ANTALYA -- Turkish state-owned defense company STM says its military drone is not capable of launching fully autonomous attacks on targets, countering speculation about autonomous weapons spurred by a United Nations report.
Ozgur Guleryuz, CEO of STM, told Nikkei Asia that its rotary wing mini-UAV system, Kargu-2, is not designed to attack targets using artificial intelligence.
"Unless an operator pushes the button, it is not possible for the drone to select a target and attack," Guleryuz said.
The Kargu-2 grabbed international headlines this month after news organizations ran a story based on a U.N. Security Council report. In the report, a panel of independent experts suggested that a military drone used in Libya's civil war last year may have attacked soldiers without human control, bringing the Kargu-2 and its manufacturer, STM, under close scrutiny.
The experts wrote in the March report that "logistics convoys and retreating forces were subsequently hunted down and remotely engaged by unmanned combat air vehicles or lethal autonomous weapons systems such as STM Kargu-2 and other loitering munitions."
"The lethal autonomous weapons systems were programmed to attack targets without requiring data connectivity between the operator and the munition: in effect, a true 'fire, forget and find' capability," they said in the report.
However, Guleryuz disputed that assessment, saying the autonomous technology focused on navigation and identifying types of targets.
"Our homegrown autonomous AI drone technology is mostly used for navigation purposes as well as designating and differentiating humans, animals, vehicles, etc.," said Guleryuz.
An operator will have to manually zoom in to verify after spotting a potential target and can only launch an attack by pressing the button, with an option to cancel it any time until the drone hits its target, he added.
"Autonomous technologies are advancing so fast, but we are not there yet. At STM, we always think ethically a human should be involved in the loop."
STM is a Turkish military engineering and advisory company focusing on developing military technologies such as autonomous systems, naval platforms, command-control systems.
According to defense analyst Arda Mevlutoglu, the U.N. report does not explicitly state what kind of autonomous functions were used in the incident in Libya, or whether specified loitering munition harmed anyone. But, the report coincided with on ongoing international debate on the boundaries of AI and autonomous weapons systems that draw public attention.
Over 60% of respondents in an international poll said they opposed the use of lethal autonomous weapons systems. The survey was commissioned by the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, which is steered by such groups as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Association of Aid and Relief, Japan.
The U.N. report included a photo of the drone in Libya and conclude this "indicates that Turkish manufactured STM Kargu-2 rotary wing loitering munition is now operational in Libya."
Guleryuz said the Kargu-2 has been part of the Turkish military since 2018 and "it is combat proven both domestically and internationally, as far as we know." He did not name any conflict where it was used outside of Turkey.
Ankara is fighting domestic separatists and is engaged in military operations in Syria, Iraq and Libya. Turkey also lent extensive military support to Azerbaijan during last year's war against Armenia, which resulted in Azerbaijan's victory. Such military engagements are providing a fertile ground to test and develop weapons systems in real combat zones.
Turkey's locally developed larger drones, Bayraktar TB2 and ANKA, have been instrumental in such conflict zones and have been sold to such countries as Ukraine, Qatar, Azerbaijan, Tunisia and most recently fellow NATO member Poland.
Guleryuz said there is also a lot of interest for Kargu-2 from overseas, including Asian countries.
He spoke on the sidelines of an international diplomacy forum where top Turkish defense industry executives including Guleryuz, briefed foreign delegations from Africa, Central Asia and Europe on the Turkish defense sector.
Kargu-2 can be carried by a lone soldier and be set up in 1 to 2 minutes. The drone operates in both manual and autonomous modes. Company is also working on swarming capability for Kargu drones.
Israel Aerospace Industries has a similar model, according to industry sources.
"Like nuclear nonproliferation regimes set in the 20th century, I think we will see strict monitoring and oversight on development and usage of autonomous weapon systems in the 21st century by individuals states, if not by international organizations," Mevlutoglu said.