China showcases robot “dogs of war” in Cambodia drills

A demonstration of machine-gun equipped robot dogs has kicked off China’s biggest ever military drills with the Cambodian forces.

The display of the robot battle dogs was described as “one of the highlights” of the drills by the local media and the presentation was attended by top military officials from both countries’ armed forces.

More than 2,000 troops, including 760 Chinese military personnel, are taking part in the 15-day exercise Golden Dragon 2024. It is the sixth installment of the war games between China and its close ally Cambodia that were first held in 2016.

The drills are taking place in Cambodia’s central Kampong Chhnang province and at sea at the Gulf of Thailand off Preah Sihanouk province. Live-fire, anti-terrorism, and humanitarian relief operations are held as part of the training.

The exercise involves 14 warships, including three from China, two helicopters, and dozens of armored vehicles – as well as robot dogs with mounted automatic rifles.

The handlers have demonstrated the mobility of the robot dogs to the attending journalists and military officers, but not their full capabilities, including shooting skills, according to the Khmer Times.

The robot model used by the Chinese military appears to be manufactured by China’s Unitree and is sold online for $100,000. The US Marine Corps has recently tested a rocket launcher mounted on a cheaper model made by the same company.

General Vong Pisen, the commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, said at the opening that the drills would “deepen the comprehensive strategic partnership and cooperation” between Cambodia and China.

Major General Gao Xiucheng, assistant chief of staff of People’s Liberation Army Southern Theater Command, said that the two countries are training for future missions that could include rescue and anti-terrorism operations, as well as clearing mines or unexploded ordnance.

Robots can be helpful in all of these scenarios, but there are bigger concerns about their use on the battlefield. Autonomous systems have already been deployed for military purposes in Ukraine and Gaza.

Many of the world’s leading robotics companies, including Boston Dynamics and China’s Unitree have previously warned against the weaponization of general-purpose robots, but said they had no issue with nations and governments using their technologies “to defend themselves and uphold their laws.”

According to Stop Killer Robots, an advocacy group, self-regulation “won’t be sufficient to deal with the challenges posed to the protection of civilians and international humanitarian law by emerging technologies.”

“Clear prohibitions and regulations” on autonomous weapons systems were urgently needed in international law, it has said recently.