POST - Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology

Automation in Military Operations

Published Thursday, October 22, 2015

Automated technology is increasingly used in military activities such as intelligence gathering, navigation and weapons delivery. The most widespread use of automated technology to date has been remotely piloted air systems. However, each of the main military domains – air, land and sea – make use of automation. This POSTnote outlines current and potential future applications of automation in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and in combat. It then summarises debate over legal, ethical and societal issues, including debate over whether a pre-emptive ban is needed on future lethal autonomous weapons systems.

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An Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)

Summary

Automated technology is increasingly used in military activities such as intelligence gathering, navigation and weapons delivery. This POSTnote examines current and future military applications of automation, and considers associated legal, ethical and societal issues.

Overview

  • Military systems have an increasing range of automated functions but there are no fully autonomous systems in use.
  • Each of the main military domains – air, land and sea – make use of automation.
  • Technological challenges include on board data processing capabilities, data transfer, and power.
  • Deployment of armed remotely piloted vehicles has raised various issues including the need for transparency about how they are used by governments.
  • There is debate over whether a pre-emptive ban is needed on future lethal autonomous weapons systems, which could select and attack targets without human intervention

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The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology produces independent, balanced and accessible briefings on public policy issues related to science and technology.