Ukraine-Russia War Bringing the Autonomous Military Robots to Battlefield

06 Mar 2023

The idea of using autonomous military robots in warfare is not new. For decades, science fiction has speculated about the potential of intelligent machines fighting wars, and as technology advances, the idea of autonomous military robots playing a role in future conflicts is becoming a reality with the rapidly advancing global military robotic and autonomous system (RAS) market. 

According to the BIS Research analysis, in 2022, the global military RAS market was valued at $17.57 billion and is expected to reach $19.79 billion by the end of 2033, growing at a CAGR of 1.10% during the forecast period 2023-2033. 

The question is, what would a future where autonomous robots are fighting alongside humans look like, and what would be the implications of this new development? 

The ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia has become the biggest example of those unprecedented changes to the modern battlefield. Amidst the destruction and devastation caused by the conflict, a new and advanced player has emerged, i.e., autonomous military robots.  

As the world looks on in horror, the Ukraine-Russia war has given us a glimpse into what the future of warfare might look like and how the use of robots on the battlefield could change the course of human history. In this blog, we will explore the role of autonomous military robots in the Ukraine-Russia war and examine the implications of their use in modern warfare.

The Story: Ukraine's Drone Advances and the Risks of Autonomous Military Robots

Drone developments in Ukraine have hastened a long-anticipated technological trend that might soon usher in a new era of warfare by bringing the first completely autonomous fighting robots to the field of battle.

According to military experts, combatants, and artificial intelligence specialists, the likelihood that drones will be used to detect, choose, and attack targets without human assistance increases as the duration of the battle increases.

Such a scenario would represent a military weapons and ammunition technology breakthrough on par with the invention of the machine gun. Ukraine already possesses AI-enhanced counter-drone weapons and semi-autonomous attack drones. Although the accusations are unsubstantiated, Russia claims to possess AI weapons. However, there aren’t any documents to support this claim.

Experts believe their deployment by either Russia, Ukraine, or both may be imminent. Zachary Kallenborn, a weapons innovation expert at George Mason University, stated that “many states are working on this technology.” Clearly, it's not that challenging. The campaigners who have long sought to outlaw killer drones now feel forced to settle with making efforts to limit the use of the weapons for aggressive purposes.

Mykhailo Fedorov, the minister of Ukraine's digital transformation, concurs that the creation of fully autonomous killer drones is the natural and unavoidable next step. Ukraine has been conducting a lot of R&D in this field, he claims. In a recent interview with the Associated Press, Fedorov stated, “I think that the potential for this is huge in the next six months.” 

In a recent interview near the front, Yaroslav Honchar, co-founder of the combat drone innovation charity Aerorozvidka, claimed that human combatants could not digest information and make quick judgments as compared to machines. He claimed that although things may change, Ukrainian military officials now forbid the use of completely autonomous lethal weaponry. 

Honchar, whose organization has led drone innovation in Ukraine by transforming inexpensive commercial drones into dangerous weapons, stated, "We have not passed this boundary yet, and I stress ‘yet’ because I don't know what will happen in the future. Russia could be able to get autonomous AI from Iran or somewhere else.”

While terrorizing citizens and crippling Ukrainian power stations, Iran's long-range, exploding Shahed-136 drones are not particularly intelligent. Iran claims to have more drones with AI in its expanding arsenal. According to Western producers, Ukraine could easily transform its semi-autonomous weapons drones into completely independent drones to better withstand battlefield interference.

These drones include the Polish Warmate and the American Switchblade 600, both of which now require a person to choose targets from a live video feed. This task is completed by the AI. The drones, which are technically referred to as "loitering munitions," can hover over a target for minutes while waiting for a clear shot. According to Wahid Nawabi, CEO of the company that makes Switchblade, "the technology to achieve a fully autonomous mission with Switchblade pretty much exists today."

He estimates that it will take three years for policies to alter to do so and eliminate humans from the decision-making process. By the use of cataloged photos, drones can identify objects like armored trucks. However, there is debate over whether the technology is trustworthy enough to guarantee that the machines won't malfunction and kill civilians. 

Ukraine's defense is already aided by fully autonomous AI. The Ukrainian military has received drone-hunting devices from Utah-based Fortem Technologies, which combine small radars with unmanned aerial vehicles that are AI-powered. Without human intervention, the UAVs use nets to disable adversary drones that have been identified by the radars. 

In some defensive systems, humans have already been pushed outside. However, Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system is permitted to fire automatically. There is a rumor that it is also being monitored by a person who can act if the system fires at the incorrect target.

According to Kallenborn, the George Mason researcher, numerous nations and every branch of the U.S. military are working on drones that can attack in lethal synchronized swarms. So, in the future, will the drone be the main weaponry for the fight? Putin made a prediction in a 2017 television interview with engineering students, "One party will be left with no alternative but to surrender when its drones are destroyed by those of the other party."


The ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia has brought to light the rapid advancements in drone technology and the potential for autonomous military robots to play a significant role in future warfare. While these advancements offer many benefits, they also bring with them significant risks and ethical considerations. 

The use of autonomous military robots raises important questions about the moral and legal implications of delegating lethal decision-making to machines. As we move closer to a future where machines are fighting alongside humans, it is essential that we continue to have meaningful discussions about the role of autonomous military robots in warfare and develop regulations and guidelines that ensure their safe and ethical use. 

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