This edition of Professional Military Education (PME) discusses the role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and autonomous systems in future warfare. Whilst it focusses on the science and technology aspect of this subject, it also aims to explore the ethics behind the use of such systems as an instrument of war.

This subject is exceptionally broad and ever evolving. To help reduce the workload when conducting this PME session, we’ve provided a large number of resources that you can choose from depending on where your interests lay. Group discussion and debate will allow you to explore the subject from a number of different points of view. This also allows you to scale this PME up or down depending on the time available.

First, read this article by Daniel Lee that introduces the key concepts of AI, autonomous systems, future warfare and the ethics involved in using intelligent systems. Then choose one article to read from each of the three topics below. Be prepared to discuss the contents of each.


  1. i-Can Help You
  2. What Does Open AI Mean for the Military OR Using Artificial Intelligence
  3. Quantum Command Posts: Tactical Decision at Machine Speed
  4. Fighting Artificial Intelligence Battles in the Land Domain (Grounded Curiosity)
  5. Mission Command Algorithms: An Evolution of Artificial Intelligence & Combat Leadership (Grounded Curiosity)

Future Warfare

  1. ‘The Future Autonomous War’ with Paul Scharre via Modern War Institute (Podcast)
  2. Reality in Autonomous Systems: It Starts the Loop
  3. Are ‘Warbots’ Changing the Future of Warfare?
  4. The Importance of Remote Autonomous Systems for the Future of the ADF (Grounded Curiosity)

Ethics of autonomous systems

  1. Robotic Revolution: Does Artificial Intelligence and Autonomous Weapon Systems Have a Place in Armed Conflict?
  2. War Machines: Can AI for War be Ethical?
  3. Operationalising Human Control: Practical Implications for Limits on Autonomous Weapons (Grounded Curiosity)


  1. Share one thing you learnt from reading about AI, autonomous systems and the ethics involved in employing such technology.
  1. Do you agree that the fundamental nature of war is changing through the use of emerging technology? Explain why/why not.
  1. Do you agree with the concept of using machines to eliminate dull, dangerous and dirty jobs? Explain why/why not. Which jobs do you consider to be ok for a machine to conduct instead of a human?
  1. Discuss human error and machine error. Which do you think is more accurate?
  1. What are your thoughts on machine learning and its use in warfare?
  1. How much human control do you think is needed over machines used in warfare? Should the final decision to fire sit with a human? How far should we go to increase our decision-making cycle?
  1. Do you think there is risk in allowing machines to have too much control in shaping the battlefield?
  1. Should International Humanitarian Law (IHL) change to allow the use of AI and autonomous systems, or should the systems comply with IHL?
  1. Do you think we can afford to not use AI and autonomous systems noting that many of our adversaries may not apply the same ethical framework to warfare that we do?
  1. What is our role as military officers when discussing and deciding on the use of intelligent and autonomous systems? While we have a moral contract to defence all Australians, when does that obligation cross another moral line through the use of intelligent and autonomous systems?


If you have more time, read the articles you missed out on the first time through. Additionally, you can take a look at this article from MAJGEN Mick Ryan, AM about how he sees AI changing PME into the future – Intellectual Preparation for Future War: How Artificial Intelligence will Change Professional Military Education (War on the Rocks). Or read the Army Robotic and Autonomous Systems Strategy for a deeper understanding of where Army aims to be in this space in the future.


Have a read of this thought stimulating article from Daniel Lee entitled: Accelerated Command: Decisions Superiority for the Land Force in 2035 and Beyond. This will take you a while to get through but is well worth the read as it maps out how intelligent systems should be used in the future to enhance decision making cycles and provide decision superiority over our future adversaries.

Take a look at this features page on The Cove which contains a large amount of resources from the Future Technologies of War Conference and STEM 2021. It contains numerous articles and lectures about future military technologies. This could easily be used for a full day of STEM related PME, or used to take a further look into anything that interests you.


If you enjoyed this activity, why not try the other PMEs available on The Cove?

Want more material for your junior officers? Find it here. This article collates articles from across The Cove designed for junior officers and Troop/Platoon Commanders.


If you have suggestions for improvements – additional readings or reference material, alternative discussion points, new delivery methods – or just wish to provide feedback, please contact The Cove Team via


Here are the Facilitator's Notes (PDF) for this PME.