Pentagon developing drone swarm 'weapon of mass destruction': report

The drones would be equipped with multiple different tools, ranging from weapons that jam enemy radar to ones that carry out lethal attacks.

The US Department of Defense (DOD) is gearing up to launch a program to develop "swarms" of thousands of autonomous land, sea, and air drones in order to dominate an enemy's area defenses, recently-updated pre-solicitation contract documents show.

As reported by The Debrief, the documents suggest the development of "massive autonomous vehicle swarms" will be managed by the Strategic Technology Office of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which has yet to formally announce the program. However, DARPA confirmed to the publication that the project is called the "Autonomous Multi-Domain Adaptive Swarms-of-Swarms" (AMASS) program.

The documents state that "AMASS will create the ability to dynamically command and control (C2) unmanned, autonomous swarms of various types (i.e., swarms-of-swarms) with a common C2 language for Theatre-level counter-Anti-Access / Area Denial (A2/AD) capabilities." 

The drones would be equipped with multiple different tools, ranging from weapons that jam enemy radar to ones that carry out lethal attacks.

Agency officials said the drone swarms will be assigned "through an optimization process that considers mission objectives, priorities, risks, resource availability, swarm capabilities, and timing."

To remain in accordance with US defense policy, the AMASS project must keep humans making the key decisions.

According to DOD Directive 3000.09, the Pentagon's policy regarding autonomy in weapons systems, "Autonomous and semi-autonomous weapon systems will be designed to allow commanders and operators to exercise appropriate levels of human judgment over the use of force."

The official launch of AMASS would mark the introduction of drone warfare at a level that is unprecedented, though it is still in the "planning stages," according to the Daily Mail.

DARPA has already begun collecting bids from suppliers for the $78 million contract, the documents on the federal government's System for Award Management website reveal.

AMASS isn't the only drone project that DARPA has been working on, as the outlet reports that they have been developing project OFFSET (the OFFensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics Program) "for years." 

That program would reportedly involve up to 250 drones, much smaller than the humongous scale of the thousands of drone devices that would be a part of the AMASS project. 

In 2021, Israel became the first country to use a drone swarm in conflict when they used them against Hamas terrorists in Gaza, but this was also not comparable to the scale of what AMASS could become.

Zachary Kallenborn, a "drone swarms, terrorism, and weapons of mass destruction" analyst and policy fellow at George Mason University, had negative predictions for the AMASS project, telling the Daily Mail that "As the swarm grows in size, it'll become virtually impossible for humans to manage the decisions."

"In theory, AMASS could be entirely non-lethal, carrying out jamming or other non-kinetic attacks in support of other platforms that actually destroy the defenses," he said. "I think that's unlikely though."

"A massive drone swarm prone to errors would be a terrifying thing — a new weapon of mass destruction," Kallenborn added.

In 2020, the researcher warned at West Point's Modern War Institute publication of the danger of drone swarms, arguing that they be designated as weapons of mass destruction, or WMDs.

"Armed, fully autonomous drone swarms should be classified as WMD because of their degree of potential harm and inherent inability to differentiate between military and civilian targets—both of which are characteristics of existing weapons categorized as WMD," he wrote.

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