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The Decline of the Military Ethos and Profession of Arms: An Argument Against Autonomous Lethal Engagements

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The research question this paper addresses is what are the key military ethical issues of totally removing, other than the initial programming of the autonomous agent, the human in the loop of offensive kill chains The specifics of how the technology is developed or what form it takes are not germane to this paper. However, definitions are important and thus within this paper an autonomous lethal engagement ALE is defined as the application of lethal force by a robotic or computer system which solely relies upon its own internal programming and capabilities to conduct and execute all elements of the kill chain. Programmed with rules of engagement ROE, laws of armed conflict LOAC, conventions, and heuristics, an ethical black box within the ALE system independently evaluates each step of the kill chain and decides when and whether to engage an intended target with lethal force. Simply stated, other than the original manufacturing, programming, and introduction of the system into the combat zone there is no human in the loop. My thesis is that while the outcome of offensive ALE may largely be considered amoral death of a combatant resulting from a cruise missile strike or a robot is really no different, the act itself is contrary to military ethics and detrimental to the military profession and thus should be prohibited. Another key definition to frame the ensuing deconstruction is that of ethics - which can be broadly stated to be the study of good and evil, of right and wrong, of duty and obligation in human conduct, and the reasoning and choice about them. To develop my thesis, three primary analytical filters will be used 1 the traditional concepts of Just War Theory, 2 assignment of moral agency, and 3 the professions of arms and the military ethos.

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  • Sociology and Law
  • Cybernetics
  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

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