Military Autonomous Vehicles Reduce Personnel Threats But Raise Ethical Questions

Just as developers of autonomous vehicles for civilian roads grapple with programming life-and-death decisions, the defense industry must contend with when and if autonomous equipment should strike a target. Will autonomous military vehicles have an independent ability to make firing decisions or always require human approval for lethal action? With autonomous technologies advancing rapidly, military leaders are now confronted with practical instead of theoretical questions.

West Point Student Smart Machine Exercise

An exercise at West Point had students consider ethical scenarios while testing the other military benefits of autonomous military equipment. Students largely felt uncertain about the amount of authority the machines should be given. The possibilities for independent machine actions have also left military leaders pondering how much control to give up to autonomous machines on a battlefield.

Supportive Military Role

Short of firing weapons based on nonhuman algorithmic decisions, autonomous military vehicles have clear roles to perform in military environments. Rheinmetall, a Canadian defense contractor, has designed a modular unit that soldiers can outfit for different purposes.

Attachments for the autonomous vehicle offer reconnaissance and surveillance functions. The vehicles can also transport personnel in or out of operational areas. They could retrieve wounded people and evacuate them. Other attachments aid in fire fighting or enable detection of radiological, chemical, or biological hazards.

Cmdr. Regina Brown and Lt. Cmdr. Steve Bravo, both with the Office of Naval Research (ONR) reserve science and technology unit, talk with Lance Cpl. Cody Barss, following a demonstration of the Autonomous Aerial Cargo/Utility System (AACUS) held at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va. Credit: Office of Naval Research

Protecting Personnel From Harm

Autonomous vehicles would reduce risks for military personnel. They could send the machine to perform reconnaissance or sweep for hazardous materials. Machines could enter hostile zones and exchange fire with opponents.

An Oshkosh 4×4 MTVR fitted with TerraMax autonomous technology; this vehicle had previously participated in 2007 DARPA Grand Challenge

Air, Sea, And Land

Engineers have proposed many uses for autonomous vehicles. Unmanned naval vessels could pursue submarines underwater or fire weapons from offshore to support Marines on a beach. The U.S. Army is currently experimenting with machines that locate enemies and supply tanks with targeting information. The U.S. Air Force has plans for advanced drones that would work in conjunction with fighter planes.

Do you think that military scientists will achieve the next breakthroughs in autonomous vehicles? Comment with your thoughts on where this will lead.

ABOUT West Point

West Point’s role in our nation’s history dates back to the Revolutionary War, when both sides realized the strategic importance of the commanding plateau on the west bank of the Hudson River. General George Washington considered West Point to be the most important strategic position in America. Washington personally selected Thaddeus Kosciuszko, one of the heroes of Saratoga, to design the fortifications for West Point in 1778, and Washington transferred his headquarters to West Point in 1779.

The U.S. Military Academy at West Point’s mission is “to educate, train, and inspire the Corps of Cadets so that each graduate is a commissioned leader of character committed to the values of Duty, Honor, Country and prepared for a career of professional excellence and service to the Nation as an officer in the United States Army.”

ABOUT Rheinmetall

Rheinmetall Canada offers innovative solutions for vehicle systems and integration, air defense as well as weapon, command and communications, soldier and robotic systems. Furthermore, the offering includes airport ground support equipment. Rheinmetall Canada also customizes systems to the evolving operational needs of military forces in Canada and on selected international markets and is principally engaged in long-term, in-service support for the broad range of solutions.

In addition to offering its own solutions, Rheinmetall Canada provides the Canadian market with Rheinmetall’s broad portfolio of system solutions, services and technologies in the areas of mobility, reconnaissance, management, effectiveness, simulation, and protection.

Article Sources

https://www.defenseone.com/technology/2021/02/army-tests-autonomous-vehicle…
https://www.wsj.com/articles/forget-self-driving-carsthe-pentagon-wants-aut…
https://www.washingtonpost.com/magazine/2021/02/17/pentagon-funds-killer-ro…
https://www.army-technology.com/projects/mission-master-autonomous-unmanned…

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