January 22, 2014

Think Tank: Tighter Defense Budgets Could Drive Shift to Robotic Warfare

Source: Defense News

Journalist: Marcus Weisgerber

Rapidly rising personnel costs combined with a decline in defense spending could drive the Pentagon to expand its robotic arsenal, replacing humans with autonomous systems, a prominent think tank says.

The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) report: “20YY: Preparing for War in the Robotic Age”, written by CEO Robert Work and Shawn Brimley, executive vice president and director of studies, says the increased cost of manned combat systems could lead to this shift.

“One potential answer to this daunting force design challenge is increased use of unmanned systems,” the report, which was released Wednesday, states.

The US has vastly expanded its unmanned aircraft arsenal over the past decade, fielding thousands of unmanned aircraft, primarily for reconnaissance gathering in Afghanistan and Iraq. The vast majority of the systems were designed to operate in areas with little to no threat of being shot down.

But battlefields of the future are expected to include more hostile threats to these types of systems, including surface-to-air missiles and advanced electronic jamming.

“[T]hese largely remotely piloted air and ground vehicles will soon be replaced by increasingly autonomous systems in all physical operating domains (air, sea, undersea, land and space) and across the full range of military operations,” the report states. “The United States will be driven to these systems out of operational necessity and also because the costs of personnel and the development of traditional crewed combat platforms are increasing at an unsustainable pace.”

The US military is preparing to shrink in the coming years, with cuts of more than 100,000 being considered in the Army alone.

Unlike in the past when advanced technologies, such as GPS, satellites, missiles, computer networks and stealth were created “largely from government-directed national security research and development strategies,” technologies that could be used in robotic warfare are largely being developed in the commercial sector, the CNAS report states.

“All of these technologies — largely evolving in the thriving commercial computing and robotics sectors — could be exploited to build increasingly sophisticated and capable unmanned and autonomous military systems,” the report states.

Two Army generals in recent weeks have talked about replacing soldiers with robots.

“A warfare regime based on unmanned and autonomous systems has the potential to change our basic core concepts of defense strategy, including deterrence, reassurance, dissuasion and compellence,” the report states.


  • Robert O. Work

    Senior Counselor for Defense and Distinguished Senior Fellow for Defense and National Security

    Secretary Robert O. Work is the Distinguished Senior Fellow for Defense and National Security at the Center for a New American Security and the owner of TeamWork, LLC, which s...

  • Shawn Brimley

    Former Executive Vice President and Director of Studies

    Shawn Brimley was the Executive Vice President and Director of Studies at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), where he managed the center’s research agenda and staf...