Dr. Robert J. Bunker
The 10th annual Kingston Conference on International Security (KCIS) was held in Kingston, Canada, May 11-13, 2015. This significant North American military research activity represents an important bilateral academic strategic outreach interchange between Canadian and American Landpower forces and has been held since 2006. This year’s conference theme focused on “Robotics and Military Operations” and was co-sponsored by the Centre for International and Defence Policy, Queen’s University; the Canadian Army Doctrine and Training Centre of the Canadian Forces, Royal Military College of Canada; the Canadian Army Command and Staff College; and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Defense College; and was conducted in cooperation with the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College. The 162 conference participants and attendees were drawn from government, nongovernment organizations (NGOs), industry, academic, and military entities from across the United States, Canada, and NATO.
Robotics and military operations, as a colloquial focus, span remote controlled, semi-autonomous, and autonomous systems utilized by both allied and opposing forces along the entire conflict spectrum and across battlefield domains (e.g., land, air, sea, space, and cyber). The conference was divided into seven panels:
- State of the Art: Current and Emerging Technologies;
- State of Play: RAS in Recent Operations (Allies and Adversaries);
- State of Governance: Law and Policy;
- Ethical Implications;
- Assessing, Detecting and Responding to RAS Threats;
- Force Development Strategies: Revolution vs Evolution; and,
- Policy Recommendations.
Dr. Peter W. Singer, of the New American Foundation and author of the influential work, Wired for War (2009), delivered the keynote address titled, “Robots, Autonomy, and the Next World War.”
Some of the key military documents related to the environments in which robotics and autonomous systems will be utilized are; TRADOC Pamphlet 525-3-1, The U.S. Army Operating Concept: Win in a Complex World 2020-2040, published in the United States, and The Future Security Environment 2008-2030: Part 1: Current and Emerging Trends (Chief of Force Development), published in Canada. Specific military documents concerning RAS fielding and evolving doctrinal thinking include Department of Defense Directive 3000.09, Autonomy in Weapon Systems (U.S. Department of Defense); Fiscal Year 2009-2034 Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap (U.S. Department of Defense); Chapter 2, “Robots in the Army,” and Chapter 3, “Army Robotics Concept,” No Man’s Land: Tech Considerations for Canada’s Future Army (Canadian Army Land Warfare Centre); and the expected publication of the U.S. Army, Remote and Autonomous Systems Strategy, in early 2016.
No legal prohibition of any semi or actual autonomous weapons systems in international law exists. The proposed preemptive “killer robot” ban by some NGOs (e.g. the 2012 Losing Humanity report and ensuing lobbying effort) has no legal standing. This interpretation is derived from a traditional Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC) review based on effects and results as determined by the answers to the following questions: Is it a lawful target? Is the weapon carried legal? What is the probability of collateral damage? If the answers to the first two questions are yes and the attack does not produce excessive collateral damage, then an attack by a semi or actual autonomous weapon is legitimate. Even so, efforts must be made to minimize collateral damage. Given these caveats, attacks by semi or actual autonomous weapons are perceived as moral and legal and can be employed, but constant care must be maintained as targeting/use circumstances change. Therefore, no “meaningful human control” governor is required by LOAC requirements on such autonomous systems.
Shrinking military manpower and the desire to minimize battlefield casualties are expanding the fielding of “bots on the ground” as “boots on the ground” decrease. Along with the expected cost savings of fielding combined human and robot armies by Western militaries, RAS technologies allow for space to be created between shouting and shooting responses. A U.S. Air Force UAV commander cautions against underestimating manpower costs associated with employing robotic systems. Actual manpower costs of employing UAVs around the world exceed the number required for employing manned platforms. By combining robots with nonlethal weaponry, more precisely graduated responses can be achieved in military operations other than war, such as in peace maintenance missions. Additionally, deterrence may become a more effective factor due to the improved indications and warnings (I&W) that these systems can provide. However, the possibility of rapid escalation must be addressed due to precisely graded responses quickly escalating a conflict via many incremental actions taking place too fast due to the compressed OODA loop cycles of opposing forces.
A number of the presentations and discussions that took place during the colloquium resulted in various emerging strange new world scenarios. In the increasingly high-tech world of the latter-21st century, the avatar scenario (of remotely controlled systems) called Track I was contrasted with the terminator and/or robocop scenario of fully autonomous malevolent and/or benevolent artificial intelligence (AI) systems called Track II. Between these extremes existed the cyborg—human and machine integration and singularity—scenarios along with “an internet of things” network scenario, existing simultaneously in cyberspace and in massive robotic swarms of small expendable devices. This resulted in some far-ranging debates, quite a few of which focused on Track II technology. Debate centered on whether true AI (machine awareness of self) could ever be achieved and, if so, would humans really want to arm such sentient machines and robotic AI swarms (a human security approach).
Currently, the Canadian Army is addressing the following four major questions that pertain to RAS threats: 1) How will RAS adversary systems—either nonlethal or lethal—affect our own tactical operations? 2) How should these threats be anticipated given technical, legal, moral, and ethical constraints of state, nonstate groups, and individual actors? 3) How will unstructured/complex environments and unpredictable/evolving scenarios affect our ability to respond? and, 4) How should Canada approach the development of capabilities to counter such systems?
Distinguished speakers included: Lieutenant General Guy Thibault, Vice Chief of Defence Staff, Canadian Army; Lieutenant General H. R. McMaster, Director, U.S. Army Capabilities Integration Center; Major General Jean-Marc Lanthier, Commander, Canadian Army Doctrine and Training Centre; Major General Stephen Bowes, Chief of Force Development, Canadian Armed Forces; Major General Robert Dyess, Chief of Force Development, U.S. Army; Professor Stéfanie von Hlatky, Centre for International and Defence Policy, Queen’s University; Dr. Jeffrey Larsen, NATO Defense College; Professor Douglas Lovelace, Director, Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College; and Professor Steve Metz, Director of Research, Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College.
The conference was a superb example of scholar-practitioner and academic-military interactions and helped to promote the development and sharing of new concepts concerning RAS development, fielding, policy, operations, and countermeasures. It also provided a venue for international exchange between the United States, Canada, and NATO in a cost-effective manner. Further, partially derived from ongoing U.S. and Canadian bilateral requirements identified during last year’s conference, senior U.S. defense leadership fully re-engaged this year with this important conference series.
For additional information on the Kingston Conference on International Security and next year’s annual event, contact the conference coordinator, Ms. Maureen Bartram. For more encompassing conference information, select presentations will be posted at the conference website, queensu.ca/kcis/index.html. An archival Twitter feed also exists via QueensCIDP #KCIS2015.
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