By Allen Brown
Once the word “drone” is mentioned, an image of a modern unmanned quad-rotor pops to mind; but drones have been around for a pretty long while, at least as a concept. The history of drones can be traced back to 1849 when Austria decided to attack Venice using unmanned balloons armed to the teeth with explosives. As technology progressed, the quadcopter came to life. It was conceptualized around 1907, a conceptual predecessor to the helicopter. As technological leaps in the industry became more frequent and advanced, drones started becoming more efficient and usable. Militaries around the world started to look for ways to capitalize on the potential that a powered, unmanned aircraft could offer. To see how drones are faring in military warfare, we’ll dive into their current impact and potential in the next few years.
Introduction of Modern Drones into the Battlefield
The hype around drones certainly surged when President Obama took office. In his term, drone strikes tripled compared to previous presidents. It doesn’t take a lot of speculation to know that drones are currently shifting the foundations of warfare and taking it to an entirely new landscape. Unmanned vehicles that do the job of hundreds of soldiers are certainly revolutionary in more than one sense. Some would even say it’s the long awaited true introduction of robotics into the battlefield, which gives the term ‘proxy war’ a whole new meaning.
Drones are currently being used to provide logistics support to soldiers who are either on the battlefield or training in areas that are hard to access. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army is currently using drones to provide logistics support for its troops that are stationed at an elevated location of more than 4,500 meters. The use of a tactical VTOL UAS can create supply chains that get to the troops without delays and without bearing any risk on individuals. This can be utilized effectively in active war zones and stations that are hard to reach with conventional logistical methods.
The Growing Support of Drone Strikes
As reported by USNews in a poll that was done on January 23, 2020, around the time the Iranian Quds Force commander was killed by a drone strike, around 35% of Americans agreed on the effectiveness of drone strikes in neutralizing foreign threats to the US. Keep in mind that in 2015, the percentage of Americans who were in agreement on drone strikes was only 23%. President Trump’s decision to neutralize Soleimani, the Quds Force commander, was support by 47% of Americans. As the general public is becoming more aware of the capabilities of drones, support is steadily increasing. However, a large number of people are still not entirely supporting drone strikes due to a relative lack of precision in the past. As the technology continues progressing, accuracy and precision parabolically increase, removing risks of causing unwanted damage or casualties by a great percentage.
Collaboration Between Countries
Drone strikes are not the US’s decision alone; a lot of countries have started collaborating with the US to create efficient, tactical, and precise drone strikes to neutralize local terroristic threats, such as Al Qaeda and Taliban in Pakistan and al-Shabaab in Somalia. On August 21, 2020, a US drone strike on a high-ranking al-Shabaab official was sent with joint efforts between the US and the Somalian government, resulting in a highly precise strike. Many collaboration efforts are currently ongoing between different militaries to maximize the efficiency of drone strikes and reduce any unintended casualties. As more countries begin to adopt drone strikes instead of manned aerial warfare, drones are bound to replace a hefty percentage of conventional combat aerial vehicles.
When it comes to surveillance ops, drones are often considered the perfect way to sneak across borders without putting any human at risk. Drones can simply hover or stand by from a pretty far distance while surveilling a target 24/7, providing real-time updates to the operator, in addition to tracking targets using different methods, such as infrared and motion-tracking. Before a drone strike, a drone can continue monitoring the place to give the operator the time to make a precise route for the drone to go, while avoiding innocent bystanders. The extremely accurate lethal use of force is a great indicator of the capabilities of drones in warfare. Not a lot of manned aerial vehicles can pinpoint the target with such accuracy, especially when you consider that manned vehicles are not anywhere close to the target before the strike itself.
As the capabilities of drones become more and more advanced, their uses are going to keep diverging to create an ecosystem that nullifies as much risk as possible to human soldiers. While there are still a lot of conventional forms of weapons that a drone may not replace yet, it’s making great strides when it comes to risk-management and precise targeting.