on the doortep of No. 10 does not need to be delivered by even a rubber-band-powered toy plane, let alone a GPS-guided plane/helicopter/pulse-jet-enginned rocket. A home-made mortar is far simpler, as is an unguided rocket (all you need is line-of-sight for that and some means of concealing it up until you deploy it) or you could get someone to throw it or strap it to their chest and charge...

They won't succeed, of course - but as you point out, they don't have to.

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yah, it'll never happen, my arse

that somebody could build a deadly weapon from hobby grade gear is about as probable as a couple of hijackers with box knives flying a 747 into a building...oops!

Lack of imagination is what Saudi's pay the media for these days?

Let's look into a nice friendly gentleman who starred in the American version of your "Scrapheap Challenge" (Junkyard Wars over here). who builds his own pulse ramjet motors:

http://www.interestingprojects.com/cruisemissile/

I've got his downloadable book but never received the full pay one before he got shut down, notably by a good "tolerant" government who uses tax law to lean on the "white" guy but lets the vile hate spewing terrorist rabble rousers go free. This gentleman was a decent man, inventor, and good all around backyard builder. He was helpful and answered questions from folks about his designs and research all the time until he tried to prove that yes, there is a legitimate concern that needs to be addressed. But that's not what insiders really want...they want people to relax, to believe there are no terrorists or racist, muslim extremists and hounded this guy out of business.

So you can take that holier than thou, can't be done, smarminess attitude and cram it. It's about time to start being part of the solution, not the problem. The solution is, wipe out evil where it exists, instead of coddling it, or kissing it's arse. Failing that, ridiculing the true evil instead of those defending you from it would be a great start.

So if there's nothing to fear but "fear itself", let's see Monsieur Page and the rest proudly wear some Danish "Mo-bomb-hed" T shirts and a nice friendly "Islam is da Shiite" bumper sticker on their car/scooter and prove how tolerant and peace loving the "religion of peace" truly is.

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Anonymous Coward

I think

for all those in the fancy gadget camp remember this

"Keep it simple, stupid"

Plan a: use a dozen remote controlled aircraft to rain explosives down on a crowded area (a pro something or other rally).

Plan b: place timed explosives in or around village pubs also combine this with a suicide device in the queue for check in on a busy flight to the US at Heathrow.

See this was an interesting quote

"we have to fear is fear itself."

But I think we need the whole quote

"This is pre-eminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigour has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days."

Our government now spread nameless, unreasoning, unjustified, terror in aim to paralyse us so that we retreat into our own houses, cowering in the dark, stay blind to the twisting changes that they enforce. Turning victory in WW2 and the cold war into defeat.

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re "I think" by AC

Quite right, bro.

And you don't even need as much as Plan B.

A while back there was a hyped up big scare here in New Zealand when postal workers found a mysterious white powder in a couple of envelopes - the worry was that it might have been Anthrax and it caused Nationwide alerts, decontamination procedures, hospitalisation of those who'd come in contact with the white powder and a media frenzy for a while.

How much would that have cost? Probably around a (NZ) dollar per letter including postage, the envelope and some random white powder. No one was actually harmed but the panic it caused, hyped up by the Allies of Terror (media and politicians), was enough to satisfy anyone intent on spreading fear. That was over just a couple of them.

It's got to the point that no one even has to die. Some numpty makes a "car bomb" with no chance whatsoever of actually detonating and the papers and news reports are full of "if it had gone off it could have [insert hyberbolic description of carnage here]" and screaming about near misses and calamity-barely-averted etc etc.

Whatever happened to the days when the terrorists actually had to KILL people to spread panic? Since when does "what if it had been a real car bomb/thermonuclear device/vial of cultured Bubonic" justify a nationwide furore?

And now its "Jeez, what if They try to emulate the superpowers and build fiendishly complicated devices, better sound the klaxons and send out the press releases!"

If I were the terrorists, I'd charge the media royalties every time they linked the name of my organisation to the actions of some nutter or to wild speculations about what we *might* do if we ever got out hands on a portable disintegrator ray and then use the enormous revenue that would create to retire to the Bahamas - after all, it's not like the terrorists actually have to lift a finger these days, they might as well kick off their shoes, stick their feet up and order a banana Daiquiri.

In New Zealand in1982, a rather disaffected young punk rocker named Neil Roberts blew himself up in an attempt to destroy the Wanganui Computer Centre (the repository of our police records at the time). All he managed to achieve was to make a bit of a mess for people to clean up.

Back then, most of the country just laughed and said "what a fucking idiot".

These days there'd be six months of "Oh noes! He might have destroyed us all and plunged us into the Dark Ages" and speculations that he might have connections with Al Qaeda because one of the guys in his class was a Muslim (or knew a Muslim).

Jeez, what if he'd built a rocket launcher out of some lengths of pipe and left-over Guy Fawkes' Night rockets! Calamity!

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