Autonomous warfare

My prior posts gave only a short summary of Switchblades, Javelins and Stingers. They all have the capacity to search and destroy a particular target through cameras and electronic navigation. The Switchblade allows intervention by pilots on the ground to redirect the drone (missile). See prior discussion, this drone is a missile because it self destructs on impact.

Autonomous simply means there is no person is directly involved. If it is a vehicle, there are no driver or passengers aboard hence no one to protect. The general topic is referred to as LAW or lethal autonomous weapons. Much of my knowledge in this area comes from excellent summaries prepared by Wikipedia, using only public documents.

As noted by Wikipedia, the oldest LAW is the simple landmine used since the 1600’s and now banned by international treaties and policies. (The US did not ratify the 1996 policy) The problem of course, is that landmines keep on killing long after the conflict is over. A landmine is a good example of a LAW without any human oversight or control. There are “smart” landmines which deactivate after a set period of time.

The new innovations in LAW unfortunately drive a new arms race for both offensive and defensive weapons. A inexpensive $6,000 2-ft Switchblade 300 drone which can be positioned 6 miles from the target, dramatically changes on how wars are fought. But getting the drone to the right location in the field requires people. Well, maybe not in the future. The armored Humvees were designed primarily for personnel and light cargo transport behind front lines, not as a front line fighting vehicle. It is difficult to add a lot of armor and still keep it as a relatively fast vehicle (60 mph+). From Wikipedia:

“One suggested a future role for the Humvee is as an autonomous unmanned ground vehicle (UGV). If converted to a UGV, the vehicle could serve as a mobile scout vehicle with armor features removed to enhance mobility and terrain accessibility, since there would be no occupants needed to protect. Because there will still be tens of thousands of Humvees in the U.S. inventory after the JLTV [Joint Light Tactical Vehicle] enters service, it could be a low-cost way to build an unmanned combat vehicle fleet. Autonomy features would allow the Humvees to drive themselves and one soldier to control a “swarm” of several vehicles.”

So, interestingly, instead of upgrading the Humvee (usually at costs often exceeding $100,000) in order to protect the soldiers in case of an attack or IEDs (improvised explosive devices), the military might opt for unmanned Humvee that can carry multiple missile launchers or other weapons. They could get on location fast, and move off location as soon as the missiles are launched to evade attack. I would think the Humvee would be equipped with cameras to allow for manual override as necessary.

Once autonomous, the Humvee doesn’t need windows or doors. It’s not multi-purpose. It just to get certain weapons to a location as fast as possible.

It is another evolving dimension in warfare for good and bad. Per Wikipedia: “In October 2018, Zeng Yi, a senior executive at the Chinese defense firm Norinco, gave a speech in which he said that “In future battlegrounds, there will be no people fighting”, and that the use of lethal autonomous weapons in warfare is “inevitable”.[17] In 2019, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper lashed out at China for selling drones capable of taking life with no human oversight.[18]”

Obviously, the Switchblades going to Ukraine serve a good purpose, to deter Russian aggression and they have human oversight. But, imagine autonomous warfare against civilians to quell protests in autocratic countries, Belarus, Russia, North Korea, China, to name a few. There may be no people fighting, but there are people being injured or killed. Sometimes, entire cities are leveled as in Aleppo, Syria, because the government attempts to rout out anti-government militias. Even worse, if terrorists in the future are able to buy autonomous weapons. Or perhaps a sympathetic government gives these weapons to terrorists.

These are real moral problem that come with “no people fighting.”

Stay tuned,


Wikipedia, Lethal Autonomous Weapons

Wikipedia, Humvee

(Please never confuse this with the Hummer).