In the latest reported use case of weapons systems with autonomous capabilities, Russia attacked central Kyiv, and elsewhere in Ukraine, with loitering munitions in the early hours of the morning of 17th September 2022. In Kyiv, Russia appears to have used the Shahed-136 loitering munition (also known as the Geran-2). A number of use incidents were reported, resulting in numerous civilian casualties; at least one drone hit a civilian residential building.
The Shahed-136 is a one-way attack drone which carries an explosive payload of approximately 36kg/80lb, has a flight range of approximately 2500km, and possesses autonomous flight capabilities ‘made possible through onboard artificial intelligence or pre-programming’. The New York Times reports that 28 of the drones were seen in Kyiv, including one which appeared to carry out a ‘double-tap’ attack. Russia has deployed the Iranian-made system in Ukraine since early September.
Numerous weapons systems with various autonomous capabilities have been deployed in Ukraine since Russia’s illegal invasion of the country began in February 2022. The use of loitering munitions such as the Shahed-136 highlights the trend toward increasing autonomy in weapons systems, and raises significant concerns around the extent to which human control is being maintained over the use of force.
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