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This is set in a near-future war where advanced remote technology exists, drones and other automated weapons fight alongside human fighting units. These battles mainly take place in temperate climates, or desert.

Most of the autonomous attack vectors have been air-and land-borne in nature and both sides have developed effective defences.

A recent, deadly innovation is the robo-snake. Its capabilities allow it to bypass traditional defences against land and airborne autonomous weaponry. At this point in the story, these attacks have been very effective against some army units, and an effective defence has not been formulated.

Description: 3ft long and 3 inches in diameter, made of strengthened titanium

Capabilities:

  • Can travel overland at up to 15mph
  • Can burrow underground at speeds of up to 2mph
  • "Teeth" are envenomed with liquid VX nerve agent
  • Contains 1kg of high explosive
  • Autonomous
  • Can't swim, but can survive and operate under water
  • "killing" a robo-snake results in an appreciable chance that they'll explode
  • Robo-snakes will self-destruct when their battery level reaches 10%
  • Battery life is between 12 and 18 hours

Guidance: Initially overland via GPS, they make their final stealth approach from underground. They have a priority to seek out human "prey" through heat/scent triggers. Once their VX payload has been depleted, they then seek out large electrical sources (they seek men first, and then go for the hardware).

The mission brief for deployment of the robo-snakes is quite simple. They're targeted to a particular geographic location and are able to attack autonomously, usually approaching from underground. They are deployed in large numbers, up to 250 at a time.

Many of these attacks occur on plains.

Given an in-theatre fighting base of 1,000 men and associated habitation/equipment, how can these robo-snakes be defended against?

Assume that the defending army has access/capability for equivalent technology.

I'd prefer to see answers that can lead to an exciting narrative.

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Apr 5 '17 at 3:15

14 Answers 14

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Forgive the tone, but I couldn't resist.

When snakes sneak and threaten everything you believe in, there is one hero who can save us.

We need...

Robo-mongoose

flashy intro in style of trashy iconic wacky tacky cartoons

electric guitar riff

The bane of snakes Just like this guy above, needs more metal, though. And red glowing laser eyes. Yes. Everything is better with laser eyes.

Real mongeese are immune to snake venom thanks to modification to neuro receptors. Robo-mongoose would obviously be immune to robo-snake venom, by virtue of not having neuro receptors at all. If enemy starts using acid instead, you will have to coat robo-mongooses against it, but acid will be less lethal against people.

A bunch of those snake-murderers could patrol camp perimeter, digging sneaking snakes out and biting heads control modules off to prevent detonation. As it turns out, VX is a liquid with very low volatility. This means that if "venom" container is cracked, it will spill contaminating the ground, but there actually is no immediate danger to personnel - to be dangerous, VX need to be injected or spilled on skin. Dispersal as aerosol is probably the most efficient way of ensuring it comes into contact with skin and mucous membranes, but aerosols don't stay in air for long and puddle of liquid will not turn itself into aerosol - it can turn itself into gas through evaporation, but that's what low volatility is about: VX evaporates slowly. Thus spill from destroyed sneak snake can be easily contained.

If this source is to be believed, temperature of 250 Celsius decomposes VX in 4 minutes, 295 in 36 seconds while boiling point is 298 degrees Celsius (in his best tradition, Michael Bay overdoes everything, in plot of the The Rock they used thermite, which is an overkill - napalm would suffice, and probably be more efficient). Thus, containing spill simply requires equipping robo-mongoose with belly heater - mongoose could simply lay on contaminated ground to heat it and decompose VX agent, removing layer of soil with it's paws, after layer is purified and then decomposing next layer, until chemical receptors declare area clear enough.

And so, the solution is to build a lot of small, disposable Robo-mongeese and let them loose on those evil snakes.

Robo-mongoose!!!

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    $\begingroup$ Or reverse engineer enemy snakes to make your own army of anti-snake snakes. Then call the anti-snake snakes mongooses just to confuse the matter even further! $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Mar 31 '17 at 10:36
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    $\begingroup$ @JoeBloggs Certainly not! Mongeese are much cuter than snakes! Would you rather have snakes "running" around the camp, or Feliformia (literally: cat-like)? Mongooses would have much better impact on morale than countersneks. $\endgroup$ – M i ech Mar 31 '17 at 10:45
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    $\begingroup$ Nice answer, but it could be improved immeasurably with the inclusion of a musical montage.... $\endgroup$ – Snow Mar 31 '17 at 10:48
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    $\begingroup$ @Miech Anything from Dragonforce. Perhaps even the Power Rangers theme (Go Go Robo-Mongoose?) $\endgroup$ – Lu22 Mar 31 '17 at 13:24
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    $\begingroup$ My initial thought as well. Can't tell you how happy I was to see this as the highest voted answer. $\endgroup$ – bob0the0mighty Mar 31 '17 at 14:43
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One of the reasons why there isn't more 'advanced remote technology' on the battlefield is that it's expensive and it's not very reliable.

So let's say that reliability is a given, then it's still a war of economies. I love Miech's Robo-mongoose but a pit is far cheaper. Just dig a deep lined pit around your base. Snakes fall into pits and they cannot get out.

Or build a strong wall. Even titanium snakes with VX fangs cannot breach a good sturdy wall over bedrock.

If you electrify (or use microwaves, or other forms of EM defence) both the pit and the wall, or even if you just wait, you have a great source of titanium and VX, as the snakes will quickly run out of power and you can just harvest them.

The high explosive is likewise not such a problem as long as your pits are lined and your walls are tough - most of the charge will get dispersed into the atmosphere.

So the way in which you win against snakes is just wait until your opponent has burned through all their titanium sources. Then you can use all that titanium (or, let's say, rocks) to exact your revenge.

...but they can dig through solid rock and everything...

So if your snakes have some 'hardened' diamond digging teeth that makes holes through bedrock, then how about developing some nasty MEMS parasites by the billion that attach themselves to snakes and either subvert them or take them out of action?

They don't even need to drill a hole, they could crawl between the scales or just use some form of interference signal.

The per kilo cost of MEMS parasites would easily make them more economically feasible than snakes (or mongooses), and you could disperse easily on the wind, where they could burrow into the soil and wait for the unsuspecting snakes.

With a little more tech you could get the parasites to use the body of the snake to self-replicate - eating the snake from the inside out, and then using the snake's own high explosive to trigger a cloud of baby MEMS parasites ready for the next swathe of snakes.

You thought snakes were nasty.

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    $\begingroup$ ... But the mongooses are cuter! +1 for practicality. $\endgroup$ – Karen Apr 3 '17 at 0:35
  • $\begingroup$ Just dig a deep lined pit around your base. Snakes fall into pits and they cannot get out. The snakes burrow. So they could burrow out of the "pit" (moat). If the moat is brick lined or something one could blow up to breach and let the others out. Or they could be adapted to just burrow under it. $\endgroup$ – Grimm The Opiner Apr 3 '17 at 11:31
  • $\begingroup$ @GrimmTheOpiner, so go for MEMS parasites, as I suggested. $\endgroup$ – Konchog Apr 3 '17 at 12:07
  • $\begingroup$ Having no claws, snakes can only burrow in very soft soil. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn May 13 '17 at 8:33
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A net.

If your army has a problem with being attacked from below then they need to make sure they force the snakes aboveground. The easiest way to do that is to make it so the snakes (which are close range only) can't break through the surface of the ground around/in camp.

If you bury a net made of steel cable then the snakes will have to destroy themselves in order to break through, rendering their other capabilities pointless.

But wait! Will they actually break through? The majority of the force of the explosion won't actually be directed into the net (unlike a metal plate). If your net has the right material properties the blast will pass through to the dirt on the other side while the net remains intact. If the dirt is thick enough that the main force of the explosion doesn't reach the surface then the snakes will have to blow themselves up an awful lot in order to break through, severely blunting their offensive capabilities. Bury two or three layers and the snakes will have a seriously hard time trying to get to the surface. This may represent an awful lot of digging though, so bring a couple of JCBs.

Deploy the net over a wide enough area that the snakes have to cross a wide exclusion zone. Place landmines in the exclusion zone and have people posted to destroy any exposed snakes.

This gives a lot of scope for dramatic tension (underground explosions signalling the start of an attack, will the net hold?, Can we get the net down before the snakes catch up?) and is fallible enough to be believable, cheap enough to be manufactured en-masse, and not so overwhelmingly effective that the snakes are entirely removed as a threat.

Naturally it doesn't work while you're on the move, but if you drive fast enough and ignore any casualties caused by suicide snakesplosions then you should be able to get from A-B without too many casualties...

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    $\begingroup$ Since titanium is so cheap that we can use it on expendable robo-snakes, we can also use it for the net. $\endgroup$ – user535733 Mar 31 '17 at 12:22
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    $\begingroup$ That said, even with cheap titanium, that's going to limit how much and how quickly base areas can be snakeproofed. Putting down multiple layers of titanium netting is going to be a massive undertaking, and all the more so while your army is under snake attack. ...Snattack. $\endgroup$ – Bemisawa Mar 31 '17 at 17:25
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    $\begingroup$ Because if you're defending 1,000 men in your army base, you can assume that you don't have any more of that to lay cable, and not all of them are going to be able to be diverted to that. And presumably you want to protect any autonomous drones you're working with, too. That said, that's not a criticism of the narrative value of the idea itself - if anything, it gives more of a survivalist feel, as this army base's resources are going to be stretched very thin indeed. Thin... like a snake (!!!??). $\endgroup$ – Bemisawa Mar 31 '17 at 17:28
  • $\begingroup$ Even better: Weave your net out of captured and/or destroyed robo-snakes. Or at least patch the inevitable snaggles and breaks that way. $\endgroup$ – The Nate Apr 1 '17 at 16:14
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The strengths of your robo-snakes is stealth, just like normal snakes. And in that sense they are seeker mines.

How to camp among a suspected area has been mentioned, I agree, poles off the ground would work, but I'd like to get them higher off, about 2 meters would be nice. But it really would hamper your camouflage ability.

Robo-mongoose have been mentioned. I like them, but they are bigger and so probably more expensive then the Robo-snakes. And if the Robo-mongoose does not kill it in a very precise way, the Robo-snake will explode. That is not a good trade.

Robo-snakes use: somewhat mobile area denial weapon, just like minefield, but worse. And while they are buried they will be quite hard to find.

Under ground Counter:

Robo-Spiders, they use electronic-magnetic and seismic sensors to find the buried snakes. Robo-spider might be able to borrow down after detection to get close. They don't have to, they will be fast enough to keep up with a borrowing Robo-snake. If you make the Robo-spider the size of a man's hand, you can put a shaped charge in their body, that will have enough power to distroy the Robo-snake at a (small) distance. If the Robo-snake does not explode, reload & release. On design I'd go more with Wolf Spider then Tarantula shape.

Above ground Counter:

Robo-Hornets, they use motion, electronic and infra red sensors to detect the Robo-snakes. Or any other way you can dream up. These are smaller then the snakes, so easier to transport. In flight they can cover more area and are faster. And every squad can have its own little hive of terror. There could be options in the load-out of this hive:

Kamikaze-Hornets upon detection, just get as close as you can and blow up. Shrapnel will help.

Flechette-Hornets a few days back there was this evil empire, never mind, that was biological. Just mount a shotgun shell with flechettes in the hornet, find snake, let it go off. If the hornet survives the possible explosion from the snake, reload, paint an extra stripe for a kill, set it off again.

Thermite-Hornets lands on brains or explosive part of snake, let rip the Thermite: snake no longer problem. Don't think the hornet will survive, but his service to the cause has been appreciated.

Control-Hornets lands on brain part of snake, hack and take over snake. Might need a link to controller for this.

The bonus of all this is that these Robo-hornets can have other uses besides Robo-snake hunting. They will make a nice scouting force for example. Just make sure you have a tech happy, insect loving hive toting trooper with you. These things will creep you out.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 from me, especially because I found this video about the robospiders on the website you linked. Epic! $\endgroup$ – Secespitus Mar 31 '17 at 18:15
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Sleeping safe

My guess their first level of defense would be getting off the ground. So habitats would be placed over 2 feet of the ground. Perhaps concrete blocks or metal poles. Most of all you want any entrance 2-3 feet from the ground out of snake reach.

Then like many modern housing for the frontline you make it blast proof. You then got a snake proof habitat. At worst they explode under yours but you can protect against the worst of that. This of course is limited to a static base.

On the move things are different. Here I figure camping in their vehicles would work. A locked humvee door should keep the snakes out. Perhaps close the top hatch as well. You can't do this with patrols on foot but you can't protect those against RPG strikes either.

Detection

Now your second like of defense would be detection of the threat. Metal detectors should be a priority. These things are big enough to not be able to hide effectively. You augment that with tremor equipment used for volcanic and earthquake research. If they burrow they need to create tremor. Especially if they're with a couple of dozen in the same spot.

Further they're mechanical, they make noise. They give off heat from their internal batteries. If you want to get weird with this. Make a robotic dog to hunt them. DARPA already works on dog-like robots. Take one, give him snake tracking equipment when he patrols camp. Modular robot can easily be changed for other roles when requires so it's not an insane investment.

Electronic weakness

Another third thing would be EMP mines. Point them into the ground with a tremor trigger. Snake found? Fry the entire next few square feet just to be safe. Shielding them from that would be hard. You'll end up with a very expensive little robot. At some point it's cheaper to just buy bigger bombs and rebuild.

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Ever seen the movie 'Tremors?'

Assuming your army unit has a camp - a ring of metal detectors would give early warning. You'd want to get everyone off the ground out of climbing/ jumping range of these snakes. Then some kind of decoy to make them reveal themselves so that they can be destroyed.. have one of your soldiers run along the ground.

I don't see how these snakes could tackle moving transport... the interesting bit would be when you stopped.

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GPS Spoofing.

Make the snakes think they're far off target, and they'll leave your base in the direction they think the target will be.

If you're feeling sophisticated, guide them to a large trap.

If you're feeling really bold, guide them to the enemy base, but then you have a spoofing range problem, and you just announced your solution to the enemy.

Yes, the enemy will soon adjust their algorithm, but this will work until then, and it's dirt cheap.

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In a simple phrase: When they go Low, We go High.

enter image description here

If the technology exists to make autonomous fleets of borrowing robots... then the technology probably exists to make fleets of floating/flying cities...

Popular variation: Marvel Universes "Captain America" style Helicarrier. It works on LAND! It works on WATER! It works in the AIR! WHAT CAN'T IT DO!!!

enter image description here

Or other variations of "Flying" Aircraft Carriers/bases

enter image description here

Chinese concept art from 2010:

enter image description here

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  • $\begingroup$ The carrier blimp is far more plausible than the incredibly turbulent carrier drones, except the design above would obviously roll; however, an underslung carrier platform would be pretty stable. Of course, the entire idea is ludicrous for anywhere other than Central Asia due to the great prevalence of water on the planet. Anyhow, long range cruise missiles and icbm cover deep inland targets. Finally, and though it's fun, it's definitely ott for a defence against robo-snakes.... :-D $\endgroup$ – Konchog May 14 '17 at 10:51
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Lol. funny question, but here we are...

Best case scenario for army - you are on Canadian shield (rock) ground, and you have vision systems to see the snakes coming. the rock can be covered with a burning substance in sections and ignited where the snake is (igniting one section will not ignite another section... like a matrix). Snake cannot borough so it will burn and malfunction.

Best case scenario for the snake - dense forest; in this case the people's defense can be visions systems but they would have to be numerous, and would have low detection levels. So the snakes would be able to get very close to people.

Ultimatly defense against such a weapon would be to build a concrete/metal ring around your army. if the snake goes over top, it will be easily detected and destroyed. These rings will need to be long enough that snakes that borugh underneath run out of energy.... or even better once they are underground and cannot have any wireless signal they run into a very high voltage wall that will fry thier internal circuitry. The benefit here is that the opposing side does not know how they are being destroyed so long as destruction occurs under ground.

If you have ready infrastructure it's really not that bad...

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  • Be mobile, no fixed bases -- this will make geo targeting more difficult

  • Stay off the ground -- helicopters with ground penetrating radar and metal detectors to find them and then air-dropped deep penetrators and cluster bombs to defeat.

  • Avoid sending troops into cities/towns (use artillery instead) and start eliminating vulnerable infrastructure -- keeping away from areas that would help them hide and ridding areas of sources of electricity.

  • Chest-high and thick cloth "waders" to protect the ground-based cleanup crews -- the teeth of a 3" diameter snake can't get through an unlimited amount of material.

  • Air-dropped spiked sensors could also hep detect.

  • Announce that other side is using poison and you will retaliate with similar weapons.

Also --

Is the enemy only the snakes? How do the snakes determine who their side is? If there is an identity system, can it be exploited?

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The best defense against any sort of networkable robot device isn't to physically attack it, but disable the network nodes which controls them. This is augmented by attacking the communications links that allow the controllers to program the robot snakes/hornets/honey badgers/raptors/elephants/penguins/clowns etc.

So much like today, the headquarters will be actively sought out and suddenly be worried about a flurry or artillery shells, long range rockets or playing "catch" with a 2000lb JDAM or worse. Firing EMP weapons in the area to disrupt the communications systems and computers will also wreak havoc on the ability of the HQ to send orders or observe the results of actions in order to plan branches, equals and continue the campaign.

The other enablers, like GPS satellites, communications satellites or microwave relay towers will also be under continuing attack, using ASATS, ground, air and space based lasers, SoF soldiers or whatever else the force has available to send against the enemy. Releasing malware is also probably going to be a key ingredient, and it isn't necessarily to hack into the robotic weapons, changing the address tables in the communications systems so signals are not being sent to the appropriate units may suffice. Once again, everything from high flying UAV's broadcasting malware to SoF units infiltrating and inserting infected USB drives will be used to attack the systems.

On a strategic level, disabling the factories which make the weapons, or any of the industrial infrastructure that support the manufacturing (just cutting the road which is used to deliver supplies to the factory might suffice) will also be used to throttle the supply of advanced weapons.

Clever robosnake guy could be upended by an ancient F-35 zooming overhead and dropping a simple 500lb iron bomb on his head.

War is pretty scary, and unexpected events can negate even the best laid plans.

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Instead of trying to destroy the snakes, inhibiting them would be cheaper and more effective. Building a base above the ground limits the entry points of the snakes, then you can focus on those areas when securing the structure. Since there isn't a mention of how these snakes determine the best path to their target, you can install hollow tubes leading from the ground up the side of the base. This would make it the most likely point of entry since the snakes would want to conserve energy when penetrating locations. Then install sensors inside the tubes to detect when a snake was attempting to breach that location, which could trigger the release of a very viscous, adhesive liquid (non-Newtonian, Dilatant). This would not only slow the snake down, but inhibit its ability to attempt another route. As long as the volumetric flow rate and momentum of the fluid is enough to stall the snake from progressing any further, it would stay there until it's energy source depleted.

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Have a Seismometer installed in the base that would automatically sound an alarm when it reaches a certain measurement. Your base would be equipped with Metal shelters and elevated platforms equipped with weapons to fight the intruders. Once the alarm gets triggered, trained soldiers will run to the platforms and get ready for battle. The rest will hide in shelters and wait for the snakes to be eliminated.

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Could you come over here?

When selecting camp, choose geological formations that make it easy for the combat engineers to scrape down to bedrock. Or the sappers drive sheet piling which forces the snakes to the surface.

At that point, your classic Valve video-game engineer/Combine/Aperture Science turrets make short work of them. You would use rounds correct for penetrating armor instead of humans. The amount of titanium armor possible on a 3" diameter machine won't present a problem.

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