Although work is already underway toward integrating autonomy in UCAVs, it may still be years before a U.S. military aircraft flies its own combat mission autonomously, relying only on artificial intelligence. This thesis will address some of the ethical and policy questions that will guide the use of such autonomous lethal platforms. It also proposes to stimulate and encourage others who are involved and will become involved in the acquisition, development and deployment of them to raise and consider such questions even further as they proceed in their vital work for the nation’s military.
Likewise, this thesis will address strategic assumptions that need to be evaluated before unmanned systems assume many roles traditionally held by human personnel. The continual advent of new technology will make it possible to replace human personnel with autonomous systems in a wide variety of military roles besides aerial platforms. In turn, that research and discussion should influence the question of whether the military should in fact implement autonomous platforms into its force structure and how it should implement them. Even though the military possesses the technological capacity to develop and deploy new autonomous platforms, it does not necessarily follow that it is imperative that we do so. In other words, “just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.”
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The prospect of using autonomous unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) to support the nation’s military objectives would be a major paradigm shift in U.S. military operations. The reliance on artificial intelligence is quickly affording new abilities to wage war, and may not only result in deploying autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles, but also lethal autonomous unmanned land and sea vehicles as well. Autonomous platforms have the potential to “change the nature of warfare” and re-shape the force structure of our nation’s Armed Forces.2