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Robotic Cannon Loses Control, Kills 9 580

Posted by Zonk
from the keep-quiet-on-the-terminator-jokes dept.
TJ_Phazerhacki writes "A new high tech weapon system demonstrated one of the prime concerns circling smarter and smarter methods of defense last week — an Oerlikon GDF-005 cannon went wildly out of control during live fire test exercises in South Africa, killing 9. Scarily enough, this is far from the first instance of a smart weapon 'turning' on its handlers. 'Electronics engineer and defence company CEO Richard Young says he can't believe the incident was purely a mechanical fault. He says his company, C2I2, in the mid 1990s, was involved in two air defence artillery upgrade programmes, dubbed Projects Catchy and Dart. During the shooting trials at Armscor's Alkantpan shooting range, "I personally saw a gun go out of control several times," Young says. "They made a temporary rig consisting of two steel poles on each side of the weapon, with a rope in between to keep the weapon from swinging. The weapon eventually knocked the pol[e]s down."' The biggest concern seems to be finding the glitches in the system instead of reconsidering automated arms altogether."
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Robotic Cannon Loses Control, Kills 9

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  • Re:ED-209 (Score:3, Informative)

    by Gunslinger47 (654093) on Thursday October 18, 2007 @07:41PM (#21033669)
  • by flyingfsck (986395) on Thursday October 18, 2007 @08:17PM (#21034141)
    In a previous life I worked on the predecessor of those guns and I have been to many tests. Problems were usually due to stupidity somewhere along the line, not due to failures. I suspect that it is still the exact same guns, totally refurbished and with new electronics. The guns move *very* fast and fire at a *very* high rate (similar firing rate to an assault rifle, but with much larger projectiles). Just getting side swiped by the moving barrel can kill an operator. The projectiles actually have various safeties: a. Launch G force b. Spin c. Time delay d. Self destruct The gun also has protection with no-fire zones - to prevent this exact kind of accident. These no-fire zones must also have malfunctioned. I find it surprising that the projectiles exploded, but the article is not clear, maybe the safeties worked and they did not explode. The problem is that they still move at supersonic speed and when they impact something close to the gun, the projectile and whatever it hits will break up, even if it doesn't explode. So, I feel sorry for the operators and I hope that whoever wrote and tested that buggy code have already been fired too.
  • Historical precedent (Score:3, Informative)

    by earthforce_1 (454968) <earthforce_1@yaho o . com> on Thursday October 18, 2007 @09:26PM (#21034857) Journal
    It isn't unusual for even not so smart weapons to turn on their handlers. There are lots of very old historical precedents.

    A few years back, a cadet had his hands blown off by a cannon at Fort Henry, Ontario. While he was tamping down the powder charge ,a few leftover embers from a previous shot touched off the powder and blasted away the tamping rod with his hands attached. Apparently this was a common way to be injured or killed on wooden warships.

    I was not unusual for soldiers to be killed by accident with US civil war gatling guns which lacked a mechanism for locking the crank in place. As a result, the crank would occasionally make a quarter turn or so under force of gravity, popping off a few rounds. Tough beans for anybody unlucky enough to be in front of it. Automatic weapons can "cook off" a round just from the heat of prior sustained firing.

    The Forrestal fire http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Forrestal_(CV-59) [wikipedia.org] of 1967 was caused when an freak electrical surge caused a F4 to launch a missile across the deck, puncturing the fuel tank of another plane loaded with live munitions and touching off a chain reaction that ultimately killed 132 of the crew.

    HERO (Hazards of Electromagnetic Radiation for Ordinance) http://usmilitary.about.com/od/glossarytermsh/g/h2814.htm [about.com] has long been a concern for the military.

  • by petsounds (593538) on Thursday October 18, 2007 @09:59PM (#21035143)
    This entire story is inaccurate. The Oerlikon weapons system [wikipedia.org] they were using is a variant of a towed anti-air gun first made in 1955. This version has a computer-based, laser-guided targeting system. But it was made in 1985. This is not robots gone crazy. This is just a software glitch (or perhaps hardware failure) from an outdated system. This is not a fracking robot.

    This is typical of recent slashdot who is trying to compete more with the sensationalism of digg and other tech blogs. No fact-checking, just throw it up and wait for the ad impressions to roll in.
  • by flyingfsck (986395) on Friday October 19, 2007 @12:35AM (#21036661)
    It is a double barrel, radar controlled anti-aircraft gun. The system is rather sophisticated and fires at a very high rate of about 1500 rounds per minute. A projectile is about 35mm in diameter and 150mm in length. Various interlocks are supposed to prevent this kind of accident from happening.

    Imagine having two over-sized, 3 meter long assault rifles mounted side by side on a very fast moving (rotate and yaw) mechanism and you'll have some idea. The radar and computer system usually stands behind the gun, some distance away, preferably somewhat higher, for a better view of the horizon and incoming bombers. When a battery of 3 to 5 of these guns start firing, it is an incredible experience. With mufflers on your ears, first you feel the ground and air vibrate and then the wind sweeps back a wall of dirt - the next moment either the bombs or the wreckage of the bombers come down at you - either way, you end up diving for cover - quite exciting...

    The system has a long lineage going back 50 years. I (used to) know it quite intimately and this kind of screw-up is rather disappointing.
  • Re:High-tech? (Score:3, Informative)

    by flyingfsck (986395) on Friday October 19, 2007 @01:07AM (#21036897)
    These Swiss made guns go back 50 years. The guns used in the Falklands war were rented from South Africa (I was there - yes I am old, thank you.). The systems are continually updated and now sport a combination radar and laser tracking system, so they are pretty damn good and can shoot down supersonic targets. At those speeds you only have a few seconds to acquire track and fire.

    Good quality military systems have very long service lives. They don't get thrown in the trash every three years. These things are not toys.
  • by AJWM (19027) on Friday October 19, 2007 @02:17AM (#21037445) Homepage
    Even if the fire button was completely manual things could still go wrong.

    Absolutely. I was on the range once when the guy a couple of spots over had the mechanism fail (never did find out if it was dirt or breakage) on his FN and it started firing full auto without his hand anywhere near the trigger. Fortunately he (and/or the sergeant that was on him almost immediately) had the presence of mind to keep it pointed downrange until it emptied.

Wasn't there something about a PASCAL programmer knowing the value of everything and the Wirth of nothing?

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