Those worried about a Terminator-style rise of the machines scenario have more to fret about this week. At a defense industry conference on robotics, a representative from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) discussed the possibility of deploying military robots capable of acting on their own in combat situations.

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Current DoD policy requires that a human being make the final decision to use lethal force when deploying robotic and semi-autonomous weapons systems. For example, a robotic turret gun might acquire and lock onto targets by itself, but an actual soldier must always make the decision to “pull the trigger.”

However, future scenarios might warrant exceptions to that policy, said Melissa L. Flagg, deputy assistant secretary of defense with the DoD’s Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics Directorate. Flagg’s comments on the issue were delivered at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Ground Robotics Capabilities conference in Springfield, Va.

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In a report posted at National Defense magazine, Flagg described hypothetical scenario in which a remotely controlled weapons system, in a battle behind enemy lines, has its communications links disrupted. Should a combat robot be allowed to deploy weapons independently in such a scenario?

“These are hard questions and a lot of people outside of us tech guys are thinking about it, talking about it, engaging in what we can and can’t do, Flagg said. “That’s important. We need to understand and know that it doesn’t necessarily need to happen, but we also have to put the options on the table because we are the worst-case scenario guys.”

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DoD officials stressed that there is no “book” being written at this point regarding official defense policy concerning automated weapons systems. But the military is looking ahead at potential situations for both armed aerial drones and ground robots.

Military officials are currently planning a concept-of-operations report, to be delivered to the Joint Chiefs of Staff in May, concerning military robotic systems in the year 2035.