We could be on the verge of a "new class of biological weapon," scientists warn.
They're talking about insects.
The U.S. military is studying whether it can load bugs with genetically engineered viruses that would make modifications to crops, protecting the plants from sudden natural blights or other perils. The insects would, for example, insert drought-resistant genes into crops in the field.
The objective: make the nation's food supply safe from all manner of potential threats from nature or foreign adversaries.
The so-called Insect Allies program, launched in 2017 by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), sounds all well and good -- except that such plans conceivably could go awry, seeing as insects aren't known for being easy to control.
That's why a group of scientists is raising the warning. They argue, reports The New York Times, "that the endeavor is not so different from designing biological weapons — banned under international law since 1975 — that could swarm and destroy acres of crops."
On a website created to foster "an informed and public debate about this type of technology," the critics insist the program "is easily weaponized."
The research is still in early stages — insects are not yet being fitted with virus-filled backpacks. Insect Allies program manager Blake Bextine told the Washington Post that the program's critics are misinterpreting its goals and that the research has many safeguards built into it.
"I don't think that the public needs to be worried," he said. "I don't think that the international community needs to be worried."
Islamic state members walk in the last besieged neighborhood in the village of Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, Syria February 18, 2019. (Reuters/Rodi Said)
NEAR BAGHOUZ, Syria (Reuters) - The Islamic State appeared closer to defeat in its last enclave in eastern Syria on Wednesday, as a civilian convoy left the besieged area where U.S.-backed forces estimate a few hundred jihadists are still holed up.
U.S. Air Force Airmen assigned to the 317th Airlift Wing walk to waiting family members and friends after stepping off of a C-130J Super Hercules at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, Sept. 17, 2018 (U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Mercedes Porter)
The U.S. Air Force has issued new guidelines for active-duty, reserve and National Guard airmen who are considered non-deployable, and officials will immediately begin flagging those who have been unable to deploy for 12 consecutive months for separation consideration.
A small unmanned aerial vehicle built by service academy cadets is shown here flying above ground. This type of small UAV was used by cadets and midshipmen from the U.S. Air Force Academy, the U.S. Military Academy and the U.S. Naval Academy, during a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency-sponsored competition at Camp Roberts, California, April 23-25, 2017. During the competition, cadets and midshipmen controlled small UAVs in "swarm" formations to guard territory on the ground at Camp Roberts. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Drones have been used in conflicts across the globe and will play an even more important role in the future of warfare. But, the future of drones in combat will be different than what we have seen before.
The U.S. military can set itself apart from others by embracing autonomous drone warfare through swarming — attacking an enemy from multiple directions through dispersed and pulsing attacks. There is already work being done in this area: The U.S. military tested its own drone swarm in 2017, and the UK announced this week it would fund research into drone swarms that could potentially overwhelm enemy air defenses.
I propose we look to the amoeba, a single-celled organism, as a model for autonomous drones in swarm warfare. If we were to use the amoeba as this model, then we could mimic how the organism propels itself by changing the structure of its body with the purpose of swarming and destroying an enemy.