How Will AI Shape Future Warfare?

We look at how artificial intelligence transforms defense, from ethical implications to autonomous robots on the battlefield. How Will AI Shape Future Warfare?

Debate on AI in Defense: Perspectives and Challenges

In a recent interview with CNN, former President Obama highlighted the revolutionary contributions of artificial intelligence (AI) to society while highlighting its inherent limitations. He stated that, despite advances, machines cannot replicate human emotions such as joy. This statement highlights AI’s ethical and philosophical challenges, especially in military and defense contexts.

Obama emphasized the duality of AI: its potential to deliver disruptive innovations while introducing unprecedented complexities. He acknowledged the efforts of the Pentagon and entities such as the Air Force Research Laboratory in integrating AI to understand human subjective phenomena. However, he stressed that certain aspects of human cognition and emotion remain outside the reach of current algorithms.

The former president stressed the importance of a combined approach in weapons development, promoting cooperation between manned and unmanned systems. This perspective suggests a balance between human intervention and AI autonomy in combat situations, thus maintaining human control over critical decisions.

The Army Research Laboratory and the Future of AI in Defense

Researchers at the Army Research Laboratory have emphasized that we are only at the beginning of what AI can achieve in defense. The Pentagon is actively exploring applications of AI in non-lethal contexts, seeking to combine human decision-making capabilities with the speed and precision of AI computing. This approach is already generating significant advances, such as reducing the sensor-shooter cycle in projects such as the Army’s Project Convergence.

The reliability of AI-generated analytics is an area of ​​critical interest, with efforts aimed at improving machine learning and real-time analytics, according to Maj. Gen.  Heather Pringle, former Air Force Research Laboratory commander, says the challenge lies in evolving AI beyond databases to address more complex concepts and relationships similar to human capabilities.

AI could play a crucial role in scenarios where threats such as drone swarms or hypersonic missiles require immediate responses. Human reaction times may be insufficient in the face of these high-speed attacks, raising the need for autonomous systems capable of making quick and accurate decisions.

Armed Robots and Autonomous Systems: The Future of War?

How Will AI Shape Future Warfare?

The question of when “TERMINATOR”-type armed robots capable of operating autonomously will emerge is pertinent in the current technological landscape. While the technology for teleoperated armed robots already exists,  Pentagon doctrine continues to require human presence in decision-making regarding the use of lethal force. However, the possibility of AI systems making autonomous decisions in non-lethal force contexts is being actively explored.

The central question is whether AI systems should have the ability to discern between lethal and non-lethal forces and whether they could be deployed in defensive tasks, such as intercepting drones or neutralizing enemy threats. AI on the battlefield raises not only technical questions but also deep ethical and philosophical questions about the nature and control of war in the age of Artificial Intelligence.

Debate Around the Autonomy of AI in Defense Systems

According to a Pentagon report, Colonel Marc E. Pelini, chief of the capabilities and requirements division of the Joint Unmanned Air Systems Office, expressed in a teleconference in 2021 that current policy requires human intervention in the cycle of decision of weapons systems. This stance reflects the Department of Defense’s current caution regarding full machine autonomy in lethal decision-making.

How Will AI Shape Future Warfare?

AI’s increasing speed and accuracy in interpreting sensor data and identifying threats raises the question of whether autonomous systems should be allowed to act within milliseconds to counter threats. Pelini noted the relevance of this issue, especially in scenarios where emerging threats, such as drone swarms, require rapid and precise responses.

The current ability of AI to analyze variables such as the shape, speed, and thermal and acoustic signals of objects, together with the analysis of the environment and historical data, opens the possibility that these machines can determine the most appropriate response in a threat scenario. However, questions remain about whether these decisions should be made outside the human control loop.

Ethical and Technological Implications of Autonomous Systems in Defense

How Will AI Shape Future Warfare?

The possibility of using autonomous weapons for rapid responses on the battlefield is an issue that is being evaluated both from a conceptual and technological point of view. Experts and futurists consider implementing “outside the loop” systems that can operate independently in certain contexts, especially in non-lethal situations. Although the technology necessary for these autonomous systems exists to some extent, this does not resolve the ethical, tactical and doctrinal issues that accompany such autonomy.

Ross Rustici, former senior Department of Defense official and AI and cybersecurity expert, highlights the complexity and nuances of this issue. He notes that, although technologically feasible, reliance on machines to make autonomous decisions remains a debated topic. Rustici warns of the need for caution, especially when defensive systems have lethal capabilities, as any failure could have deadly consequences.

In the case of non-kinetic countermeasures, Rustici sees the use of AI and automation as more viable but maintains reservations about completely delegating lethal force to machines. He highlights the importance of integrated error management in which humans can monitor and correct possible errors or erroneous data. This vision supports the idea of ​​maintaining a human-machine interface where human skepticism serves as an essential check on the technology.


How does AI influence today’s defense and combat?
AI influences defense by transforming decision-making, enabling rapid responses to threats. However, former President Obama highlights ethical limitations, such as the inability of machines to replicate human emotions, underscoring the importance of a balanced approach between human intervention and autonomy.

What are the advances of the Army Research Laboratory in AI?
The Army Research Laboratory is focused on advancing the application of AI in defense. Non-lethal applications, such as Project Convergence, are explored, seeking to improve the reliability of analysis and address complex concepts beyond databases.

How does AI address threats like drone swarms or hypersonic missiles?
AI addresses threats like drone swarms and hypersonic missiles by providing immediate responses. The speed and precision of AI are crucial in the face of high-speed attacks, improving decision-making capacity in critical situations.

When might we see armed robots operating autonomously on the battlefield?
The possibility of seeing armed robots operating autonomously on the battlefield is a current topic. Although the technology exists for teleoperated robots, Pentagon doctrine requires human presence in lethal force decisions. Exploration of autonomous systems in non-lethal contexts is ongoing.

How is the autonomy of AI in defense systems debated?
The debate over the autonomy of AI in defense systems reflects the current position of the Department of Defense, which requires human intervention in the decision cycle. The speed and precision of AI raise questions about allowing autonomous systems to act quickly, raising ethical and tactical concerns in lethal decisions. Error management and human oversight are considered essential to maintaining trust in the technology.

What are the ethical and technological implications of autonomous systems in defense?
The ethical implications of autonomous systems in defense include concerns about making lethal decisions without direct human intervention, raising questions about liability and human rights. Technologically, the speed of artificial intelligence poses challenges in accurately interpreting complex situations. Error management and human oversight are essential to avoid unintended consequences. Additionally, legal and transparency issues arise in the implementation of this technology in military contexts.