The Ethics and Legal Implications of Unmanned Vehicles

Download PDF(352KB)

Unmanned vehicles, which are the latest advance in autonomous or remotely operated systems, have recently appeared on the battlefield in a variety of different roles, principally for surveillance and reconnaissance and the disposal of unexploded ordnance. The advantage of both of these applications is clear, relieving servicemen of tedious or unnecessarily dangerous missions.  However, the use of armed UAVs against suspected terrorists, armed robots for house clearance or the deployment of automated weapons for border patrol are clearly more worrying uses of the technology. With the US Army planning to automate around 30% of all its ground vehicles by 2015, it is appropriate to ask whether this trend is appropriate. Certainly, recent COIN operations have shown that while technological advantage is useful it does not guarantee success.


This project began with a one day event on 27th February to scope the issues.  Presentations included current trends in robotic capabilities and their military applications, the framework of international & UK laws which might be applied to unmanned systems and the loop holes that may be (already) exploited. Roundtable discussions debated who was responsible for any injury or death caused by unmanned systems; investigated how robotic systems affect the operational theatre for all involved: friendly, enemy and neutral forces (or civilians) and analysed when autonomous systems might be more ethical.


The issues raised during this conference formed the foundation of a comprehensive report on the topic.


Explore our related content