The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Global Security Studies

Living Edition
| Editors: Scott Romaniuk, Manish Thapa, Péter Marton

Autonomous Weapon Systems (AWS)

  • Anzhelika SolovyevaEmail author
  • Nik Hynek
Living reference work entry


Autonomous weapon systems (AWS) are reusable weapon systems and smart munitions that can be differentiated from all the existing weapons by their full autonomy. It is based on (a) their ability to operate without human control or supervision in dynamic, unstructured and/or open environments; (b) their ability to engage in autonomous (lethal) decision-making, targeting and force; and (c) their ability to engage in defensive and/or offensive combat (Sharkey 2010, p. 370, 2012, p. 787; Asaro 2012, p. 690; Kastan 2013, p. 49; Open Letter 2015; Altmann and Sauer 2017, p. 118). These capabilities technologically build upon advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI), in particular Machine Learning (ML), and especially Deep Learning (DL) and Artificial Neural Networks (ANNs) (O’Connell 2014, p. 526; Walsh 2015, p. 2; Gadiyar et al. 2019).

Weapons with various degrees of autonomy are widely present on the modern battlefield; however, fully autonomous ones “do not yet exist” (Walsh 2015...


Autonomous weapon systems Artificial intelligence Campaign to stop killer robots International law Revolution in warfare 
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Anzhelika Solovyeva gratefully acknowledges funding for this work from Charles University, SVV Grant “Political Order in the Times of Changes” (SVV 260 595). Nik Hynek gratefully acknowledges funding for this work from Charles University, UNCE Grant “Human-Machine Nexus and Its Implications for International Order” (UNCE/HUM/037).


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Further Reading

  1. Del Monte, L. A. (2018). Genius weapons: Artificial intelligence, autonomous weaponry, and the future оf warfare. New York: Prometheus Books.Google Scholar
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  4. Wallace, R. (2018). Carl von Clausewitz, the fog-of-war, and the AI revolution: The real world is not a game оf go. Cham: Springer.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Political Studies, Faculty of Social SciencesCharles UniversityPragueCzech Republic
  2. 2.Department of Security Studies, Faculty of Social SciencesCharles UniversityPragueCzech Republic