Original Paper

Ethics and Information Technology

, Volume 15, Issue 2, pp 137-152

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Arms control for armed uninhabited vehicles: an ethical issue

  • Jürgen AltmannAffiliated withExperimentelle Physik III, Technische Universität Dortmund Email author 


Arming uninhabited vehicles (UVs) is an increasing trend. Widespread deployment can bring dangers for arms-control agreements and international humanitarian law (IHL). Armed UVs can destabilise the situation between potential opponents. Smaller systems can be used for terrorism. Using a systematic definition existing international regulation of armed UVs in the fields of arms control, export control and transparency measures is reviewed; these partly include armed UVs, but leave large gaps. For preventive arms control a general prohibition of armed UVs would be best. If that is unattainable, several measures should be taken. An explicit prohibition of autonomous attack, that is without a human decision, should be added to IHL. Concerning armed UVs remotely controlled by a human soldier, recommendations differ according to type or mission. New kinds of uninhabited nuclear-weapon carriers should be banned. Space weapons should be prohibited in general. UVs smaller than 0.2–0.5 m should be banned. Bigger remotely controlled armed UVs not equipped with weapons of mass destruction should be subject to numerical limitations in various categories. For these the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe is an important precedent.


Unmanned vehicle Uninhabited vehicle Military robot Arms control Disarmament UAV UGV USV UUV UMS