The US Department of Defense has released its latest roadmap for unmanned systems, describing how such systems might be integrated in defense operations across all domains. The report focuses on four pillars:
1. Interoperability: ‘Manned systems and unmanned systems have increasingly synergized their capabilities, focusing on the critical need to use open and common architecture.’
2. Autonomy: ‘Advances in autonomy and robotics have the potential to revolutionizewarfighting as a significant force multiplier. Autonomy will greatly increase the efficiency and effectiveness of both manned and unmanned systems, providing a strategic advantage for DoD.’
3. Network Security: ‘Unmanned systems operations ordinarily rely on networked connections and efficient spectrum access. Network vulnerabilities must be addressed to prevent disruption or manipulation.’
4. Human-Machine Collaboration: ‘ If interoperability lays the foundation, then humanmachine collaboration is the ultimate objective. Teaming between human forces and machines will enable revolutionary collaboration where machines will be valued as critical teammates.’
Though the matters discussed under interoperability and network security are rather technical, the chapter on autonomy features interesting paragraphs on ‘AI & machine learning’, ‘efficiency and effectiveness’, ‘trust’, and ‘weaponization’.
On the challenges regarding autonomy, for example, the report states that ‘policy and legal restrictions (including international) must also evolve.’
On weaponization, the report states that even though it currently does not have weapons capable of engaging without a human operator, ‘weaponization will be a crucial capability in future mission sets where the unmanned system is directly supporting forces engaging in hazardous tasks.’ Further: “In the mid- to far-term there will be rapid growth in the development of highly autonomous unmanned systems with the potential to be armed.”
The report is not very detailed as to when and what exactly can be expected, and technological and political developments can be difficult to predict. Still the report is worth a read. It can be downloaded by clicking the button to the right.