Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Drones and the Future of War

Drones and the Future of War

My first in-the-flesh experience with drones came on a hot night in June of 2006 on an airfield tarmac in Taji, Iraq. Having exited a large CH47 Chinook transport helicopter and now waiting for a bus to take me and fellow soldiers to billeting, a loud, lumbering drone flew overhead at a height of about 50 feet off the ground. It sounded like a lawnmower was flying overhead. This was not a particularly sophisticated piece of equipment, but it was suited to its role of surveillance and conducting reconnaissance.

In the past seven years the sophistication of drones – also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), unmanned combat air systems (UCAS) or remotely piloted aircraft (RPAs) if you are in the Air Force – have increased dramatically. On Wednesday, in fact, the Navy successfully conducted a UAV takeoff and landings from the aircraft carrier the USS George H.W. Bushoff the coast of Virginia.

This was an historic occasion. As Andrew Borene of Robotics Alley told The Business of Robotics: “This landing marks the crossing of a threshold for American military aviation and has strategic importance for national security and energy efficiency through reduced human risk and longer flight times.”

But will the Navy’s achievement and other advances for ground launched systems change procurement decisions or will bureaucratic inertia act to stifle innovation?