Editor’s Note: 13766 Konrad Mech’s article “Automation, Autonomy, and Subsea Warfare: How the COVID-19 Pandemic Will Push Us to Accelerated Adoption, With Unintended Consequences” was recently published in SITREP, the journal of the Royal Canadian Military Institute in Toronto. The abstract and link to the full issue are below.
Konrad Mech’s previous article for SITREP focused on dangers associated with the convergence of technologies that could enable state actors to deploy android soldiers in land-based armed conflict, including threats to military and humanitarian law. In this article, Mech transposes the same argument to the maritime domain, i.e. the potential to develop and deploy automated and autonomous maritime surface and sub-surface platforms. He provides an overview of developments in this field in Russia and China, as well as advances in technologies which increase the potential for states to deploy unmanned maritime weapons. This raises the potential for maritime conflicts between unmanned maritime systems, creating potentially devastating environmental threats due to destruction of nuclear-powered or armed vessels. COVID-19 has exacerbated all these developments in quite unexpected ways. The unplanned docking of the USS Theodore Roosevelt as a result of a mass outbreak of the virus, provided an opening for China to take advantage of the situation in the region. This raises the specter for nuclear, biological and chemical warfare to play out in the maritime domain. He concludes by stating that “I believe these imperatives will push the west to accelerate development and deployment of automated and autonomous systems to shore up identified weaknesses and vulnerabilities exposed by COVID-19. But there will be unintended consequences, because we don’t know what the “unknown unknowns” are.
The article can be found on page 12 of full edition of SITREP available here.