The Department of Defense (DoD) is making significant strides to develop and deploy unmanned vehicles in a variety of environments. Specifically, the Secretary of the Navy is sponsoring a new program, Consortium for Robotics and Unmanned Systems Education and Research (“CRUSER”), at the Naval Postgraduate School to enhance the ability to address unmanned vehicle research in a systematic manner. The area of research in this thesis strives to position the technological advancements within an ethical framework that will guide the development and use of these technologies. Autonomous platforms may bring significant advantages and enhance our abilities for mission accomplishment. This project concludes that they are best deployed in conventional conflicts, and may have more limited and problematic uses during irregular warfare and COIN operations. Laws pertaining to the deployment of autonomous and unmanned platforms are unclear and need to be strengthened on an international scale. Furthermore, the questions regarding what are permissible uses of autonomous platforms should also include future operators and personnel involved in the acquisition and engineering of these platforms, and should not be left solely in the hands of lawyers and diplomats. The combination of autonomy and lethality is found to work best when limited to the targeting of an enemy’s weapons systems and aircraft in highly scripted environments rather than enemy combatants and personnel themselves.
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