On a green hill overlooking the tree-lined perimeter of Daejeon, a city in central South Korea, a machine gun turret idly scans the horizon. It’s about the size of a large dog; plump, white and wipe-clean. A belt of bullets – .50 calibre, the sort that can stop a truck in its tracks – is draped over one shoulder. An ethernet cable leads from the gun’s base and trails through the tidy grass into a small gazebo tent that, in the Korean afternoon heat, you'd be forgiven for hoping might contain plates of cucumber sandwiches and a pot of tea.
Instead, the cable slithers up onto a trestle table before plunging into the back of a computer, whose screen displays a colourful patchwork of camera feeds. One shows a 180-degree, fish-eye sweep of the horizon in front of us. Another presents a top down satellite view of the scene, like a laid-out Google Map, trained menacingly on our position.
A red cone, overlaid on the image, indicates the turret’s range. It spreads across the landscape: four kilometres-worth of territory, enough distance to penetrate deep into the city from this favourable vantage point. Next to the keyboard sits a complicated joystick, the kind a PC flight simulator enthusiast might use. A laminated sheet is taped to the table in front of the controller, reporting the function of its various buttons. One aims. Another measures the distance from the gun to its target. One loads the bullets into the chamber. Pull the trigger and it will fire.
A gaggle of engineers standing around the table flinch as, unannounced, a warning barks out from a massive, tripod-mounted speaker. A targeting square blinks onto the computer screen, zeroing in on a vehicle that’s moving in the camera’s viewfinder.
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