Second Line of Defence article – Defence Industry and Working with Defence in Shaping a Way Ahead for Autonomous Systems

As Scholz put it in our interview, with the Centre’s focus on the “smart, the small and the many”, compared with traditional “complex, large and few” manned systems, code rewriting can be much faster.

Defence Industry and Working with Defence in Shaping a Way Ahead for Autonomous Systems‘ (Robbin Laird, 8 June 21) 

TAS and RASAI feature in two Defence Info Articles – May/June 2021

TAS feature in articles ’The Integrated Distributed Maritime Force: The Impact of Maritime Autonomous Systems’  (Robbin Laird, 29 May 21) and ‘Shaping the way ahead for RAS, ADF Force Development‘ (Robbin Laird, 1 June 21).

TAS Article and Video Presentation – Second Line of Defence article, The Eco-System for Next Generation Autonomous Systems and Shaping a Way Ahead for the ADF

TAS the main focus of Second Line of Defence article, ‘The Eco-System for Next Generation Autonomous Systems and Shaping a Way Ahead for the ADF‘, based on CEO Prof. Jason Scholz presentation at the Williams Foundation earlier this year (Robbin Laird, 3 June 21).


The video of Prof.Scholz presentation is available on the Sir Richard Williams Foundation site.

Video series – Introduction to ethical robotics, autonomous systems and artificial intelligence (RAS-AI) in Defence and pragmatic tools to manage these risks.

by Dr Kate Devitt, Chief Scientist, Trusted Autonomous Systems


“Military ethics should be considered as a core competency that needs to be updated and refreshed if it is to be maintained”

Inspector General ADF, 2020, p.508

The Centre for Defence Leadership & Ethics Australian Defence College has commissioned Trusted Autonomous Systems to produce videos and discussion prompts on the ethics of robotics, autonomous systems and artificial intelligence.

These videos for Defence members are intended to build knowledge of theoretical frameworks relevant to potential uses of RAS-AI to improve ethical decision-making and autonomy across warfighting and rear-echelon contexts in Defence.

Major General Mick Ryan says that he can “foresee a day where instead of having one autonomous system for ten or a hundred people in the ADF will have a ratio, that’s the opposite. We might have a hundred or a thousand for every person in the ADF”.

He asks, “how do we team robotics, autonomous systems and artificial intelligence (RAS-AI) with people in a way that makes us more likely to be successful in missions, from warfighting through to humanitarian assistance, disaster relief; and do it in a way that accords with the values of Australia and our institutional values?”

Wing Commander Michael Gan says, “robotics and autonomous systems have a great deal of utility: They can reduce casualties, reduce risk, they can be operated in areas that may be radioactive or unsafe for personnel. They can also use their capabilities to go through large amounts of data and be effective or respond very quickly to rapidly emerging threats”.

He goes on to say “however, because a lot of this is using some sort of autonomous reasoning to make decisions, we have to make sure that we have a connection with the decisions that are being made, whether it is in the building phase, whether it is in the training phase, whether it is in the data, which underpins the artificial intelligence, robotic autonomous systems”.

Trusted Autonomous Systems CEO, Professor Jason Scholz points out that “Defence has a set of behaviours about acting with purpose for defence and the nation; being adaptable, innovative, and agile; be collaborative and team-focused; and to be accountable and trustworthy to reflect, learn and improve; and to be inclusive and value others. All of these values and behaviours are included whether we are a ‘robotic and autonomous systems’ augmented force, or not”.

Managing Director of Athena Artificial Intelligence Mr Stephen Bornstein says, “When it comes to RAS-AI in Defence and ethics associated with them…. it’s very important to consider how a given company or a given AI supplier is establishing trust in that RAS-AI product”. He says that “ultimately, that assurance should be the most important thing before we start giving technologies to soldiers, seamen, or aircrew”.

Personnel engaging with the content should gain a clearer idea how to reflect on ethical issues that affect human and RAS-AI decision making in defence contexts of use including the limits and affordances of human and technologies to enhance ethical decision-making, as well as frameworks to help with RAS-AI development, evaluation, acquisition, deployment and review in Defence.

The videos draw on a framework from The Defence Science & Technology report ‘A Method for Ethical AI in Defence’ to help Defence operators, commanders, testers or designers ask five key questions about the technologies they’re working with.

  1. Responsibility – who is responsible for AI?
  2. Governance – how is AI controlled?
  3. Trust – how can AI be trusted?
  4. Law – how can AI be used lawfully?
  5. Traceability – how are the actions of AI recorded?

The videos consider four tools that may assist in identifying, managing and mitigating ethical risks in Defence AI systems.

The ‘Data Ethics Canvas’ by the Open Data Institute encourages you to ask important questions about projects that use data and reflect on the responses. Such as the security and privacy of data collected and used, who could be negatively affected and how to minimise negative impacts.

The AI Ethics Checklist ensures AI developers know: the military context the AI is for, the sorts of decisions being made, how to create the right scenarios, and how to employ the appropriate subject-matter experts, to evaluate, verify and validate the AI.

The Ethical AI Risk Matrix is a project risk management tool to identify and describe identified risks and proposed treatment. The matrix assigns individuals and groups to be responsible for reducing ethical risk through concrete actions on an agreed timeline and review schedule.

International Weapons Review delivering Law for AI Basics workshops, part of the TAS Ethics Uplift Program

Article 36 of Additional Protocol 1 (1977) of the Geneva Convention (1949) requires:

“In the study, development, acquisition or adoption of a new weapon, means or

method of warfare, a High Contracting Party is under an obligation to determine

whether its employment would, in some or all circumstances, be prohibited by this

Protocol or by any other rule of international law applicable to the High

Contracting Party”.

The rise of robotics Robotic, Autonomous Systems and Artificial Intelligence (RAS-AI) requires new methods to ensure compliance with the requirements of an Article 36 review of all new weapons, means or methods of warfare.

On 17 May 2021, Trusted Autonomous Systems (TAS) hosted International Weapons Review (IWR) ‘Law for AI Basics’ course for TAS participants and associated research personnel. IWR’s legal experts introduced international and domestic legal issues relevant to the design and acquisition of AI systems for use by Defence in Australia and identified legal inputs to ethical AI design in Defence.

The workshop covered Australian legal and ethical compliance requirements for Trusted Autonomous Systems. The Article 36 Review processes and issues relevant to autonomous systems, five facets of Ethical AI in Defence (responsibility, governance, trust, law and traceability) and requirements of the Legal and Ethical Assurance Program Plan (LEAPP). Workshops are available to stakeholders of Australian Defence including Defence Industries, Government, Universities, ADF and Defence.

Human machine teaming with RAS-AI will be a key ADF capability in the future. RAS-AI may increase safety for personnel, removing them from high-threat environments; increase the fidelity and speed of human awareness and decision-making; and reduce the cost and risk to manned platforms.

The development and RAS-AI investment must be informed by ethical and legal considerations and constraints. To achieve this, in February 2021, TAS commenced the Ethics Uplift Program (EUP) to provide immediate and ongoing assistance to TAS participants through consultation, advice and policy development, supported by case analysis, education and enculturation.

The training is designed to enable participants to understand, analyse and evaluate legal issues and risks that are relevant to the design and development of trusted autonomous systems, using case studies. This introductory course is aimed at technical staff responsible for design and development of AI systems and managers responsible for oversight of technical staff.  IWR, led by Dr Lauren Sander and Mr Damian Copeland, offers unique expertise in international law relevant to the development of new weapons, means and methods of warfare, including Article 36 weapon review requirements.

Dr Lauren Sanders is a legal practitioner whose doctoral studies were in international criminal law accountability measures, and whose expertise is in the practice of international humanitarian law including advising on the accreditation and use of new and novel weapons technology. She has over twenty years of military experience and has advised the ADF on the laws applicable to military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and domestic terrorism operations.

Damian Copeland is a legal practitioner whose expertise and doctoral studies are in the Article 36 legal review of weapons, specifically focused on weapons and systems enhanced by Artificial Intelligence.  He is a weapons law expert with over twenty-five years military service, including multiple operational deployments where he has extensive experience in the application of operational law in support of ADF operations.

Learn more about the range of IWR services at

New TAS project to develop an Australian Code of Practice for the Design, Construction, Survey and Operation of Autonomous and Remotely Operated Vessels in 2021

By Rachel Horne – Assurance of Autonomy Lead/Director of Autonomy Accreditation – Maritime

Autonomous systems technology offers the ability to increase safety and efficiency, while lowering economic and environmental cost. While some level of autonomy has been seen in commercial products for a number of years, for example the basic thermostat or the Roomba, in the last five years there has been a rapid acceleration in the capacity and availability of unmanned aerial vehicles known as drones, and in uncrewed surface and sub-surface vessels, also called autonomous vessels.

For this rapid acceleration to continue, and to ensure this technology can integrate into commercial and defence operations, autonomous systems need to be trusted by the government, regulators, operators, and the broader community. An integral part of gaining trust is having a clear, well-tailored regulatory framework, consistent assurance requirements and agreed assurance methodology, and support from the regulator. These same factors also facilitate innovation and promote growth in industry by providing certainty.

Coral AUV. Image by AIMS

New project: Development of an Australian Code of Practice

The NASF-P (National Accreditation Support Facility Pathfinder) team have commenced a number of new projects to address the challenges outlined above. One of these projects is aimed at addressing the lack of tailored standards for autonomous and remotely operated vessels by developing an Australian Code of Practice for the Design, Construction, Survey and Operation of Autonomous and Remotely Operated Vessels. This Code will represent best practice, and is intended to provide certainty for industry by providing a set of regulator-acknowledged standards that they can use to design, construct, survey and operate autonomous and remotely operated vessels. The Code of Practice will be voluntary, and will be updated periodically.

This project, led by Maaike Vanderkooi on behalf of TAS, will begin with a review of available Codes of Practice and Standards, for example the UK Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) UK Industry Conduct Principles and Code of Practice, and Lloyd’s Register Unmanned Marine Systems Code. The project will then develop a draft Australian Code of Practice, using input from key stakeholders, which will then be released for broader public consultation. The intent is to release a draft Code of Practice by October 2021, which will be available for use by industry and the regulator.

Maaike Vanderkooi has been chosen to lead the project as a result of her extensive experience in developing regulatory frameworks in the maritime, heavy vehicle and ports arenas, and her experience in developing, reviewing and impact assessing commercial vessel standards.

Maaike Vanderkooi

TAS will engage closely with key stakeholders, including the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), the Australian Association for Unmanned Systems (AAUS) Maritime Working Group, the Marine Surveyors Association Inc, and the Australasian Institute of Marine Surveyors, throughout this project to ensure the Code of Practice is practical and appropriate for use by Australian industry and the regulator. There will also be opportunities for input by interested parties throughout the project.

Engagement opportunities

  • We are looking for people with direct experience applying current Codes of Practice or Standards to autonomous and remotely operated vessels, to discuss their experience and provide feedback to us in May 2021;
  • We will hold a series of workshops with key stakeholders between May and August 2021; and
  • We will release the draft Code of Practice for public consultation in August 2021, and welcome all thoughts and feedback.

If you would like to contact us in relation to this project, to offer feedback, suggestions, or your assistance, please email us at

QUT WAM-V in operation at AIMS. Image by AIMS

Other NASF-P projects underway

The NASF-P team have a number of projects underway, including:

  • Preparation of a Body of Knowledge on the assurance and accreditation of autonomous systems;
  • Air domain: development of an end-to-end acceptable process for the design, build, test and evaluation of autonomous detect and avoid (DAA) systems for certain types of airspace;
  • Maritime domain: development of a repeatable, regulator-accepted methodology to demonstrate compliance with COLREGS for autonomous and remotely operated vessels; and
  • Preparation of a business case for a new, independent, National Accreditation Support Facility, based in Queensland, that will better connect operators and regulators to facilitate more efficient assurance and accreditation.

The NASF-P team recently worked with Queensland AI Hub, Australian Institute of Marine Science, and AMC Search, supported by Advance Queensland, to deliver a world-first pilot course ‘Autonomous Marine Systems Fundamentals for Marine Surveyors’. This course, which was created to address the gap in experience with autonomous marine systems amongst the accredited marine surveyor community, had nine participants from around Queensland.

Participants of the pilot course at AIMS, March 2021. Image by TAS

If you would like to find out more about our work, or provide feedback on where you see the key risks and opportunities for the autonomous systems industry in Australia, please contact us as

TAS Research Fellows (three of the four) featured in a University of Queensland Blog

Read about the work of three of the Trusted Autonomous Systems Research Fellows here.

HAPS Challenge Announced


‘The High Altitude Pseudo Satellites (HAPS) Challenge is seeking Australian Industry and research interest in developing novel ideas and solutions to a capability gap. It aims to energise Australian development of key technologies and to support development of Australian HAPS that have the station-keeping capability and endurance capacity needed for deployment over an area of operations for a period of days to weeks and beyond’.


High altitude platforms, or pseudo-satellites (HAPS), are uncrewed vehicles that take advantage of weak stratospheric winds and solar energy to operate without interfering with current commercial aviation. This provides the endurance required to provide long-term services to terrestrial users, much as satellites do. Target applications for HAPS include communications, Earth observation, positioning-navigation and science with potential for more applications in other disciplines.

HAPS represent a unique opportunity, if appropriately deployed and controlled, to provide persistent, comparatively low-cost intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and communications services across a wide operational area for Defence and National Security. The development of a sovereign  Australian HAPS solution could provide Defence a secure capability supply chain to service tactical, operational and strategic command, control, communications, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C3ISR) requirements and boost Australian exports.

Several challenges must be overcome to effectively exploit high altitude pseudo satellites, the purpose of the HAPS challenge to address this technology gap by supporting development of this technology by Australian companies.  Defence (through the RAAF Plan Jericho and the Air Warfare Centre, Defence Artificial Intelligence (DAI), Trusted Autonomous Systems and RMIT (Sir Lawrence Wackett Defence and Aerospace Centre) are seeking industry and research interest from Australian companies in novel ideas and solutions.

Air Warfare Centre, Integration and Innovation Director Group Captain Tobyn Bearman said Air Force is supporting the Australian efforts to prototype capable and affordable sovereign High Altitude Pseudo Satellite technologies.

“Work in this area seeks to enhance the quality and resilience of our high altitude capabilities by identifying creative solutions to difficult problems and pushing the boundaries of engineering knowledge,” he said.

“This challenge is an exciting way to contribute to Australia’s security and defence in new ways”.

More information on how to become involved in this exciting opportunity is available at

Trusted Autonomous Systems receive funding from the Australian Government through the Next Generation Technologies Fund (NGTF) and the Queensland Government Advance Queensland Initiative.

SmartSat CRC is supported by the Australian Government CRC Program and the Department of Defence Next Generation Technologies Fund.

Contact for Enquiries:

MEDIA RELEASE: Autonomous Marine Systems Fundamentals for Marine Surveyors

World First Autonomous Systems Training for Marine Surveyors developed in partnership between Australian Maritime College Search (AMC Search), Trusted Autonomous Systems (TAS), Queensland AI Hub and Australian
Institute of Marine Science (AIMS).

To view or download the media release, click here

A Method for Ethical AI in Defence

Today the Australian Department of Defence released ‘A Method for Ethical AI in Defence’ an outcome of a workshop in 2019 attended by over 100 representatives from Defence, other Australian government agencies, industry, academia, international organisations and media. The workshop was facilitated by Defence Science & Technology Group, RAAF Plan Jericho and Trusted Autonomous Systems Defence Cooperative Research Centre. Defence note that the report outlines a pragmatic ethical methodology for communication between software engineers, integrators and operators during the development and operation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) projects in Defence.

Trusted Autonomous Systems CEO Professor Jason Scholz said ”Trusted Autonomous Systems are very pleased to partner with Defence on this critical issue of ethics in AI. Ethics is a fundamental consideration across the game-changing Projects that TAS are bringing together with Defence, Industry and Research Institutions.”

AI and human machine teaming will be a key capability in the future of Australian Defence systems. Chief Defence Scientist Tanya Monro notes “…AI technologies offer many benefits such as saving lives by removing humans from high-threat environments and improving Australian advantage by providing more in-depth and faster situational awareness”.

Air Vice-Marshal Cath Roberts, Head of Air Force Capability said “artificial intelligence and human-machine teaming will play a pivotal role for air and space power into the future… We need to ensure that ethical, moral and legal issues are resolved at the same pace as the technology is developed. This paper is useful in suggesting consideration of ethical issues that may arise to ensure responsibility for AI systems within traceable systems of control”. These comments are equally important to the other service arms.

In 2019, the Trusted Autonomous Systems Defence CRC (TASDCRC) commenced a six-year Programme on the Ethics and Law of Trusted Autonomous Systems valued at $9M. Over the past two years the activity has conducted workshops, engagements and consultation with participants and stakeholders of the Centre, contributing to ADF strategy, producing diverse publications and influencing the design of trusted autonomous systems such as the game-changing Athena AI ethical and legal decision support system.

From 2021 the Ethics Uplift Program (EUP) of the TASDCRC will offer ongoing assistance to Centre participants through consultation, advice and policy development, supported by case analysis, education and enculturation

The Trusted Autonomous Systems affiliate researchers and employees participate in a wide range of events in consideration of the ethics and law of RAS-AI such as  ICRC, UNIDIR SIPRI, and NATO.

TASDCRC is a non-government participant in the United Nations (UN) Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on Lethal Autonomous Systems (LAWS) to ensure the development of autonomous systems accord with ethical principles, the laws of armed conflict (LOAC) and in abidance with Article 36 weapons reviews.

The Defence Media Release reinforced that “The ethics of AI and autonomous systems is an ongoing priority and Defence is committed to developing, communicating, applying and evolving ethical AI frameworks”. Trusted Autonomous Systems are a partner to Defence on that journey. More details at