Academic journal article Yale Journal of Law & Technology

The Economic Calculus of Fielding Autonomous Fighting Vehicles Compliant with the Laws of Armed Conflict

Academic journal article Yale Journal of Law & Technology

The Economic Calculus of Fielding Autonomous Fighting Vehicles Compliant with the Laws of Armed Conflict

Article excerpt

TABLE OF CONTENTS  INTRODUCTION I. AUTOMATION AND TRUE AUTONOMY IN WEAPON SYSTEMS II. INTERNATIONAL LAW CONCERNING THE LEGALITY OF DEPLOYING   AUTONOMOUS WEAPON SYSTEMS III. EFFECT OF ECONOMIC COSTS ON THE IMPLEMENTATION OF   COMPLIANCE SYSTEMS IN AFVS IV. EFFECT OF THE ECONOMIC COSTS OF COMPLIANCE SYSTEMS ON THE DESIGN OF AFVS V. RECOMMENDATIONS FOR POLICYMAKERS CONCLUSION 

INTRODUCTION

In 2001, the U.S. Military had only 162 unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly referred to as drones. (1) By 2010, that number exceeded 7,000, accounting for 41% of aircrafts in the U.S. Air Force. (2) As their numbers have increased, these systems have become increasingly automated. (3) Newly deployed weapon systems have taken the first steps towards target selection without input from human operators. (4) The revolution in robotics and weapons technology raises numerous questions about the legality of deploying Autonomous Fighting Vehicles (AFVs) onto the battlefield.

As human-operated weapons evolve into self-directed warriors, the applicable legal framework expands beyond the traditional determination of weapons' compliance with the law, (5) imposing additional positive and negative requirements. (6) The guiding principles for use and deployment (for example proportionality, military necessity, and chivalry) remain the same.

This paper examines the interplay between the obligation to produce legally compliant weapons and the economic costs of those weapons, and assesses how these costs may influence AFV design. We begin by defining an autonomous weapon system. We then examine obligations imposed by the Law of Armed Conflict and Customary International Humanitarian Law on AFVs. In particular, we evaluate how the Law of Armed Conflict influences AFV design, construction, and inventory maintenance. We conclude with recommendations for executive and legislative policymakers, including technical design improvements, cost and compliance policy considerations, modifications to increase command battlefield awareness of legal compliance, and increased policymaker awareness of AFVs' legal compliance advantages.

I. Automation and True Autonomy in Weapon Systems

The continuum from human control of the use of lethal force to complete autonomy begins in automated weapon systems. An automated weapon system is designed to automatically engage a target when certain pre-determined parameters are detected. (7) Automated weapon systems have a long history. The pit trap and its technological successors, the land and sea mine, are examples of early automated weapons systems. (8) They are "victim activated." The target actuates the weapon, but there is little or no ability to distinguish among targets.

Newer weapon systems are advancing towards a dynamic in which the weapon systems have a greater capacity to both identify targets and choose not to activate against inappropriate ones. For example, new anti-vehicle mines have the capacity to distinguish between "friendly" vehicles and "enemy" vehicles based on whether they meet certain sensor signatures. (9) As technology has evolved, these systems have gained greater range and ability to choose their own targets, moving them into the realm of autonomous weapons. (10)

Lawful autonomous weapon systems are defined in our analysis as weapons that have the capacity, without human intervention, to identify, engage, and attack legitimate targets without violating any law governing armed conflict. They may or may not have the capacity to learn and adapt their battlefield behavior without further human intervention or programming. (11) Some deployed weapon systems are capable of defensive autonomous reactive targeting of perceived nonhuman targets due to these systems' necessarily short reaction times. (12) Indeed, potentially offensive autonomous targeting decisions occur in some currently deployed weapons systems. (13)

II. International Law Concerning the Legality of Deploying Autonomous Weapon Systems

International law mandates that contracting nations determine whether a developing weapon system is compliant with the unvarying requirements of the laws of war. …

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