Deep Maneuver (Autonomous Robotic Weapons)

Many cyber weapons are designed for deep maneuver.  These virtual weapons drift across the Internet, jumping from computer to computer to computer, potentially travelling for years until they find the target they were designed to destroy.  

Deep maneuver is also possible with autonomous robotic weapons in the real, physical world.  I'm not talking about the minimal performance improvements  achieved by removing the weight of a pilot or crew from a manned system.  Instead, I'm talking about autonomous robotic systems that can undertake missions that last foryears and traverse tens of thousands of miles

Let's dig into this idea a bit.

The earliest example of robotic deep maneuver I've found is an operation from WW2 called Fu-Go. Fu-Go was the Japanese attempt to bomb the continental US using balloon bombs. Although Fu-Go was a complete failure, I find it useful as a way to think productively about how robotic intelligence can be used to surmount physical challenges (distance, time, etc.).

Where the Fu-Go balloons landed in the US

Here are some details about Fu-Go:

  • The operation began in late 1944 in November, as US B-29s began the bombing mainland Japan and a couple of months after the Germans began launching V2 rockets. Operation Fu-Go was commanded by Major General Sueyoshi Kusaba of the Imperial Japanese Army and carried out by 2,800 soldiers. These soldiers launched 9,300 balloons made with mulberry paper and held together with potato paste, by hand. 
     
  • The balloons were built to carry hundreds of pounds of explosives across the Pacific in about three days, using the winter jet stream as propulsion. In order to access the jet stream the balloons were outfitted with systems (releasing ballast and venting gas) that kept them between 30,000 and 38,000 thousand feet. Some of the balloons were outfitted with radio transmitters, so their progress could be mapped by Japanese facilities on island bases across the Pacific. 
     
  • The operation was a complete failure.  The level of robotic autonomy used by the Japanese wasn't advanced enough to overcome the challenges of the task.  For example, the Japanese predicted that 10% of the balloons would reach the US (about 900 balloons), but only 300 balloons made it.  On top of that, no major damage was done by the balloons that completed the journey.   

I find that this example provides me with some insight into how robotic weapons can make deep maneuvers like cyber weapons.   As we know, cyber weapons are already experts at using the environment for propulsion.  They use everything from open network connection to the stochastic motion of personal gadgets (cell phones, etc.) to maneuver themselves to their target.  

Autonomous robots can do the same in the physical world by substituting intelligence for mechanical performance.  This intelligence would allow them to leverage a wide variety of environmental factors to extend mission duration and range, from using wind/ocean currents to hitchhiking on vehicles (ships, trucks, aircraft, etc.) to slow self-propulsion using solar energy (or buoyancy).  Deep maneuver makes it possible to:

  • Traverse an ocean.  Hide in the muck of an opponent's harbor or in the coral reef near a disputed island. Engage kinetically with PGMs when required.
  • Infiltrate a remote region and set up a sensor network to monitor enemy activity and look for targets of opportunity.  Persist for a decade, permanently denying the area to opponents.  
  • Fly by night.  Hide and/or recharge by day.   Tap into the opponent's electrical grid or fuel systems.  Do so until target is found/neutralized.  

Have fun

John Robb

Posted on March 1, 2016 .