Articles

The idea of shooting drones out of a cannon started with this

Would you take targeting orders from an autonomous artillery shell? That's the future the Army imagined in 1979.


A patent filed in that year and awarded in 1981 detailed an artillery round that would be fired towards a target area and then deploy a parachute. Then, it would slowly descend to the battlefield, taking pictures or video and identifying targets below. It would then feed the images and target positions to artillery batteries so the targets could be killed.

Figure: US Army patent application

That's right, the artillery shells would've been feeding targets to the gun bunnies.

This would've reduced the need to put artillery observers into harm's way when fighting against massed enemies. Instead of sending out a maneuver force or aerial reconnaissance patrol to find the enemy and feed targeting information back, the Army could just fire some rounds out there.

The system did include a "man-in-the-loop" function meaning that, like modern drones, a human would make the final decision on which targets would be killed. A crew chief would sit in a targeting van with a light-sensitive computer display. As the drone's imagery and proposed targets came up on the screen, this chief could designate new targets or remove target designations as necessary with a light pen.

The patent author specifically noted the importance of the chief completing this task since most computer systems of the day were prone to identifying large rocks and bushes as targets. Also, the remains of a destroyed tank still look very tank-like and could cause the computers on the artillery rounds to keep designating an already dead target.

Note the rock that is designated as a target. It's the human's job to go, "Lol, computer. No. Kill this other thing." (Figure: US Army patent application)

Modern battlefields contain more collateral damage concerns than many people envisioned during the Cold War, so this man-in-the-loop would also be useful as a final check to make sure a family SUV isn't targeted.

Once the computer had its final list of targets, more camera rounds would be fired at moving targets. These would contain explosive canisters instead of parachutes and antennas. The rounds would identify their designated targets, predict where the vehicles would be at the end of the rounds' flight, and then steer themselves to their final impact points.

Fixed targets identified by the system could be engaged by standard artillery rounds. Each round's impact point would be relayed to the firing artillery battery so that gunners could adjust their firing solutions if they missed.

(Figure: US Army patent application)

The patent also mentions the possibility of using a similar technique with helicopters. In that case, missiles would be used instead of artillery rounds and the human in the loop would ride in the helicopter, disapproving or adding targets to the computer from there.

Also, in place of the first missile being used to photograph or film the battlefield, the helicopter could pop up from behind cover to grab the first image.

In the end, there's no evidence that the rounds were ever completed. The Army had already experimented with placing cameras in artillery rounds in the 1970s, but that project was canceled due to technical problems. The patent for the autonomous system was filed in 1979 after the earlier program was already shut down.

The Army's plan to use aerial drones to target artillery lived on, though. Before drones were armed, they would designate targets for artillery or cruise missile strikes, a trick they can still do when necessary. In civil wars like those in Ukraine and Syria, both sides have used drones to spot targets for their artillery batteries.

Today, it's the Navy that's leading the charge for firing drones out of cannons. Their LOCUST program calls for dozens of drones to work together to canvas and attack a target. While other drones could be fitted into the program later, the ones currently being used are fired out of air cannons before spreading their wings and flying to their target.

History

George Washington was nearly impossible to kill

Despite having two horses shot out from under him, history would have been much different if George Washington was born a 90-pound weakling. As it was, he was an abnormally large man, especially for the American Colonies. At 6'2" and weighing more than 200 pounds, he was literally and figuratively a giant of a man. This might be why nine diseases, Indian snipers, and British cannon shot all failed to take the big man down.

Keep reading... Show less
Articles

How R. Lee Ermey's Hollywood break is an inspiration to us all

While there have been many outstanding actors and celebrities who have raised their right hand, there has never been a veteran who could finger point his way to the top of Hollywood stardom quite like the late great Gunnery Sergeant R. Lee Ermey.

Keep reading... Show less
Lists

The 6 dumbest things I thought knew about the military before joining

When I joined the military, I didn't have a lot of time for things like "background research" or "making an informed decision about doing something that might affect the rest of my life." I didn't even look into which branch I should join. I just walked up to the line at the recruiters' offices. Like a drunk stumbling through the streets late at night on the hunt for food, I went with whatever was open at the moment I got there.

Keep reading... Show less

5 of the stupidest diseases you can develop at the gym

Ladies and gentlemen, for years, we've noticed an ongoing problem that occurs when certain people at the gym are looking for a little extra attention. After completing just a few repetitions of a weighted exercise, gym-goers develop horrible douchebag diseases that, over time, become harder to reverse.

If you know anyone who suffers from these or similar ailments, please contact a gym professional for immediate treatment.

Keep reading... Show less
Humor

11 memes that will remind you how boot you were

Newbies who first enter the military typically have a pretty tough time. They are continuously reminded that they suck by their superiors and are treated like children 99% of the time.

Now, fast forward in your military career a few years and, hopefully, you're an NCO by now. You look upon the boots who've just joined and probably say to yourself, "I hope I was never that bad..."

Keep reading... Show less

North Korea is still hitting 17 countries with cyber attacks

A North Korea-linked hacking group has been tied to a series of cyberattacks spanning 17 countries, far larger than initially thought.

A new report by McAfee Advanced Threat Research found a major hacking campaign, dubbed Operation GhostSecret, sought to steal sensitive data from a wide range of industries including critical infrastructure, entertainment, finance, healthcare, and telecommunications.

Keep reading... Show less
Military Life

6 things platoon medics absolutely hate

Navy Corpsmen and Army medics are some of the best medical professionals in the world who go above and beyond to render care to sick and wounded troops in the line of duty.

Although the armed forces' "docs" have earned tons of combat decorations throughout their proud history, not every part of the job feels valorous or glamorous. In fact, many docs must accomplish tasks they absolutely hate in order to do their job well. Here are just a few of unpleasant functions the job requires.

Keep reading... Show less

The US slammed Russia for moving more weapons into Syria

Russia has ratcheted up military tensions in Syria by announcing it would send the advanced S-300 missile defense system to Syria, and the US military had a savage response.

Asked for comment on the announced movement of the missile defense batteries to Syria, Maj. Josh T. Jacques of the US Military's Central Command, which covers the Middle East, said Russia "should move humanitarian aid into Syria, not more weaponry."

Keep reading... Show less