Wired - Danger RoomRobot Cannon Kills 9, Wounds 14
By Noah Shachtman
EmailOctober 18, 2007 11:00:00
AMCategories: Ammo andMunitions, Drones, Guns 35mmfiring
We're not used to thinking of them this way. But many advancedmilitary weapons are essentially robotic -- picking targets outautomatically, slewing into position, and waiting only for a human to pullthe trigger. Most of the time. Once in a while, though, these machinesstart firing mysteriously on their own. The South African National DefenceForce "is probing whether a software glitch led to an antiaircraft cannonmalfunction that killed nine soldiers and seriously injured 14 others duringa shooting exercise on Friday." SA National Defence Force spokesman brigadier general Kwena Mangope saysthe cause of the malfunction is not yet known... Media reports say the shooting exercise, using live ammunition, tookplace at the SA Army's Combat Training Centre, at Lohatlha, in the NorthernCape, as part of an annual force preparation endeavour. Mangope told The Star that it “is assumed that there was a mechanicalproblem, which led to the accident. The gun, which was fully loaded, did notfire as it normally should have," he said. "It appears as though the gun,which is computerised, jammed before there was some sort of explosion, andthen it opened fire uncontrollably, killing and injuring the soldiers." Other reports have suggested a computer error might have been to blame.Defence pundit Helmoed-Römer Heitman told the Weekend Argus that if “thecause lay in computer error, the reason for the tragedy might never befound."The anti-aircraft weapon, an Oerlikon GDF-005, is designed to use passiveand active radar, as well as laser target designators range finders, to lockon to "high-speed, low-flying aircraft, helicopters, unmanned aerialvehicles (UAV) and cruise missiles." In "automatic mode," the weapon feedstargeting data from the fire control unit straight to the pair of 35mm guns,and reloads on its own when its emptied its magazine. Electronics engineer and defence company CEO Richard Young says he can'tbelieve the incident was purely a mechanical fault. He says his company,C2I2, in the mid 1990s, was involved in two air defence artillery upgradeprogrammes, dubbed Projects Catchy and Dart. During the shooting trials at Armscor's Alkantpan shooting range, “Ipersonally saw a gun go out of control several times,” Young says. “Theymade a temporary rig consisting of two steel poles on each side of theweapon, with a rope in between to keep the weapon from swinging. The weaponeventually knocked the pol[e]s down.”According to The Star, "a female artillery officer risked her life... in adesperate bid " to save members of her battery from the gun." But the brave, as yet unnamed officer was unable to stop the wildlyswinging computerised Swiss/German Oerlikon 35mm MK5 anti-aircrafttwin-barrelled gun. It sprayed hundreds of high-explosive 0,5kg 35mm cannonshells around the five-gun firing position. By the time the gun had emptied its twin 250-round auto-loadermagazines, nine soldiers were dead and 11 injured.
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