Enterprise Software

Robotic anti-aircraft gun goes rogue, killing nine

In a horrific twist of events, a computerized anti-aircraft gun went out of control in a SANDF (South African National Defence Force) live-fire exercise. Attempts to shut it down failed as it sprayed hundreds of high-explosive 35mm cannon shells around the five-gun firing position.

In a horrific twist of events, a computerized anti-aircraft gun went out of control in a SANDF (South African National Defence Force) live-fire exercise. Attempts to shut it down failed as it sprayed hundreds of high-explosive 35mm cannon shells around the five gun-firing position.

By the time the Swiss/German Oerlikon MK5 twin-barrelled anti-aircraft gun had emptied its twin 250-round auto-loader magazines moments later, nine solders were dead, with another 11 injured.

It was believed that the gun jammed moments after the exercise began.

Excerpt from Independent Online:

When the female officer went forward to help the gunner clear the blockage, another shell was accidentally fired, causing some of the unspent ammunition in nearly-full magazines to explode.

The rogue gun began firing wildly, spraying high-explosive shells at a rate of 550 a minute, swinging around through 360 degrees like a high-pressure hose.

The unknown officer tried to shut the gun down but she couldn't because the computer gremlin had taken over. Her fate was unknown at the time of going to press.

A top-level board of inquiry involving military, police, and government will attempt to determine the cause of this tragic incident.

Excerpt from Wired Blog:

Other reports have suggested a computer error might have been to blame. Ex-Defence pundit Helmoed-Römer Heitman told the Weekend Argus that if “the cause lay in computer error, the reason for the tragedy might never be found."

Excerpt from The Register (Edit October 19: Insert additional excerpt to clarify robotic nature of weapon):

In normal use the gun is designed to automatically target aircraft, helicopters, and cruise missiles and fire when they come into range. The weapon is capable of operating, and even reloading, without human intervention. Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota told the National Assembly on Tuesday that all the guns were set on "manual" at the time of the exercise.

A cursory search of the gun model shows that it has a maximum hit range of 4km, coupled with automatic reloaders that "makes it possible to feed and fire all the ammunition available on the gun without manual intervention."

I leave it to you to infer the consequences had the gun been hooked-up with full ammunition reloads.

Are we putting too much computer automation into weapons that kill?

About

Paul Mah is a writer and blogger who lives in Singapore, where he has worked for a number of years in various capacities within the IT industry. Paul enjoys tinkering with tech gadgets, smartphones, and networking devices.

39 comments
nighthawk808
nighthawk808

when you combine Windows Vista and live ammunition. A real Red Screen of Death.

ngokul25
ngokul25

It is a very tragic incident.

hammc
hammc

It makes sense what happen. So basically when they were clearing the weapon there is a possibility it was still hot. So ammunition doesn't like heat and messing with hot unstable munitions can cause it to fire. This applies to all bullet firing or explosive shell firing systems. Since there was an autoloader the weapon starting to do what is called 'Run away firing'. This means that one shell fires right after the other without stopping due to heat damaging something in the firing mechanism. The fact that is interesting is that the computer didn't have a safety mechanism to disable the gun while under maintenance.

neil.matthews
neil.matthews

The title implies that a robotically-controlled gun started firing at the wrong targets. It is not a robotically controlled gun according to the description you linked to. It automatically reloads, which is the only 'robotic' part, as you can't really argue that a computerised sighting system is robotic. So, a self-loading gun essentially got its trigger stuck in the 'on' position and couldn't be shut off. Tragic, but not quite the 'crazed robot kills humans' story the title implies.

paulmah
paulmah

Are we putting too much computer automation into weapons that kill?

ina_don
ina_don

As usual there is a whole lot to the issue that is out yet... We'll find out soon enough. And besides, where was this gun pointing when it was shooting at people? where is it mounted i.e. ground level, elevated, underground???

w2ktechman
w2ktechman

And you assume that Vista was the OS. However, I think it was more likely a cracked version of Win ME.

Oktet
Oktet

In "normal" use the gun is designed to [''automatically"] target aircraft, helicopters, and cruise missiles and fire when they come into range. This can't be good at all- "automatically" firing at targets, especially with no human intervention- at least have a guy standing there to at least authorize and moniter the damn thing with some serious kevler bullet proof suit or some type of protection from the darn thing. Now this is a mystery: The weapon is capable of operating, and even reloading, without human intervention. Wow, with all the troubleshooting we do with computers is this a good thing? That's probably why they could not stop the damn robotic gun-"no human intervention." Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota told the National Assembly on Tuesday that all the guns were set on "manual" at the time of the exercise. And even on "manual" they still had issues and they still brag about no human intervention, now that's amazing.

portable
portable

I agree with another post that the gun did not "go rogue", it just malfunctioned. As to having no safety mechanism... having ben a Plant Engineering Manager I would guess that it is more likely there was one and it wasn't used. It is amaing what people will think they can get away with in safety situations. "You mean I can't just clear the weapon without kiling power and locking the mechanism? We have to get on with the exercise... that would take too much time."

jesse.turner
jesse.turner

THIS IS JUST THE BEGINNING OF MORE ACCIDENTS TO COME....

paulmah
paulmah

Hi, I have inserted an additional excerpt into the post from a new report from The Register (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/10/19/sa_gun_death_probe/) which should clarify that the weapon is indeed robotic in nature. Logically, being able to acquire a target but be unable to physically move the barrel (robotics) to track it doesn't quite make sense for a non-missile anti-aircraft weapon. Having said that, I must admit that initial reports weren't so clear in this regard. Certainly, it is constructive feedback from readers like yourself who help us make IT News a better place. :) Regards, Paul Mah.

Litehouse
Litehouse

It may have got stuck in the 'on' position, but it also was swinging in a 360 degree arc, which tells me it was also capable of auto sighting. Sounds purely robotic and computer controlled to me.

DanLM
DanLM

And was under the impression from the other article that it was totally robotic. Hmmm, thank you. Dan

liveoak
liveoak

Isn't it time we started asking ourselves this question, as members of the human species? We're all connected, all over the globe, by technology. Why should we continue to divide ourselves into subgroupings and then try to kill those who are in "other" groups from the ones "we" belong to? It wastes a lot of resources, and besides, it's futile--like a parakeet pecking at a mirror. And we have some real problems to solves as a species, too . . . like how to get a destabilized biosphere back in balance.

OldER Mycroft
OldER Mycroft

How many (few) situations would present with aircraft flying at an altitude of 'below' zero feet? Any conventional non-jet powered aircraft would have to fly at at least 20 feet to allow for 'prop-wash'. I find it odd that any anti-aircraft gun can fire non-parabolically in a horizontal position.

adiputra
adiputra

some might secretly wish it that way. It relinquish us humans from the moral dilemma of having to pull the trigger ourself. that's until the computer turns into a 'bad kitty' that is...

errol
errol

First a woman helping to clear a weapon and yes its a lack of training.

TEBabcock
TEBabcock

These types of systems NEED to be fully automated. When we had people on the walls guarding the perimeter, more accidents happened involving death then ever would with the automated system we often employ today. Automation in short saves lives. Note, there will undoubtedly be a shiny new safety system added to this weapon system. It is because of HUMAN error that this is needed.

leftrok
leftrok

All anti-aircraft guns have an IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) that is; the weapon is programed to send out a signal in the planes transponder to query the aircraft and a "reply" is sent from the plane identifing itself a friendly or foe. All U.S. and NATO and most western countries "share" IFF codes so that they don't shoot themselves. Also, why didn't the female officer cut of the power supply to the weapon? Such a weapon needs a power supply of some sort to run.

JamesRL
JamesRL

Typically modern naval ships have autoload and autofire guns for AA. Most detroyers don't even have room in the turret for a human, unless it is being maintained. Humans can't typicall track a low flying jet zooming across the treetops at 400 mph. But a computer can. No amount of body armour will protect you from a 35 mm shell. Thats roughly 4 times the diameter of a 9mm pistol shell, and about the same size as early WWII tank shells. It would rip through half an inch of mild steel. This gun is an attempt at doing the same thing as the naval weapons. Autoaiming is NOT new, there was a US 90mm AA gun at the end of WWII where radar guided the gunner's aim, and there are now many autoaim systems. What we really don't know is if software is involved at all, or whether this was a mechanical failure due to round cook off. James

Litehouse
Litehouse

I've seen some of the same things. People loosing fingers and more because they couldn't be bothered to follow safety protocols before clearing away debris.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I was going to be all smart and reply to the initial post saying "is this the beginning of more to come" with 'you'd have to ask the mainframe at Cyberdyne' but that and the initial Terminator model number wouldn't come to mind (T1 or T5 wasn't it?).

JCitizen
JCitizen

testimony to the incident with its own jargon.

w2ktechman
w2ktechman

The barrels were clamped so that they could not move from side to side. But they could spin 360 degrees???

seanferd
seanferd

but it was continuously firing and rotating. Sounds like the barrel was level or lowered somewhat. Continuous rotation & firing doesn't sound like targets were acquired. Unless it picked the tip of it's own barrel as a target.

TEBabcock
TEBabcock

I agree! Well I agree that this is a nice though. However if I posed to you the question: ?What would you do about safety if you were asked to govern a small community?? How would you make people follow the agreed upon rules for that community? It's one thing to say, "Play nice all!" but to expect it to happen without some form of absolute control in place is just wishful thinking. It only takes one person for us to need protection from them. So who does the protecting? Who judges the needs of the many and the rights of the individual? While your views are altruistic and good they are coming from an abstract viewpoint. In the end the only thing that really keeps the rules of any system of government working are the fear of loss of liberty or life. As for the biosphere, It fixes Us through evolution. We don't need to fix it. You are assuming that there is some law saying we get to live here . History however has shown us that all species have one thing in common so far and that is there eventual extinction.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

Civilization after civilization has attempted what you wish. Every time it's resulted in the end of that civilization by it's less peaceful neighbors. And the earth has not ever been stable in 4 billion years, what makes you think we could work magic that nature can not?

w2ktechman
w2ktechman

someone will kill us! what, because you live a sheltered life, does not mean that others do not want to kill you. Some would even do it for entertainment. Different values for differnt cultures, and most do not want to change their ways. If you were told to change your ways, would you? Personally, I would make some adjustments, but if too much was changing, I would be more likely to strike back!

JCitizen
JCitizen

to fire at high angle and were never able to use them against ground targets(WWII). The Germans didn't make the same mistake and used all their weapons with great dispatch against us on the ground.

w2ktechman
w2ktechman

jokingly of course, that it couldnt be Vista, cause it was tested in Africa, but I thought it might offend some, so I just decided to settle with the ME crack

seanferd
seanferd

Yeah, cherchez la femme. Sure. And it is South Africa, a major advanced weopons exporter in it's own right. Lack of training? Sure, it could be. Why don't we let the senator's buddy drive the sumarine?

seanferd
seanferd

bad software, bad mechanism, no safety shutdown, etc. Human error: (What other kind is there?) Yeah, it happens in the design and building of automated equipment as well, not just the operation. Loads of automated systems have sucked royally in critical situations due to design and implementation errors. It is always human error, but where in the history of the device did it occur? I'm not sure what type of education you are implying here, but it is definitely important in all things! :D

JCitizen
JCitizen

It wouldn't need power to fire. Also the damage from the cook off could have jammed the electric controls. Even more likely if damage is in the contol panel instead of the computer firecontrol center.

JCitizen
JCitizen

Most modern AA systems use electrically driven actions. I guess this is what happens when you try to wed outdated weapons technology(1950) to modern computer controlled systems.

JCitizen
JCitizen

Shot a whole room full of OCP executives before being shut down. "Funny" how SciFi scores another one for prediction of science fact!

Oktet
Oktet

This was after the incident occured from what I have read from the article.