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CAPT George Galdorisi USN (Ret.) recently posed the following opportunities and challenges on one of the greatest challenges facing the future Navy: how to effectively develop and deploy unmanned systems that take advantage of both artificial intelligence and human intelligence.

Designing Autonomous Systems for Military Use: Harnessing Artificial Intelligence to Provide Augmented Intelligence


Executive Summary. One of the most rapidly growing areas of innovative technology adoption involves unmanned systems. The U.S. military’s use of these systems—especially armed unmanned systems—is not only changing the face of modern warfare, but is also altering the process of decision-making in combat operations. These systems are evolving rapidly to deliver enhanced capability to the warfighter and seemed poised to deliver the next “revolution in military affairs.” However, there are increasing concerns regarding the degree of autonomy these systems—especially armed unmanned systems—should have. Until these issues are addressed, military unmanned systems may not reach their full potential.

The Department of Defense has evolved a comprehensive Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap that forecasts the evolution of military unmanned systems over the next quarter-century. Concurrently, funding for unmanned systems is predicted to rise year-over-year for the foreseeable future. Indeed, as the DoD has rolled out a “Third Offset Strategy” to evolve new operational concepts and technologies to deal with emerging peer competitors, autonomous systems and artificial intelligence have emerged as key—even critical—components of that strategy. One of the operational and technical challenges of fielding even more capable unmanned systems is the rising cost of military manpower—one of the fastest growing military accounts—and the biggest cost driver in the total ownership cost (TOC) of all military systems. Because of this, the U.S. military has sought to increase the autonomy of unmanned military systems in order to drive down total ownership cost.

As military unmanned systems have become more autonomous, concerns have surfaced regarding a potential “dark side” of having armed unmanned systems make life-or-death decisions. Some of these concerns emerge from popular culture, such as movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Her, and Ex Machina. Whether the movies are far-fetched or not isn’t the point, what is important is that the ethical concerns regarding employing armed unmanned systems are being raised in national and international media. While the DoD has issued guidance regarding operator control of autonomous vehicles, rapid advances in artificial intelligence (AI) have exacerbated concerns that the military might lose control of armed autonomous systems. The challenge for autonomous systems designers is to provide the military not with completely autonomous systems, but with systems with augmented intelligence that provides the operator with enhanced warfighting effectiveness.

The DoD can use the experience of the automotive industry and driverless cars to help shape the degree of autonomy in future unmanned systems. As testing of these vehicles has progressed, and as safety and ethical considerations have emerged, carmakers have tempered their zeal to produce completely autonomous vehicles and have looked to produce cars with augmented intelligence to assist the driver. Harnessing AI to provide warfighters with unmanned systems with augmented intelligence—vice fully autonomous systems—may hold the key to overcoming the ethical concerns that currently limit the potential of military unmanned systems.


George Galdorisi works at Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific (SSCPAC), San Diego, California.  Full paper and slideset are available online. 


CRUSER TechCon 2017This work was presented during the CRUSER Technical Continuum (TechCon) at NPS 11-12 April 2017.  The Consortium for Robotics and Unamanned Sytems Education and Research (CRUSER) provides a collaborative environment for the advancement of educational and research endeavors across the Navy and Marine Corps. The Consortium seeks to capitalize efforts, both internal and external to NPS, by facilitating active means of collaboration, providing a portal for information exchange among researchers and educators with collaborative interests, fostering innovation through directed programs of operational experimentation, and supporting the development of an array of educational ventures.


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