Monday, June 20, 2011

The Drone Revolution

When we look back at the past decade from a military history perspective, one of the things that stands out is the rise of unmanned drones as a key weapon of warfare. Today's New York Times has an article called, "War Evolves With Drones, Some Tiny as Bugs," that looks at current research and advances in drone technology. Here are some of the key points.
From blimps to bugs, an explosion in aerial drones is transforming the way America fights and thinks about its wars. ... far less widely known are the sheer size, variety and audaciousness of a rapidly expanding drone universe, along with the dilemmas that come with it.

The Pentagon now has some 7,000 aerial drones, compared with fewer than 50 a decade ago. Within the next decade the Air Force anticipates a decrease in manned aircraft but expects its number of “multirole” aerial drones like the Reaper — the ones that spy as well as strike — to nearly quadruple, to 536. Already the Air Force is training more remote pilots, 350 this year alone, than fighter and bomber pilots combined.

The roles and uses of drones will continue to expand, on land, sea, air and in space. The Times article looks at miniaturization and efforts to copy the flight of insects, but there are numerous other applications and possibilities for drone technology.

One thing is rarely mentioned in the many articles I've read about drones: defense against them. At the moment we are the leading user of drones and at the forefront of drone technology. Our opponents are non-state forces that are relatively low-tech in comparison. But at some point we might face an adversary with a sophisticated drone arsenal of its own, especially as drone technology not only becomes more advanced, but more widespread. With our extensive research efforts in developing drones, I hope we are also devoting some resources to defensive measures against enemy systems.


  1. More than likely. We're also smart enough not to talk about them.

  2. SteveBrooklineMAJune 20, 2011 at 6:48 PM

    I am also concerned about adversaries with non-sophisticated drones. It seems to me that any decent engineer with a GPS, airplane and explosives (or jet fuel?) could make non-sophisticated cruise missile.

  3. "More than likely. We're also smart enough not to talk about them. "

    I hope so. But our ability to keep secrets isn't exactly great.

    "I am also concerned about adversaries with non-sophisticated drones."

    That is definitely a potential threat. GPS would be the relatively new component, since simple drone technology has existed for quite awhile in the form of radio-controlled model airplanes and other vehicles.

  4. "I hope so. But our ability to keep secrets isn't exactly great."

    True. The stealth helicopters used in the Bin Laden raid do give me hope. If we can hide the development of something like that, we can hide anti-drone technology.

    As far as non-sophisticated drones go, we've been dealing with missiles for a long time.

  5. Yeah, it was amazing that we were actually able to keep the Bin Laden raid secret long enough to carry it out.

    We've been dealing with missiles a long time, but our countermeasures have not exactly shifted the balance of power from offense to defense. But yeah, depending on the target we can deal with crude drones. Sophisticated ones resembling birds or insects would probably be another matter, though.