Autonomous Weapons: The Ultimate Military Game Changer?


Autonomous Weapons: The Ultimate Military Game Changer?
This video shows you that Autonomous Weapons: The Ultimate Military Game Changer?

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The widespread use of unmanned systems by the United States and other militaries has by now become commonplace. These systems offer a number of advantages over their manned counterparts: they have longer range and endurance, they are stealthier, and they can be operated without putting military personnel in harm’s way. While strategists in the armed forces are still trying to determine how best to incorporate robotics into future concepts of warfare, there is little doubt that it will prove to be an enduring feature of human conflict. In recent years, international-security experts have begun to turn their attention toward the possibility of unmanned weapon systems that will be largely or entirely autonomous.

There is no consensus yet as to what constitutes an autonomous weapon , a fact that has hindered discussion on this topic. The official definition adopted by the Pentagon refers to “a weapon system that, once activated, can select and engage targets without further intervention by a human operator.” Very few weapons in service today fall under this category. While armed drones have proliferated, virtually all of them require direct human involvement in order to carry out their mission. However, recent advances in artificial intelligence (AI) have raised the possibility that self-directed weapons of varying complexity could emerge and eventually play a significant role in how future wars are waged.

There are three main advantages to be gained by employing autonomous weapons. The first is speed . In this context, it is appropriate to consider the concept of the OODA loop, a four-step decisionmaking process in which an individual observes, orients, decides, and then acts. In combat, there is a premium on completing one’s own decision loop as quickly as possible while at the same time disrupting, or at least delaying, that of one’s opponent. This is known as getting “inside” an enemy’s OODA cycle.

Modern technology permits the collection of tremendous amounts of data, but humans generally lack the ability to process and interpret it quickly enough to be militarily useful. As a result, military operators are increasingly relying on advanced software to provide them with information about the battle space that is both accurate and relevant. As research into AI continues to advance, computerized combat systems are likely to be able to quickly analyze a situation and then provide a recommended course of action to a military commander. If so, the human element would represent the slowest part of the decision loop, and it would be just a small step from there to eliminating direct human involvement altogether and replacing it with a system that is fully autonomous.

Another potential advantage offered by autonomous weapons lies in the realms of electronic and cybersecurity. Current unmanned systems, used primarily against technologically unsophisticated insurgents, require almost constant communication between themselves and their human operators. In a future conflict between states, however, electronic environments are likely to be highly contested. A remote-controlled weapon whose communications are severed by enemy jamming or cyber attacks would be useless. A sufficiently autonomous system, on the other hand, would be able to execute its mission even if data links are compromised.

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