M. Shane Riza is a writer, speaker, and warrior/ philosopher. He is a Distinguished Graduate of the National Defense University, has over 3000 hours in single-seat fighter aircraft, and is a retired military commander who served for twenty-five years.

Open sky...open mind.

Writing for the intellectually discerning.


Killing Without Heart: Limits on Robotic Warfare in an Age of Persistent Conflict

A timely examination of the moral, ethical, and legal implications of the U.S. military’s future course toward armed unmanned and autonomous robotic warfare. This is the first work to explore how distance and impunity affects justice in war. It is the first to comprehensively handle the ramifications or robotic warfare as it relates to policy makers, the population they serve, the warriors assigned to execute their taskings, and the adversaries they fight. 

Copyright © 2013 by M. Shane Riza

Published in the United States by Potomac Books, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

The views expressed in this work are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government. 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data:

Killing without heart : limits on robotic warfare in an age of persistent   conflict / M. Shane Riza;
Foreword by Martin Cook. — First edition.

Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-1-61234-613-7 (hbk. : alk. paper)
ISBN 978-1-61234-614-4 (electronic)
1. Robotics—Military applications. 2. Robotics—Moral and ethical aspects. 3. Military robots—Moral and ethical aspects. 4. Drone aircraft—Moral and ethical aspects. 5. Impunity. 6. Military ethics. 7. War (Philosophy) 8. Military art and science—Forecasting. I. Title.
UG479.R59 2013

 Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper that meets the American National Standards Institute Z39-48 Standard.

 Potomac Books

22841 Quicksilver Drive

Dulles, Virginia 20166



Reviews for Killing Without Heart:

Killing Without Heart was reviewed in Foreign Affairs! See the short review here.

See the review in American Diplomacy here.

Killing Without Heart recently reviewed in the Journal of Military Ethics. Site requires access for full piece.

War on the Rocks (online) review.

A review in Strategos, the journal of the United States Military Strategist Association is at this link.

See book review in the Fairbanks News Miner by Dermot Cole (now of the Alaska Dispatch) from June 2013.

Amazon reviews at this link.

Goodreads reviews here.

Advance Praise for Killing Without Heart:

"...an important and eloquent plea that we find the time and space to think more deeply about these larger issues before the juggernaut of technology renders the entire discussion irrelevant...a profound and unique contribution to a discussion that, perhaps, has been too narrowly framed. Philosophers, theologians, and politicians are well advised to listen carefully to the voice of the warrior philosopher."

--Martin L. Cook, Adm Stockdale Chair of Professional Military Ethics, Naval War College and author of The Moral Warrior: Ethics and Service in the U.S. Military


"The controversy surrounding the use of drones and other unmanned weapons systems grows daily, and Shane Riza's Killing Without Heart is a critical addition to the debate. Few authors integrate the concerns of ethics, law, military operations, and national security policy as well as this fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force. At a time when the United States is turning to such weapons to minimize casualties, especially its own, and diminish public unease with war, he reminds them war is a matter of death and the ability to use violent force so selectively with little human involvement may make it more tempting to use. Killing with impunity, real or perceived, has political, legal, and moral consequences for the attacker that should not be ignored--particularly in a democracy that claims effective civilian control of the military and full accountability for its decisions. Anything less, regardless of technological sophistication, may be a step backwards. This is a book senior civilian and military leaders must read, and it deserves equal attention from academics and others who concern themselves with national security. It will be hard to find a clearer explanation of the issues and what is at stake." 

 --Dr. Ken Moss, Professor of National Security Studies, Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Strategy and author of Undeclared War and the Future of U.S. Foreign Policy


"An important and timely work about a phenomenon that technological advances are making ever more possible: the deployment of autonomous weapons systems. Concerned with the ease with which America now uses lethal force with impunity, Riza raises essential ethical, moral, legal, and operational questions that civilian policymakers, military officials, and citizens should consider before the United States fields killer robots. An excellent book."

--Dr. Micah Zenko, Council on Foreign Relations and author of Between Threats and War: U.S. Discrete Military Operations in the Post-Cold War World


"In an unusually articulate, well-organized, and brilliantly written book, Shane Riza implores us not to be seduced by technology but to search our hearts and minds and make moral and objective decisions about robotic systems in military operations. Using his experiences as an air warrior, his training in moral reasoning and his gift for scientific research, he has produced a highly readable book that will appeal to the profession of arms, to the moral philosopher and to the government policy maker. The real value here is the articulate basis for classroom discussion on THE moral dilemma of our time. The unique organization, nuanced articulation of complex ideas, and interdisciplinary thought process are “trail blazing.” This is a book that one cannot put down—its contents will haunt you. A work that will be well and repeatedly used by those studying the ramifications of robotic warfare."

 --William G. Eckhardt, Chief My Lai Prosecutor, U.S. Army Judge Advocate Corps, Colonel (Ret.) and Teaching Professor of Law, University of Missouri Kansas City


"'The sweat from the fear of death has a smell all its own…'

You won’t read another book on robotics and warfare quite like this one. Colonel Shane Riza joins the sparse ranks of fighter pilots who ruminate – and write about it. All the intellectual content is here, with plenty of just war theory and Hiroshima and Xenophon peppered in alongside the Predators and Hellfires. What’s so unusual about Killing Without Heart is how Riza turns his own experience of war, family, and matters of the heart into an extended essay on morality, autonomy and the necessary hesitation of the trained killer. His insights make for a unique take on how unmanned vehicles affect morality in war. Riza asks hard questions. Will unmanned warfare once and for all destroy any vestige of a warrior ethos in technologically advanced militaries? Does automated warfare remove the sense of the tragic and alter our understanding of the essence of war? Will robotic warfare accelerate the demise of the warrior spirit, or force a new understanding of this ancient concept? 

Riza’s questions make you think. Much of his argument pivots around risk and gut feeling. And he knows true risk first-hand: how to stifle it in the fighter cockpit over Iraq, and how its memory intrudes in the quiet moments, like early morning goodbyes or when tucking his children into bed. 

Fighter pilots with “the right stuff” oh so rarely put pen to paper. Be glad Riza followed his heart to produce this book."  

 --Dr. Rebecca Grant, Director, Washington Security Forum and President, IRIS Independent Research

Other Works

Two-Dimensional Warfare: Combatants, Warriors, and our Post-Predator Collective Experience

Accepted Manuscript

This article explores the effects of our technological way of war, for the first time driving toward total combatant immunity, on the psyche of combatants and the ethos of a warrior. It is a plea for the preservation of a warrior spirit, or at least a warrior class, that views war in a philosophical and personal manner. The article posits that without a sense of the tragic, without a personal test of will and skill often at great individual risk, we can find no real meaning in war. It argues that the warrior dimension of immunity in warfare has somehow altered our experience of war, yet the effects of this ‘virtual war’ are still ambiguous – we do not yet know whether executing warfare through long-distance video desensitizes the ‘remote warrior’ or enhances his/her experience of killing. We do not yet know how combatants ‘commuting’ to war from home and being transported 7000 miles into battle through this ‘miracle’ of technology will handle the consequences of what the nation is asking them to do. We know we have forever changed the landscape of warfare – and we know we did it all before deeply considering the implications of what we have done.

KEY WORDS: Robotics, military robotics, drones, unmanned aerial vehicles, UAV, remotely piloted aircraft, RPA, Predator, military ethics, autonomous warfare, autonomous weapons.

When Diplomacy Fails: Consent, Risk, and Modern Warfare

"The military instrument of power often waits in the wings for the diplomatic instrument to run its course. Ever hopeful we will not have to commit military force to an international situation, the past two decades show us such hopes are often dashed, as the sea of international opinion crashes against the rocky shore of state self-interest. It is sometimes frustrating for military members waiting in the breach.

We have “unusually useable” weapons, and how to use them must become integrally linked to “should” and “when” questions in ad bellum decisions, because determining justice in warfare becomes much murkier when an entity can decide to take lives without committing to risking its own. The current trajectory of modern unmanned and robotic warfare leaves our deeply held “just war” tradition in jeopardy.

This article argues for a restoration of consent to harm and risk in warfare. It argues consent to be killed in battle is the defining act giving a combatant his legal status, and risk in battle must be shared by combatants in order to set the conditions for a just and lasting peace. How we fight is just as important as winning; in fact, sometimes how we fight is the whole of winning in this age of persistent conflict. These are issues senior leaders and policymakers must begin to confront before the next time, despite our best efforts, diplomacy fails."



The Operational and Tactical Nexus: Small Steps Toward Seamless Effects-Based Operations

The literature on effects-based operations (EBO) seems to grow each day. Myriad definitions have appeared in service and joint doctrine writings as well as in other writings. Most are too far reaching for current capabilities, and they may be too far reaching for future capabilities. Both the United States Air Force (USAF) and the United States Joint Forces Command (USJFCOM) EBO definitions encompass all facets of national policy, including strategic outcomes. USAF and USJFCOM are attempting a quantum leap when smaller, more manageable steps are indicated to enable and embed an EBO culture in the planning community. Making the effort more difficult, service and joint doctrine writings often convey a sense of multipolarity when it comes to explaining EBO methodology. Joint planning doctrine is conceptually opposed to an idealized EBO methodology. Another impediment to EBO is a dichotomy in the way the USAF trains at the tactical level of war and the way EBO enthusiasts view campaigning at the operational level of war. One view focuses on events, missions, and platforms, while the other focuses on applying capabilities toward affecting systems and achieving a desired end state. The USAF purposefully evolved towards mission-based training programs following Desert Storm to link missions to combatant commanders’ desired capabilities. Unfortunately, this change fosters the misperception that missions are capabilities and leads to inefficient force presentation to the combatant commanders. Finally, though service and joint doctrine writings strive to distinguish the three levels of war, the officers who will plan campaigns matured during a time when the lines became increasingly blurred. While it is clear that tactical actions can have strategic effects, the doctrinal desire to segregate levels and the institutional desire to view operational planning as completely distinct from well-founded and practiced tacticallevel effects-based thinking is limiting the evolution of EBO in the operational realm. Solving these mind-set differences and smoothing the disconnects at the tactical/operational nexus may hold the key to seamless effects-based operations in future joint fights. However, small steps, not quantum leaps, are required.


A Grand Unified Theory of Fighter Quantum Mechanics: The Case for Air-to-Air Training in Multi-Role Fighters

For Official Use Only -- Not available outside the Department of Defense

In the early 2000s, two aircraft accidents led senior Air Force officers to question why multi-role fighters were doing air-to-air training. It seemed to be a return to the poor decisions prior to the Vietnam War which led to a near parity in aerial combat with the North Vietnamese. The article was a plea to never return to those pre-Vietnam policies, an attempt to understand that there are many other benefits to air-to-air training, and an argument that, given airplanes with an amazing range of capabilities, it ought to be the duty of those flying them and leading those who do to exploit the weapon systems' full envelopes.