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The Question of Swarms Control: Challenges to Ensuring Human Control over Military Swarms


Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Paper no. 65

December, 2019

The European Union (EU) and EU member states are increasingly investing in military swarm research, despite the significant challenges that exist in establishing human control over swarms. These challenges include the high cognitive demands on human operators; interface and control design choices; disrupted communications between operator and swarm, whether from in-built technological limitations or environmental factors; and the inherent unpredictability of certain kinds of swarms. These challenges create tactical risks and increase the chances of undesired outcomes, such as conflict escalation and violations of international humanitarian law and ethical principles. EU-funded swarm research programmes should take steps to address these issues.


Maaike Verbruggen is a doctoral researcher at the Institute for European Studies at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. Her research focuses on the intersection between emerging technologies, military innovation and arms control. She is currently working on a PhD thesis on military innovation in artificial intelligence.