Lethal autonomous robots (LARs) in modern warfare


Lethal Autonomous Robots (LARs) represent a remarkable and highly controversial development in modern military technology. These machines, often operating under the radar, have the potential to revolutionize the way wars are fought and raise complex ethical, legal, and policy questions. In this article, we delve into the world of LARs to understand their significance, capabilities, and the critical concerns they elicit.

LARs are a class of military robots designed to perform tasks involving lethal force without direct human intervention. Unlike their predecessors, which were predominantly human-controlled, LARs possess a high degree of autonomy, making decisions and taking actions independently in combat scenarios. To execute their missions, they combine cutting-edge technology, including advanced electronics, computer systems, surveillance capabilities, and weaponry.

Capabilities of LARs

The capabilities of LARs are both awe-inspiring and unsettling. These machines can:

  • Operate Autonomously: Thanks to sophisticated AI and sensor systems, LARs can make decisions and execute actions without real-time human guidance.
  • Enhance Force Multiplication: With LARs, fewer human soldiers are needed for a given mission, as they can perform tasks that previously required many individuals.
  • Expand the Battlespace: LARs enable military operations to extend over larger geographical areas, giving commanders unprecedented reach.
  • Increase Soldier Safety: By taking on dangerous and life-threatening missions, LARs reduce the risk to human soldiers.
  • Process Information Rapidly: LARs can analyze vast amounts of data from multiple sources in real-time, allowing quicker and more informed decision-making.
  • Leverage Superior Sensors: Equipped with advanced sensors, LARs can observe and assess the battlefield more effectively than humans.

Examples of LARs

Predator UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle), equipped with Hellfire missiles, is a well-known example of an autonomous military system. While it is often human-operated, it can also operate semi-autonomously, selecting and engaging targets with minimal human intervention.

Phalanx Close-In Weapon System is installed on Aegis-class cruisers in the U.S. Navy. It can autonomously perform functions such as searching, detecting, evaluating, tracking, engaging, and assessing threats, including incoming missiles.

MK-60 Encapsulated Torpedo (CAPTOR) Sea Mine System is a navy system that can autonomously fire torpedoes and cruise missiles, making it a lethal autonomous robotic system for anti-submarine warfare.

Patriot Anti-Aircraft Missile Batteries, used for air defense, have autonomous capabilities, including target identification and interception, though humans may also operate them.

TALON SWORDS (Special Weapons Observation Reconnaissance Detection System), deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, is a robot capable of carrying lethal weaponry such as machine guns or rifles. It provides armed support to troops and can operate semi-autonomously.

MAARS (Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System) is an upgraded version of TALON SWORDS, that can carry a 40mm grenade launcher, an M240B machine gun, and various non-lethal weapons. It enhances the capabilities of warfighters while reducing their exposure to danger.

Ethical and Moral Concerns

The advent of LARs has ignited a heated debate over their ethical implications. Key concerns include:

  • Target Discrimination: Can LARs reliably distinguish between legitimate targets and civilians or non-combatants, adhering to the Laws of War?
  • Self-Preservation vs. Self-Sacrifice: Unlike humans, LARs do not prioritize self-preservation. This raises questions about their potential for self-sacrifice and the implications of such actions.
  • Emotional Influence: LARs lack emotions that often affect human judgment during combat, but this emotional detachment raises ethical questions.
  • Scenario Fulfillment: Humans are prone to cognitive biases like “scenario fulfillment,” which can lead to premature decision-making. Can LARs be designed to avoid such biases?
  • Ethical Monitoring: In mixed human-LAR teams, can robots objectively monitor ethical behavior on the battlefield and report infractions, potentially reducing human ethical violations?

International Governance of LARs

The development and deployment of LARs raise ethical and international legal considerations. The role of international treaties and agreements in governing LARs is a critical aspect that demands attention. International cooperation is essential to establish guidelines and regulations that ensure the responsible use of LARs following international laws and ethical standards.


Lethal Autonomous Robots (LARs) are poised to play a significant role in the future of warfare, offering unparalleled capabilities and posing profound ethical and policy dilemmas. As these machines become increasingly integrated into military operations, addressing the complex ethical considerations surrounding their use is imperative. The development and deployment of LARs necessitate international cooperation, clear rules of engagement, and heightened public awareness to ensure that these advanced technologies are employed responsibly and follow international laws and ethical standards. The discussion surrounding LARs will undoubtedly continue to evolve as technology advances, challenging society to find a balance between military innovation and ethical principles.