JERUSALEM — The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) revealed to the Mainichi Shimbun that, beginning in mid-July, it has deployed fully automated self-driving military vehicles to patrol the border with the Palestinian-governed Gaza Strip. Next in the IDF’s plans is to equip the vehicles with weapons such as machine guns, and deploy them in stages to Israel’s frontiers with Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon.
Further in the future, the military is looking to form mixed combat units of robotic vehicles and human soldiers.
At present, all weapons are controlled remotely by humans, but one autonomous vehicle maker told the Mainichi that even now, it is technologically possible to give the machines’ artificial intelligence (AI) systems control of weapons as well.
This is the first time the IDF have revealed the deployment of its unmanned ground vehicles (UGV) to the news media. The military says the deployment is also the first of fully autonomous vehicles in the world.
In 2011, the United States military set out to build fully autonomous land vehicles, but none have yet entered active service.
There is a lot of progress being made in driverless car technology in the civilian world, but military vehicles have a whole set of unique challenges to overcome.
They need to be designed to drive through rugged off-road environments, and may be required to deal with various obstacles as well as the hazards of bombs and shells.
The IDF was also the first fighting force to deploy semi-autonomous military vehicles, when it began using them to patrol its approximately 60-kilometer border with the Gaza Strip in 2008.
Israeli soldiers have been killed in this area by Hamas fighters, and so the IDF sought to create a fully autonomous UGV force to help keep its personnel out of harm’s way.