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Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag

Information on the project

Status quo and perspectives of the military use of unmanned platforms

Thematic area: Diverse topics
Analytical approach: TA project
Topic initiative: Defence Committee
Status: completed
Duration: 2007 till 2010

Background and central aspects of the topic

Unmanned platforms (also: unmanned systems) are re-usable devices, which – autonomously or remotely-controlled – conduct missions on land, at sea, or in the air. They offer armed forces the possibility of avoiding exposure to enemy fire while at the same time being able to identify and where necessary combat adversaries. In the context of »High Intensity Operations«, in asymmetric threat situations as well as in international peacekeeping operations, such platforms– such as for instance pilotless aircraft – can reduce risks for soldiers. At the same time the question arises as to whether the use of unmanned platforms will tend to result in the lowering of the threshold for the use of weapons and an increase in the risk of collateral damage. The technological advances provided through the use of such systems also open up perspectives for large numbers of non-military sovereign and additional civilian applications.

Throughout the world armed forces associate unmanned platforms to a certain extent with great expectations. Air-based systems in particular – in comparison with traditional systems and concepts – are in many cases more effective and less vulnerable, raising operative possibilities and widening the armed forces’ spectrum of capabilities. Moreover significant cost minimizing potential is expected in both material and personnel. These and other expected advantages have in addition led to the situation that intensive research and development efforts are being undertaken worldwide in order to improve the suitability of such systems for operative use in the near future.

Objectives and approach

The topic will be dealt with as a TA project commissioned by the Defence Committee. A comprehensive review and impact assessment of current national and international developments and perspectives will be undertaken from the viewpoint of defence policy, of industrial, innovation and research policy, as well as of international law. Analyses are planned focussing on the following:

  • current and planned operational concepts and scenarios in the context of relevant threat scenarios and capability analyses
  • status and prospects of R&D and the relevant key technologies and systems with regard to the demands or capability categories of the armed forces
  • the relevance to economic and innovation policy, customers and suppliers (including civilian applications); the potential for cost saving particularly in military procurement
  • security and arms control policy issues taking dual-use aspects and terrorist threat scenarios into consideration
  • safety issues, air and maritime law aspects as well as implications for international law
  • national and multinational courses of action and scope for planning (R&D, trials, procurement)
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