Capstone Report: Robotic and Autonomous Systems in a Military Context

February 10th 2021 - 16:30
RAS Capstone HCSS

Militaries around the world are developing, integrating and using robotic and autonomous systems (RAS) in line with the evolution of warfare. Further thinking needs to be done regarding the conditions under which this process takes place within the Netherlands and what challenges and implications are likely to arise as a consequence. The HCSS project ‘RAS in a Military Context’ sought to contribute to this discussion.

Over a two year period, the project yielded five public research papers covering a range of topics relevant to the implementation of RAS in a military context. These research papers cover military applicability, ethical considerations, legal discourse, requirements for cooperation and the implementation of RAS in a military context. All papers are combined in this Capstone document, including a Synthesis, which briefly summarizes the analyses, and a series of six factsheets.

Download the RAS Capstone report here

Our approach was focused on acquiring the expertise of practitioners, researchers, ethicists, legal specialists, industry professionals, technicians, civil society organizations, military personnel and other members of the defense community. Doing so enabled us, not only to gather a multi-faceted understanding of the subject matter, but also to uniquely connect these stakeholders together and foster challenging discussions between them. Over the course of the project we held five meetings with a diverse group of Sounding Board members who steered our research trajectory and provided valuable input into our position papers and draft research papers. We also gathered expertise from over 200 stakeholders who joined our six expert sessions, which involved various methodologies including scenario based discussions, design sessions, serious gaming exercises and interviews.

Our secondary objective was to inform public debate and create a more nuanced conversation about RAS in a military context that resisted prevailing ideas of ‘killer robots’. To this end, we held public symposiums on the ethical dilemmas RAS pose, released five De Strateeg podcasts in cooperation with BNR Nieuwsradio, organized conferences and roundtables and in February 2021, we released an 18-minute documentary, available on YouTube.

The RAS Project Team would like to thank all who have been involved in this project for generously offering their time and expertise, particularly our Sounding Board members. Our hope is that readers find our research and practical recommendations helpful in structuring their thinking and that the discussion on this important topic will continue to develop and thrive.

Michel Rademaker, Project Leader


Michel Rademaker is the deputy Director of HCSS. He has fifteen years of hands-on experience as an officer in The Royal Netherlands Army, where he held various military operational and staff posts and also served a term in former Yugoslavia. He has a masters degree obtained at the University of Tilburg. After leaving the armed forces, Mr. Rademaker went on to work at the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) as a project and program manager and senior policy advisor on security topics for ten years. Eg. as NATO RTO project leader, he and his team developed serious gaming assessment methods and conducted several assessments of security technologies, and worked on numerous strategic security topics.
Frank Bekkers is Director of the Security Program. He studied Applied Mathematics at the University of Amsterdam and spent most of his career at the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO), specializing in the area of Defence, Safety & Security. At TNO, he held a range of positions, including program manager, senior research scientist, group manager and account director. From 1996-1997, he worked as program manager for Call Media and Intelligent Networks for the telecom company KPN. His current position at HCSS combines shaping HCSS’s portfolio concerning defense and security-related projects with hands-on participation in a number of key projects.
Dr. Tim Sweijs is the Director of Research at The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies. He is the initiator, creator and author of numerous studies, methodologies, and tools for horizon scanning, early warning, conflict analysis, national security risk assessment, and strategy and capability development. Tim has lectured at universities and military academies around the world. His main research interest concerns the changing character of contemporary conflict. Tim is a Senior Research Fellow at the Netherlands Defence Academy and an Affiliate at the Center for International Strategy, Technology and Policy in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Bianca Torossian is a Research Fellow at HCSS. She contributes to a range of projects commissioned by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Dutch Ministry of Defence and NATO. She primarily focusses on the intersection between emerging technologies and conflict, with multiple publications to her name on hybrid and cyber conflict, and is also heavily involved in the Water, Peace and Security (WPS) partnership.
Patrick Bolder is an officer in the Royal Netherlands Air Force. Since January 2019 he is seconded to The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies. His expertise lies in all Defence matters, with a focus on Military Space, Unmanned systems, European Defence issues and Nuclear Policy.