The Gathering Swarm: The Path to Increasingly Autonomous Weapons Systems

19 Pages Posted: 23 Aug 2017

See all articles by Chris Jenks

Chris Jenks

Southern Methodist University - Dedman School of Law

Date Written: 2017


Unbeknownst to many, Lethal Autonomous Weapons (LAWS) have existed for decades, but they have largely been defensive and anti-material. However, as increasingly advanced defensive LAWS, such as complex swarming systems, become more prominent, states will assuredly develop ways to counter, including offensive LAWS. Certainly, the near-term developmental focus of such systems will be on operational environments in which there are relatively low risk of injury or death to civilians or untoward incidents in general, but it is a matter of when, not if, these systems will be widely used in direct combat situations. As such, LAWS are a frequent topic of debate among states and human rights organizations with many viewing LAWS as killer robots that should be banned indefinitely. But as autonomy increases in civil society, particularly through applications with life or death consequences, like driverless cars and robotic surgery, the public’s perception of risk and human/machine interaction will likely change. Whether that attitude change will translate to widespread acceptance, or indifference, of LAWS is yet to be known. Ultimately, this article explores the developmental history and trajectory of defensive and offensive LAWS in all areas of the military, and seeks to explain why an outright ban is unlikely.

Keywords: lethal autonomous weapons, LAWS, swarm, robot, convention on certain conventional weapons, CCW, killer robots, group of governmental experts, GGE

Suggested Citation

Jenks, Chris, The Gathering Swarm: The Path to Increasingly Autonomous Weapons Systems (2017). 57 Jurimetrics J. 341–359 (2017), SMU Dedman School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 363, Available at SSRN:

Chris Jenks (Contact Author)

Southern Methodist University - Dedman School of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 750116
Dallas, TX 75275
United States

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