Paul Scharre on Robot Swarms

On June 11, at the eighth annual Center for New American Security’s National Security Conference, Paul Scharre, Fellow and Project Director for the 20YY Warfare Initiative discussed the future of robotics in warfare to include the use of unmanned swarms, which have been discussed extensively here.  The video (below) is thought-provoking, and worth watching in its entirety, but we've provided the highlights, especially as they relate to naval systems.

He describes several naval scenarios, including the use of unmanned surface vehicles to disrupt small boat swarm attacks on larger combatants and UAV counter-swarms. He also proposes that unmanned missile barges could work in tandem with the U.S. Navy's fleet of guided missile destroyers are limited in magazine capacity for missile defense.

In the undersea realm, Scharre alludes to DARPA's Hydra project, in which unmanned vehicles would sit dormant on the sea floor until required to awaken for their missions.  Also of note, is the discussion on the Army's multi-aircraft control, increased automation, and that technology's potential to enable drone swarms.

During the Q&A, he addresses one of the primary criticisms of unmanned aircraft skeptics; that is, the requirement for constant bandwidth, which could become a liability in an electromagnetically-contested environment.  In addition to increased autonomy mitigating that issue, Scharre notes that only a small percentage of bandwidth in use today is devoted to vehicle control; most is dedicated to transmitting real-time full motion video from the UAV's sensors.  In some scenarios, such as hunting for military targets with specific signatures, that sort of bandwidth would be unnecessary.

Perhaps most interesting was his reference to the forthcoming study on swarming that the 20YY Warfare Initiative will produce later this year.


  1. Swarm study referenced in the post is available online here:


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