Accession Number:



Lethal RPAs: Ethical Implications of Future Airpower Technology

Descriptive Note:

Technical Report

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Air Command And Staff College Maxwell Air Force Base United States

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Remotely Piloted Aircraft RPA provide a tactically effective tool for warfighters, but they are employed at a cost. An analysis of the implications of RPAs through a deontological, aretaic, and teleological ethic provide insight into some of those costs. Deontological ethics view issues through a sense of duty or obligation. This view stresses the importance of abiding to international conventions of war founded in Just War Theory. The narrative, or informational aspect of war, is strongly embedded in the legitimacy of a countrys just use of force in war. RPAs, and distance warfare in general, make it difficult to prove the proportionality and discrimination of an action without boots on the ground. Aretaic ethics assess the virtue of an action. RPAs provide action independent of physical courage, which is a key component of the warrior ethos. Teleological ethics focus on the consequences of actions. The consequences of risk transfer, disengagement, and a reduced threshold are evaluated suggesting an increased likelihood in the use of RPAs for lethal force. With this ethical framework established, an assessment of the future of RPAs is undertaken. Robotics and autonomy are two potential future capabilities that increase concern of the above ethical implications. The United States is at an impasse where it can help shape the future use of these technologies in war. Recommendations include guiding their use within this framework of ethics, advocating for international adoption of restrictions, and ensuring checks and balances. RPAs, like other Airpower technology, will remain a vital tool, but not a panacea and should remain subject to an ethical evaluation.

Subject Categories:

  • Pilotless Aircraft
  • Sociology and Law

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