July 29, 2014

How to Lose the Robotics Revolution

By Paul Scharre

The U.S. military is at the leading edge of the robotics revolution, with some of the most advanced systems on the globe like the autonomous X-47B carrier-based aircraft. But that lead is fragile and other nations are racing to catch up. Scholars warn of a “looming robotics gap,” driven in part by the explosion in widely accessible commercial robotics, some of which will have dual-use military purposes.

The biggest threat to the U.S. military’s lead in unmanned systems isn’t commercial sector innovation or even declining defense resources, however, but rather hidebound cultures and entrenched bureaucracies within the Department of Defense (DoD) itself. Unmanned systems have been embraced for niche missions like reconnaissance, bomb disposal, or cargo resupply, but resistance persists to their use for many military tasks and missions, even when use of force is controlled by a person “in the loop.”

While numerous DoD vision or roadmap documents spell out the advantages of unmanned systems, with few exceptions these visions are not funded. Only one out of every 20 research, development, and procurement dollars are spent on unmanned systems. As a result, the U.S. military risks falling behind in a critical emerging area.

Read the full op-ed at War on the Rocks. 

  • Commentary
    • The American Interest
    • November 8, 2019
    The Enduring Relevance of Reagan’s Westminster Speech

    Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of three essays, commissioned by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute, examining the legacy of Reagan’s Westmin...

    By Richard Fontaine

  • Reports
    • November 7, 2019
    Securing Our 5G Future

    Elsa B. Kania examines Washington and Beijing’s approaches to 5G development and proposes an American strategy for 5G security....

    By Elsa B. Kania

  • Commentary
    • Defense One
    • November 7, 2019
    National Security Is Made of People

    For several years, members of Congress and senior defense officials have worried, dramatically and out loud, about the state of military readiness, devoting bipartisan harangu...

    By Loren DeJonge Schulman

  • Commentary
    • Breaking Defense
    • November 6, 2019
    Artificial Intel: Time Is Not On America’s Side

    The United States reached a crucial milestone on its road to crafting a true national strategy for artificial intelligence (AI) this week. On Monday, the National Security Com...

    By Martijn Rasser

View All Reports View All Articles & Multimedia