Future of Autonomy Isn’t Autonomous

The US military is far from developing fully autonomous vehicles, ones completely uncontrolled by humans, said Paul Scharre, senior fellow and director of the 20YY Warfare Initiative. However, since current trends in development for manned aircraft are “unsustainable,” it’s wise to invest in semi-autonomous and at least uninhabited aircraft, such as the swarming variety. Speaking at ASC15 on Tuesday, Scharre said these futuristic systems will increase precision, reliability, and speed, and bring about significant cost savings, but won’t immediately replace manned aircraft. They’ll “complement them” with different loadouts, allowing for a stronger power projection. This is especially true in potentially contested areas like China, where the use of an uninhibited force instead of a manned force could save between $53 billion in procurement and $2 billion in operations, Scharre said. The appropriate balance between manned and unmanned aircraft is yet unclear. “It’s going to require experimentation,” he said, adding that services will just have to build something, “take it out,” determine its use, and then repeat.