Autonomous Weapons 2021

The U.S. military has greatly expanded its use of autonomous weapons over the past decade, but the true revolution in autonomy lies just ahead.  Last year, the Department of Defense issued a directive authorizing combatant commanders to incorporate more weapons systems with autonomy into their operational missions.  Technology in hand could enable the Department of Defense to increase levels of autonomy in many types of weapon systems and combat support systems.

Autonomy is the ability for machines to conduct complex processes without human intervention.  Systems with degrees of autonomy such as Predator/Reaper unmanned airplanes have led the expansion in the U.S. military’s use of autonomy in weapons systems. However, Reaper squadrons are actually heavily manned with pilots and sensor operators who fly missions remotely.  The next level of autonomy may be quite different.

Technical advances may expand and complicate the roles for autonomy in a range of systems.  Requirements for survivable, functional, efficient systems will create potent incentives to increase levels of autonomy. Read about autonomy and the Air Force here 0414autonomy.

Autonomy choices are “here to stay.”  The Washington Security Forum is conducting a year-long project titled Tampering with Zeus: Autonomous Weapons and International Security.  The project will baseline current levels of autonomy as used by the military, then explore the next series of advances in air vehicles, weapons, ground systems and intelligence processing, and how they may affect future combat scenarios.