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Turkish drone sets off international buzz over 'killer robots'

The appearance of Turkish artificial intelligence-controlled drones in Libyan skies has rekindled questions on how lethal autonomous weapons will affect regional geopolitics and whether they should be banned. 

Turkey’s flourishing drone industry is back in the international spotlight following a UN report suggesting that Turkish-made artificial intelligence-based drones might have been used to kill enemy troops in Libya last year. If confirmed the incident would mark the debut of “killer robots” in the global theater of war.

The report by the UN Panel of Experts on Libya indicates that a Kargu-2 kamikaze drone manufactured by Turkey’s state-owned company STM was likely used in March 2020 in clashes between the forces of the Turkish-backed Government of National Accord and the Libyan National Army of eastern warlord Khalifa Hifter following the latter’s besiegement of Tripoli. Logistics convoys and retreating Hifter forces “were hunted down and remotely engaged by the unmanned combat aerial vehicles or the lethal autonomous weapons systems such as the STM Kargu-2 and other loitering munitions,” the report says. “The lethal autonomous weapons systems were programmed to attack targets without requiring data connectivity between the operator and the munition: in effect, a true ‘fire, forget and find’ capability,” it noted without specifying whether anyone was actually killed.

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