Israel debuts battlefield robot to support, protect troops

An Israeli defense contractor on Monday rolled out a remote-controlled armed robot that its maker says can keep human troops out of harm’s way. The Rex MK II is just the latest unmanned combat system that is changing the face of tomorrow’s battlefield.

Developed by the state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries, the Rex MK II can be adapted for a variety of missions, ranging from gathering intelligence to logistics support, with the capacity to carry a load of up to 1.3 tons. Armed with an arsenal that includes .50 caliber and 7.62 mm machine guns, it can also help conduct attacks.

“The multi-mission Rex MK II is intended to support infantry ground troops in various stages of fighting,” company officials said in a statement. “This includes providing logistical assistance to troops by carrying munition supplies, critical medical equipment, water and food, as well as evacuating injured personnel on stretchers.”

The robot also can be used to gather intelligence through a system that incorporates electro-optical sensors and radar. The Rex MK II is not fully autonomous — it requires a human controller — but it can drive itself to a set location on its own and use its optical sensors to bypass obstacles in its path.

Some critics have warned that even semi-autonomous systems like the Rex MK II are another step closer to battlefield robots that can attack targets on their own. Human Rights Watch launched the “Campaign to Stop Killer Robots” to ensure human control over the use of force.

Israel uses a smaller military robot called a Jaguar to patrol its volatile southern border with Gaza, and has developed several other unmanned systems for battlefield use, including the RobARC used to uncover and destroy explosive devices, and the RobDozen, an unmanned bulldozer that can carry out complex engineering tasks in danger zones.

“The need to support ground forces in the field to carry out various missions while minimizing threats to soldiers’ lives is at the heart of our values here,” Zvika Yarom, general manager of IAI’s land division, said in a statement. “We are experiencing a rise in demand from clients for unmanned land platforms.”

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