JFQ-67: No One at the Controls: Legal Implications of Fully Autonomous Targeting

Lethal autonomous robots (LARs) may provide the best counter to the asymmetric threats of the future. From China’s considerable capacity for jamming and general cyber attack to swarms of Iranian patrol boats, dangers are proliferating, and LARs can operate faster than humans and achieve lethal outcomes even where there are no communications links. LARs are apt to prove attractive to a number of players, so the United States should act at once to secure a commanding capability in fully autonomous targeting. Legal concerns do not appear to be a game-ender, so operational commanders in particular should lead in harnessing this emerging technology. With appropriate control measures, these unmanned systems will be safe, effective, and legal weapons as well as force multipliers. They have already proven their value during the Global War on Terror, and all branches of the U.S. military are poised to rely on ever-more sophisticated LARs.

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