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Autonomous unmanned weapon systems might be the answer for the anti-access/area-denial threats the U.S. military faces in many regions of the world, notably the Western Pacific, says defense journalist Dave Majumdar. An unmanned aircraft flying in such an environment would need to “operate independently of prolonged communications with its human masters, and it would also need to be able to make the decision to release weapons without phoning home for a human operator’s consent,” he explains. Majumdar explores just how close we are to fielding unmanned systems that can think for themselves using sensors and computers, and he looks over the horizon to what lies ahead, despite efforts from organizations like Human Rights Watch that are calling for legislation prohibiting autonomous vehicles altogether.

For all the promises and fears that present and future systems hold, even the best technology can be limited in its effectiveness if it is stovepiped. As retired Navy Captains Larry Osborn and Edward Lundquist point out, while the U.S. Navy has made strides toward implementing interoperable systems, all of the services “still procure vertical systems and develop different standards and interfaces. . . . To achieve interoperability, we need one standard architecture that legacy systems can interface with.” To illustrate the necessity of employing a standard architecture—for both the U.S. military and perhaps coalition organizations—the authors imagine a hostage situation near Somalia’s Puntland coast. When American aid workers go missing, Navy assets spring into action, along with European Union– and United Nations–related organizations, some in East Africa and the Middle East and others as far away as Mississippi. Navy forces and their allies collect information with technologies we recognize from today such as unmanned aerial vehicles and keep the appropriate parties informed thanks to sharing common software. While some of this isn’t reality today, they admit, “it’s an attainable vision for tomorrow.”

Over the last several decades, our naval partners in Central and South America have enjoyed growing economies and more stable governments, making them increasingly important allies. “Almost all of the nations in the hemisphere are making investments to better secure, control, and monitor their exclusive economic zones and territorial waters,” Rear Admiral Sinclair Harris explains in this month’s lead story. In particular, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Peru have modernized their navies and assumed greater leadership positions in multilateral exercises. But it appears that countries such as China, Russia, and Iran are eager to capitalize on South America’s resources and strategic position, making this area a “seam” between the Atlantic and Pacific. “Given the ever increasing capability, capacity, and willingness of our partners in Latin America to do more in the maritime domain here and around the world, and given the increasing importance of a Panama Canal expanding in global capacity, we must understand that South is Forward, too,” the author urges.

Paul Merzlak , Editor-in-Chief



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