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Israeli Drone Manufacturer Claims Western Nations Hesitant to Invest in AI weapons

Yuri Shenfeld, chief marketing officer with Israel Aerospace Industries, says “the technology is there” but western countries don’t want to touch AI drones.

LONDON—An Israeli drone manufacturer has said Britain and other Western governments are reluctant to use autonomous weapons—powered by artificial intelligence (AI)—even though “the technology is there.”r

Uri Shenfeld, chief marketing officer with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), was speaking at the giant DSEI defence and security equipment exhibition at the ExCel in London, which concluded on Friday.

IAI makes a variety of drones and so-called loitering missiles from the Rotem Alpha to the Harop, which can stay in the air for nine hours before its controller decides to fire it at a target.

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The Rotem Alpha—which can carry a warhead weighing 2.5 kg (5.5lb) and is designed to attack tanks—was shown off for the first time at DSEI and IAI said it drew on lessons learned from the war in Ukraine, which has seen the extensive use of armed drones.

‘Kamikaze Drone’

In June, IAI announced it had reached an agreement to sell the Rotem—which is sometimes described as a “kamikaze drone”—to three unnamed NATO countries, shortly after agreeing a separate deal with Estonia.

But Mr. Shenfeld told The Epoch Times: “Many countries in the West want control of the munition. They want a ‘significant man in the room’. The customers don’t yet want autonomous weapons, often for regulatory reasons.”

He said the first loitering missile—the Harpy—was designed by IAI 40 years ago and was designed to take out air defences.

Mr. Shenfeld said there have been huge technological advances since then and weapons controlled by AI were no longer a matter of science fiction.

A Harop loitering missile on display at IAI's stand at the DSEI defence exhibition in London on Sep. 12, 2023. (Chris Summers/The Epoch Times)
A Harop loitering missile on display at IAI’s stand at the DSEI defence exhibition in London on Sep. 12, 2023. (Chris Summers/The Epoch Times)

He said: “The technology is there. We are aligned to what the customer wants. But I’m sure there is a big appetite for it.”

West Wants ‘Meaningful Man in the Loop’

But Mr. Shenfeld said all the major Western powers currently agreed that drones, robotic tanks and other equipment which could be operated without a human physically present still had to have a “meaningful man in the loop.”

He said in the past missiles were “fire and forget,” meaning that once the trigger was pulled there was no way of stopping them from hitting their target.

But he said, “With our loitering missiles you can abort the mission right up to the second of impact.”

IAI’s drones and loitering missiles have a camera on their noses and are operated by men and women safely back in a control room who can abort the mission at the last minute if they spot “uninvolved persons” within the vicinity of the target.


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