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Autonomous Weapon Systems: A Brief Survey of Developmental, Operational, Legal, and Ethical Issues

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Technical Report

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The use of autonomous weapon systems AWS in warfare is not a new concept. One could argue that the development and integration of such systems have evolved over the last century and accelerated significantly after the September 11, 2001 911 attacks on the U.S. homeland. AWS will likely continue to grow in both capabilities and numbers. This growth of unmanned systems is not limited to the U.S. military or even the United States it is an international phenomena that includes government and commercial applications in all domainsair, land, and sea. Commercial endeavors for unmanned systems are at the forefront of many technologies and their proliferation will likely outnumber military use in the future. What does the Department of Defense hope to gain from the use of AWS This Letort Paper explores a diverse set of complex issues related to the developmental, operational, legal, and ethical aspects of AWS. It will briefly explore the recent history of the development and integration of autonomous and semi-autonomous systems into traditional military operations. It will examine anticipated expansion of these roles in the near future as well as outline international efforts to provide a context for U.S. use of the systems. These topics are well-documented in many sources, thus this Paper serves as a primer for current and future AWS operations to provide senior policymakers, decision makers, military leaders, and their respective staffs an overall appreciation for existing capabilities and the challenges, opportunities, and risks associated with AWS across the range of military operations. Emphasis is added to missions and systems that include the use of deadly force. Discussion is limited to unclassified and open source information any classified discussion must occur at another venue. Despite the goal of using precise language, the following terms may be used somewhat interchangeably due largely to the variety of source material cited in this Paper.

Subject Categories:

  • Navigation and Guidance
  • Sociology and Law
  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

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