International Law Studies


With the rapid advances in autonomous navigation and artificial intelligence technology, naval industries are edging closer to the development of unmanned maritime platforms with lethal autonomous capability—lethal autonomous maritime systems (LAMS). The emergence of LAMS as a sui generis hybrid weapon system will almost certainly generate disagreement on their legal status. Currently, there is no agreement among States as to whether LAMS should legally be characterized as warships or other means of warfare, such as torpedoes and naval mines. This lack of certainty represents a significant deficiency with potential strategic and operational implications if left unresolved. To assist States in assessing the strategic and national interests served by characterizing LAMS within the existing legal framework, this article examines the legal implications of designating LAMS as a warship, torpedo, or naval mine under the applicable rules of international law for each. These legal implications are discussed with specific consideration of navigational rights in peacetime and belligerent rights in the conduct of hostilities during armed conflict.