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CHIPS Articles: Thesis Paper Review – Policy Options for the Employment of Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems in Future Conflicts

Thesis Paper Review – Policy Options for the Employment of Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems in Future Conflicts
By DON Innovation - July 7, 2017
The current DoD policy restricts the development of Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS). This policy needs to be replaced with a new policy that not only acknowledges the importance of LAWS in future conflicts but also spurs the development of the various technologies required to bring LAWS to fruition. This action will also serve to stir up thought on how to develop LAWS for use future conflicts.

Once the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) allows for the development of these systems, it will also bring forth the thoughts of tactics, techniques, publications, and formal schools that will all be impacted by this emerging technology.

With the expected technological advancements in LAWS, DoD will need to proactively support its development, and procure a wide range of autonomous weapons. The introduction of LAWS will be greater in scope than the introduction of armored vehicles in the early 1900s. The design and capabilities will need to be developed to complement the warfighting doctrine.

Just as armored units are in use today, in the future, there will be a need for autonomous units to build for combat. With the technology that will be available in the next five years, an infantry unit could replace approximately 30 percent of its manpower while still maintaining the same level of firepower. The percentage of replacement will only increase until Artificial Super Intelligence (ASI) is available (2030-2050). Once ASI becomes available, battalions and regiments can be formed without humans on the roster.

The conversation on LAWS centers on the ethics of allowing a computer to decide to either kill — or not kill — a human being. Much of the current discourse on the topic of autonomous weapons focuses on concerns over the ethical implications. Over the course of the next fifteen years, the technology industry will achieve many milestones that will significantly alter the argument about the use of LAWS.

Currently, there are ongoing efforts to institute laws and regulations that will inhibit or remove the use of LAWS. This research will clarify what will be technically possible in the future and take a holistic look at the topic. This study will explore the current technological abilities of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its impacts on civil society. It will further look at AI and its impact on lethal weapons.

Additionally, the study will explore the acceptance of AI in civil society versus the acceptance of AI in conflict. Such exploration is important as the newer technology may change the conversation about the ethics of employing robotics. This change in conversation may potentially encourage or even compel policymakers to use LAWS in future conflicts.


This paper was written as part of a Master's Program at American University.

Read the thesis paper in its entirety here. Paper republished with permission of the author.


Major Ted W. Schroeder was recognized with honorable mention for the 2016 Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) Innovation Award in the Professional Military Education category.

The SECNAV Innovation Awards recognize the top innovators within the Department of the Navy (DON). Their accomplishments are remarkable and serve as inspiration for the Navy and Marine Corps to think boldly and solve the fleet and force’s most challenging problems.

Join DON Innovation on or @DON_Innovation or visit the DON Innovation website at Email DON Innovation:

Major Ted W. Schroeder (Official Photo)
Major Ted W. Schroeder (Official Photo)
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