Analyzing the development of autonomous weapons

by Hira Bashir

Major Powers have started the global race of autonomous weapon systems. When one state develops an autonomous weapon in response, other states perceive it as a threat, and ultimately they also join this race by setting AWS.

Weapons technology has changed substantially over the past two decades with the help of Artificial Intelligence. Autonomous weapons are the third revolution in warfare, following gunpowder and nuclear weapons. According to ICRC, autonomous weapons select and apply force to targets without human intervention. A person activates an autonomous weapon, but they do not know specifically who or what it will strike, nor precisely where and/or when that strike will occur.

This is because an autonomous weapon is triggered by sensors and software, which match what the sensors detect in the environment against a ‘target profile’.   For example, this could be the shape of a military vehicle or the movement of a person. The car or the victim triggers the strike, not the user. The US Department of Defense describes an autonomous weapon system as a “weapon system that, once activated, can select and engage targets without further intervention by a human operator”. Autonomous weapons have different types; Automatic Robotic Systems (ARS), slaughter bots and lethal Autonomous Systems (LAWs).

Understanding the matter better

According to the report, Europe launched a defense research and development program of $9.32 billion in January 2021 toward financing defense R&D projects. South Korea developed a Robot Military Sentry (SGR-A1) armed with a machine gun (and optional grenade launcher) that the South Korean military planted along the De-Militarized Zone (DMZ) separating North and South Korea in 2006. Korea, South. Although it was initially reported that it required a human operator to fire targets, multiple sources confirmed that the stationary robot could also act autonomously.

The robot can detect when a person enters its range (from over 2 miles away) using a low-light camera and pattern recognition software to distinguish humans from animals and other objects. The South Korean government has both acknowledged saying it is committed to “identify new and innovative means of countering the North Korean threat, including collaboration in robotics and autonomous technologies.”

According to a report, India demonstrated offensive drone technology during the Army Day Parade in 2021. The Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) has already released the ‘Mantra,’ India’s first unmanned remotely operated tank, which comes in three variants. In the same year, India headed over the GGE on regulating killer robots. Obviously, India is in favor of developing an autonomous weapon system to counter China, but it is creating a security dilemma in the South Asian Region. India wants to expand its influence in the South Asian Region but cannot see the future loss of humans.

However, Pakistan is strictly against developing an autonomous weapon system as they argue they can kill civilians and must be banned. Pakistan also believes that non-state actors can take leverage and that non-state actors can use them. In western countries, especially in America, it could be a threat where thousands of people die due to gun violence. The development of these weapons is very cheap, and every component of these weapons is available online due to the dual nature of these technologies. In a thematic debate, Pakistan’s permanent representative to the UN offices in Geneva, Ambassador Hashmi, stated that the military application of new and emerging technologies surpassed the application of existing rules and regulations.

Major Powers have started the global race of autonomous weapon systems. When one state develops an autonomous weapon in response, other states perceive it as a threat, and ultimately they also join this race by setting AWS.

There are a number of challenges associated with the development and deployment of autonomous weapons, also known as “killer robots.” Some of the key challenges include:

Technical challenges: Autonomous weapons systems are complex and rely on advanced technologies such as machine learning and computer vision. There are concerns about the reliability and robustness of these systems, as well as the potential for them to malfunction or be hacked.

Ethical challenges: Autonomous weapons raise a number of ethical concerns, including the question of whether it is morally permissible to delegate the decision to use lethal force to machines. There are also concerns about the accountability of autonomous weapons systems, as well as the potential for them to be used in ways that violate international humanitarian law.

Legal challenges: There are questions about how international law applies to autonomous weapons, and whether existing laws are sufficient to regulate their use. There are also concerns about the potential for autonomous weapons to be used in ways that violate human rights.

Strategic challenges: Autonomous weapons have the potential to change the nature of warfare and to have a significant impact on the global balance of power. There are concerns that the development and deployment of autonomous weapons could lead to an arms race and increase the risk of conflict.

Societal Challenges: Autonomous weapons systems could lead to significant job losses in the military, and the displacement of human soldiers, which could have an adverse effect on society. Additionally, the use of autonomous weapons could also lead to a lack of accountability and moral responsibility, which could lead to more atrocities and war crimes. To address these challenges, many experts are calling for the development of international guidelines and regulations to govern the development, testing, and deployment of autonomous weapons. Additionally, there is a growing movement for a ban on autonomous weapons, similar to the one that exists for chemical and biological weapons.

Written by Hira Bashir

The writer is a Research Assistant at CISS AJK, working on Nuclear Politics, emerging technology and New Trends in Warfare. 

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Center for International Strategic Studies AJK, King Abdullah Campus Chatter kalas Muzaffarabad, Azad Jammu and Kashmir