Publications By Category

Publications By Type


In-House Bulletins


Policy Papers


Defense Technology Monitor - No. 11

Edited by Richard Harrison and Liam Bobyak
December 19, 2016

The precedent of using autonomous weapon systems to target humans has already been set in South Korea, where security guard robocops have been in place for years along the country's common border with North Korea. There is currently no ban on using lethal autonomous weapons systems under international law, although several are under consideration, and binding legal conventions (such as those governing chemical weapons and lasers) are still a ways away. This makes "killer robot" technology a particularly appealing arena for research and developments for governments attempting to minimize risk to human soldiers and combatants. (
Washington Post, October 5, 2016) 

3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is becoming increasingly prevalent in the private sector, but the military is now slowly discovering applications for the technology as well. The Army has found that 3D printing is effective at both the strategic level and also during forward deployment of forces. The rapid manufacturing of components, for example, can drastically alter and streamline work in storage depots. In the field, on-site manufacturing would reduce the reliance on resupply missions. However, expectations should be tempered regarding the total usability of the technology, as there are some constraints on the ability to print whatever is necessary on demand. That's because "if we don't own the intellectual property, we won't be able to really utilize the additive manufacturing to its fullest capability," explains Gen. Gustave Perna, the new commander of Army Materiel Command. (, October 6, 2016) 

The Islamic State has begun weaponizing commercially available drones, and has had some success in utilizing the systems in recent attacks in Iraq and Syria. Previously, the primary purpose of drones utilized by the terrorist group was for surveillance and propaganda, including filming suicide bombings. But now, the militant group has started attaching explosive devices to drones and using these flying bombs to target enemy personnel. 

The new tactic is causing consternation among U.S. and allied military planners. A recent report from the Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point has warned about more ubiquitous use of drones by terrorist actors, as advances in drone technology enable the carrying of heavier payloads. The Pentagon is currently investing considerable resources in developing counter-drone technology, but other coalition partners are less prepared to meet the challenge. For example, neither the Iraqi Armed Forces nor Kurdish peshmerga units currently have adequate resources to counter future attacks utilizing drones. (
New York Times, October 11, 2016) 

Battery storage capacity is the primary limitation on current drone technology, constraining the range of flight for unmanned aerial vehicles. However, a recent breakthrough at the Imperial College London has major implications for the future of drones: wireless charging. Utilizing a concept originally developed by famed inventor Nikola Tesla, the Imperial College has pioneered a method to charge an electric powered drone without it having to land. The technique relies on inductive coupling that involves synching two separate copper coils together through a given frequency in order to transfer power wirelessly. Although the current test system is only capable of charging a drone from four inches away, it is believed that this range can be significantly increased. More advanced systems might allow refueler drones to conduct aerial missions and allow surveillance drones to maintain continuous flight, thereby eliminating downtime and coverage gaps. (
Popular Science, October 21, 2016) 

With the proliferation of drone technology, the U.S. is increasingly looking into the possibility of using unmanned systems in order to negate U.S. numerical inferiority on the battlefield. American strategy has always assumed that U.S. forces would face numerically superior opponents on the battlefield, and for the past 70 years has sought to offset that imbalance by having fewer but superior systems to its adversaries. However, such a strategy is cost prohibitive and presents its own problems, because even a superior system can theoretically be overwhelmed by a sufficiently large quantity of opposing ordinance or materiel. Autonomous systems, however, appear to offer an easy alternative to this strategy, because they are very cheap and can be manufactured in large numbers while keeping troops out of harm's way. Swarms of drones can be used as lead vehicles in the air, on land, and at sea in the event of a conflict, and can be utilized to draw enemy fire, intercept communications, and triangulate precise enemy location for targeting. (
Breaking Defense, October 26, 2016)