Drones, Defence, and Security


In this blog, we will discuss the use of drones and artificial intelligence in defence, security, and other military operations, an important topic for the military. We will take a look at some basic facts and background related to the topic, examine some of the issues raised in our communities, contrast points of view, and introduce helpful vocabulary. On the SLP exam, you will be asked questions about enduring topics, such as drones and artificial intelligence, so reviewing now will help you prepare and feel confident in the exam should this subject arise. This issue will continue to be a relevant topic for some time to come since it has long-reaching implications for our society, so being able to talk about it easily will be an advantage for you. Below you will find examples of the types of questions you may be asked on the exam, differing points of view, issues raised, useful language, quick facts, and resources for further study.


In this section you will find examples of the kinds of questions you are likely to encounter on the SLP exam. They have been categorized as Level 2 (L2) and Level 3 (L3).

  • What are some of the advantages of using drones in military operations? (L2)
  • What are some of the issues raised by the increased use of drones in the military?
  • How is the development of drones and artificial intelligence different from past military advances? How is it similar? (L2)
  • What can nations do to counter the threats posed by drones and artificial intelligence? (L2)
  • To what extent do you think artificial intelligence will replace human involvement in military maneuvers? (L3)
  • How likely is another arms race among countries competing for technological superiority in the area of drones and artificial intelligence? (L3)
  • In your opinion, what ethical standards should exist regarding the use of this technology? (L3)
  • If you were in charge of countering drone and AI threats to your country, what steps would you take? (L3)

Points of View

There are varying points of view to consider when discussing news topics, such as the use of drones in the military, as governments debate the benefits and drawbacks and determine how to proceed. In this section, you will find a discussion of the varying points of view regarding energy security. By reviewing this information, you will be better prepared to answer questions about the advantages and disadvantages of this topic on the exam.

There are unquestionably many advantages to using drones and artificial intelligence (AI) from a military point of view. Because this technology can be controlled from a base thousands of miles removed from conflict, drones make it much less risky to attack, defend, and carry out missions. On the other hand, the risk of miscalculation and lack of accountability is very high. According to the NATO Review, “The prospect of fully autonomous weapon systems, in particular, has raised a number of ethical, legal, and operational concerns.” Many believe that in situations involving the potential loss of human life, meaningful human control over technological systems is imperative. Otherwise, militant groups might easily be able to cause a great deal of damage without being held accountable. Furthermore, not all groups seeking to employ these technologies will adhere to the same ethical and legal standards.

Rapid advances in artificial intelligence have also been useful for detection, pattern recognition, and simulation. This has undeniable advantages in the areas of counter-terrorism maneuvers, civil protection, disaster respons, and arms control. Additionally, the same technology can be used for other applications, such as medical advancements, that greatly benefit the population. However, the risk of increased subversion and sabotage is significant.


This topic raises several issues that need to be addressed in our society at large. This big-picture topic affects several aspects of life and is connected to many other issues in our communities. Studying the information in this section will allow you to discuss the broader implications of this topic on the exam.

One concern raised by the development of drones and artificial intelligence is that it gives big tech companies more power than ever before. In the past, military technology has primarily been researched and developed by and for the military, using government investments. However, advances in this field are mainly being made in the private sector. This is in part because drones and artificial intelligence have many commercial applications as well. Because private companies control the technology, governments do not have exclusive access to it, and private groups have more access to potentially dangerous technology than ever before. It is easier for non-governmental militant groups and terrorist organizations to access this technology, as long as they have the money to pay for it.

Another issue raised by the rapid development of drones and artificial intelligence technology is that nations and companies have a greater ability to inflict more damage on a wider scope. Military maneuvers are not just limited to the battlefield and conflict zones. Civilian populations are at risk, particularly of hybrid attacks such as cyber attacks intended to undermine governments and legal systems. Critical infrastructure, for example power grids or internet networks, is also at risk. Disrupting the infrastructure that millions of civilians depend upon each day can lead to considerable damage to communities and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Many experts also believe that there is a threat of another arms race. As more and more groups are utilizing this technology, governments and organizations may begin developing continuously more sophisticated and dangerous weapons in the hopes of gaining an upper hand and to ensure that they are prepared to counter any threat. This goes hand-in-hand with the concern that there could be serious unintended consequences from the indiscriminate use of AI. The hope is that these technologies will eventually be directed into less harmful applications, like poison or anti-satellite weapons before them, and that major military players will abstain from using the most destructive technologies.

Language File

In this section you will find vocabulary and word collocations that are commonly used when discussing the topic of drones in defence and security. Studying the language here will help you express ideas using appropriate terminology on the exam.

arms race (n.) – a competition for military supremacy between two powers, especially for the most weapons and the best military technology. Listen: arms race

artificial intelligence (AI) (n.) – intelligence exhibited by a man-made entity, the essential quality of a machine which thinks in a manner similar to or on the same level as a real human being; the branch of computer science dealing with the reproduction or mimicking of human-level intelligence, self-awareness, knowledge, conscience, and thought in computer programs. Listenartificial intelligence

autonomy (n.) – the capacity of a system to make a decision about its actions without the involvement of another system or operator; common collocations: considerable autonomy, substantial autonomy, degree/level of autonomy; adj. – autonomous. Listen

commerical (adj.) – of or pertaining to commerce, or the exchange or buying and selling of goods, especially merchandise, on a large scale, between different places or communities; common collocations: commercial sector, commercial markets. Listen

counter (v.) – to take action in response to; to respond. Listen

deterrence (n.) – action taken by states or alliances of nations against an equally powerful alliance to prevent hostile action. Listen

drone (n.) – a remotely controlled aircraft, an unmanned aerial vehicle. Listen

information communications and technology (ICT) (n.) – an extensional term for information technology that stresses the role of unified communications and the integration of telecommunications and computers; an umbrella term that includes any communication device as well as the various services and appliances with them.

precision-guided weapon (n.) – a specially guided weapon or munition intended to precisely hit a specific target, to minimize collateral damage and increase lethality against intended targets.

remote (adj.) – at a distance. Listen

revolution (n.) – a sudden, vast  change in a situation, a discipline, or the way of thinking and behaving; a political upheaval in a government or nation state characterized by great change; common collocations: technological revolution, complete revolution. Listen

revolution in military affairs (RMA) (n.) – a hypothesis in military theory about the future of warfare, often connected to technological and organizational recommendations for military reform; claims that in certain periods of the history of humankind, there were new military doctrines, strategies, tactics, and technologies which led to an irrecoverable change in the conduct of warfare; those changes compel an accelerated adaptation of novel doctrines and strategies.

standoff weapons (n.) – weapons, such as missiles or bombs, which may be launched from a distance sufficient to allow attacking personnel to evade defensive fire from the target area. Listen: standoff weapon

Quick Facts


  • Exponential technological progress in the area of artificial intelligence is affecting all aspects of life, ranging from entertainment, to medical advances, to the military.
  • Because this technology is primarily emerging from the commercial sector, it is allowing non-governmental groups unprecedented access to technology that could be weaponized. It is also raising new ethical and legal dilemmas about the use of this technology for military purposes.
  • At every level, new and potentially dangerous technologies are dramatically challenging the way that governments approach deterrence, defence, and security policies.
  • In recent years, the development of information communications technology (ICT) has led to precision-guided weapons and net-centric warfare. Though this rapid development was initially perceived as another revolution in military affairs (RMA), it is now believed to be more of an evolutionary process. This still has unknown implications for deterrence, defense, and security.
  • This evolution of technology is expected to greatly affect the global balance of power, not just between nations, but with big-tech companies who control these technologies as well, giving these big-tech companies a great deal of power.
  • In the 21st century, the development of new technology has accelerated, especially in the digital domain, creating a dense, interconnected, global network allowing for real-time social connectivity on a never-before-seen scale.
  • This provides states and other major players the opportunity to access new technologies and employ a wide range of new tools to inflict damage on a level that was previously unimaginable.
  • Most of these new technologies have been developed in a way that is fundamentally different from traditional military development. In the past, military advances have been primarily researched and developed specifically for military use over long periods of time, often later commercialized for use by the general public (i.e. radars, jet engines). In contrast, these new technologies have been developed quickly are being used by the masses first, being employed by millions of people across the world and creating network effects. Thus they have become ‘dual-use,’ or weaponizable.
  • Because of this, the driving force for innovation and science and technology (S&T) developments has shifted to commercial markets. The new superpowers are private big tech companies based primarily on the West Coast of the United States and mainland China.

Remote Control

  • An important aspect of new technological developments is the ability to control them remotely. These are called “standoff” weapons.
  • “Standoff” weapons allow nations or militant groups to attack without fear of defensive fire or casualties. Remote controlled military technology is used both for reconnaissance and surveillance as well as for punishment and decapitation missions.
  • Although some “standoff” weapons have been used in the past, technological advances have given this type of weapon an unprecedented degree of discretion and deniability, making it easier for groups to deny involvement in military action in front of the international community.
  • Another important change with modern weapons is that they are more accessible on commercial markets, so states are no longer the only groups with access to these technologies. Private parties have access as never before, and these weapons have already been used in terrorism and counter-terrorism operations.
  • There is also the potential for this sort of weapon to be deployed in urban areas and augmented with biological or chemical agents.
  • The barrier for access has been lowered and the scope of weapons broadened.

Scope of Intelligent Machines

  • The acceptability of “autonomy” in weapons systems has been a topic of much debate among the international community. In 2016, a UN group of experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS) was created.
  • This group has not yet come to any conclusions given the current politics of this technology. Reaching an agreement has been difficult because some of the groups involved in developing this technology have no interest in regulating it.
  • The use of LAWS is limited by both technical and operational factors. While military maneuvers are getting easier, the increased risks, escalatory effects, and lack of accountability are concerning and seem to indicate a need for meaningful human control.
  • Advances in AI can be very useful in the areas of counter-terrorism, civil protection, disaster response, and arms control as a result of better detection, pattern recognition, and simulation capabilities as well as better intelligence, situational awareness, analysis, and decision-making.
  • These AI advances have practical applications in the business sector as well, such as more efficient logistics and better equipment maintenance, and these aspects are important in the military as well.
  • On the other hand, these advances, particularly in voice and face recognition, may encourage more subversion, and more advanced malware may lead to more sabotage.
  • There are seven patterns of artificial intelligence:
    1. Hyper-personalization
    2. Recognition
    3. Conversation and human interaction
    4. Predictive analytics and decisions
    5. Goal-driven systems
    6. Autonomous systems
    7. Patterns and anomalies
  • The technology we have now is called “narrow” AI, which is AI for a very specific purpose that is almost useless in unfamiliar situations or for applications for which it was not intended. “General” AI, which refers to the ability to adapt to various activities without being directly programmed to do so, still seems to be a long way off, and it is unclear how much priority will be given to investing in the development of this technology.
  • General-purpose AI has sparked international concern and debate regarding ethics, legality, stability, and safety, as major military technological advances in the past have done.
  • AI is different from past advances in that the private sector has been largely involved in its development, and a significant number of countries and private companies (including IBM, Microsoft, and Google) “have recently come forward to advocate a shared code of conduct of AI…especially regarding its military and ethical ramifications,” (NATO Review).