From the BBC Press Office: A new two-part series for BBC Radio 4, presented by Stephen Sackur, considers a crucial, but often hidden, revolution in the way in which wars are fought. Ever-more autonomous robotic machines are becoming steadily more popular with the military and other agencies, often controlled far away from the battlefield. The pilotless drone aircraft, for example, has become key to current conflicts such as Afghanistan. Whether in the air or on the ground, such machines are seen as offering huge military advantages – with less exposure of soldiers to danger as well as being quicker, cheaper and more effective forms of defence and attack.

But the implications of this revolution are controversial. Are countries more likely to fight wars if their personnel are not put in danger? What happens if machines malfunction? How can autonomous machines be held accountable for their actions according to the laws of war?

Stephen questions military figures, including the most senior RAF figure responsible for strategy on pilotless aircraft, those who operate drones for the RAF, manufacturers of military robots and experts in the field. He explores what is already happening as military robotics expand – and what might happen in the future.

The first programme focuses on the huge impact of drones, used not only by the British and US in Afghanistan but also – highly controversially – by the CIA in attacks on targets in Pakistan. One former CIA employee reveals how the use of drones in so-called targeted assassinations has divided the organisation.

Episode 1 is on Monday 1 February 2010 at 20:00 on BBC Radio 4.

Presenter/Stephen Sackur, Producer/Chris Bowlby