The US military increasingly relies on drones to carry out a multitude of tasks, usually those deemed too “dull, dirty, or dangerous” for manned missions. Most unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) carry out routine reconnaissance. They also act as decoys, serve as communication relays, and even deliver light cargoes. But a growing number of drones are armed, such as the US Predator and MQ-9 Reaper, which are used mostly in tactical situations, such as targeting terrorists or insurgents.
Now military strategists are considering acquiring longer-range drones, especially those capable of carrying out nuclear missions. In 2015 there were reports that Russia was attempting to build nuclear-armed drone submarines.
It is a controversial strategy, given that it takes all the usual qualms there are about the increasing use of autonomous systems for war-fighting – the ethics of devolving too much authority to what are basically robots, susceptibility to hacking, etc. – but with much greater destructive power, given these systems’ range and payload. Nevertheless, it is at least worth considering.