November 15, 2018

To understand autonomous weapons, think about electronic warfare

Featuring Robert O. Work, and Paul Scharre

Source: C4ISRNET

Journalist Kelsey D. Atherton

Remotely piloted vehicles are an anomaly of open skies. For as much as the wars of the United States have been defined by drones and drone strikes, those missions are only possible because the sky is empty of hostile aircraft, and because the electromagnetic spectrum is free of interference. This permissiveness, however, is hardly a guarantee in the future and even in certain theaters in the present. (Think: Syria.) If the machines that are today remotely operated are to take part in the wars of the future, they will need to operate on their own, with only minimal human control. The technologies that will make that possible are broadly grouped together under the subject of autonomy,

We already see autonomy in cyber defense, where automated defenses are used to counter automated attacks and speeds faster and scales larger than humans can work on their own. (The Defense Information Systems Agency, for example, processes more than 1 billion defensive cyber operations thanks to machines.) And there is autonomy in guided munitions, especially loitering weapons, which operate on their own from launch until impact. Waging electronic warfare will require both approaches: machines that can automatically counter the actions of other machines, and vehicles that can navigate through fields of interference on their own.

“There's no way that a human is going to be able to keep up with these new generations of cognitive electronic warfare systems that are constantly scanning the electromagnetic spectrum and jamming software where it can,” said Bob Work, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and former undersecretary of defense. “Humans just won't be able to keep up with that. The expectation is once again, for electronic warfare, machines will fight against their machines.”

Read the full article and more in C4ISRNET.


  • 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...

  • Paul Scharre

    Vice President and Director of Studies

    Paul Scharre is the Vice President and Director of Studies at CNAS. He is the award-winning author of Four Battlegrounds: Power in the Age of Artificial Intelligence. His firs...