Tucked into the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2024 is a provision that would require the Pentagon’s policy shop to alert — and comprehensively brief — certain lawmakers any time edits or additions are made to the rule that governs the U.S. military’s use of autonomous weapons.
Department of Defense officials updated DOD Directive 3000.09 in early 2023, marking the first time the language of the policy was officially changed since 2012. Broadly, the rule sets the processes and identifies the senior officials responsible for examining and approving the development, fielding and application of lethal autonomous platforms that can engage military targets without troops intervening. Since that update earlier this year, the Pentagon has not verified whether any systems have been or are currently going through the review process.
The next time 3000.09 is revamped, Congress wants to ensure it is informed.
According to text of the fiscal 2024 NDAA conference report, which details all the provisions that did and did not make it into the final bill text, lawmakers moved to mandate that: “Not later than 30 days after making a modification to Department of Defense Directive 3000.09 (relating to autonomy in weapon systems) the Secretary of Defense shall provide to the congressional defense committees a briefing that includes — (1) a description of the modification; and (2) an explanation of the reasons for the modification.”
Elsewhere in the new 3,000-plus page conference report, Congress members also articulate their expectations that the deployment of autonomous capabilities for defense and military operations will not be rare or uncommon in the near future.
“The conferees note the increasing use of autonomous capabilities throughout the Department of Defense and believe that utilization of such capabilities will grow more essential and widespread in the years to come. The conferees believe the Department should prepare for the proliferation of autonomous systems, including by determining how to best govern the development, testing, procurement, and deployment of autonomous systems,” they wrote, for instance, regarding another provision that was considered by the chambers but didn’t make it into the compromise version of the NDAA.