Future threats: Military UAS, terrorist drones, and the dangers of the second drone age

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Abstract

The State of the Art of War

The world has entered the ‘second drone age’.1 Defined by the global proliferation of military Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) and weaponised commercial drones, this new era of drone warfare has seen, and will continue to see, both state and non-state actors competing for power in the skies above (and beyond) designated zones of conflict. Hostile actors, with threatening remotely operated air power components, now vie for command of the air against NATO and al- lied forces. Civilian populations are at increased risk in this adjusted state of war. Ethical controversies from the first drone age have been exacerbated by the widespread use of distant lethal robotics, making it difficult to distinguish between the perpetrators of drone atrocities and attacks or accidents. This ‘deniability’ has important political, legal, and strategic implications. Holding actors to account, or retaliating against belligerents, is difficult in this deniable, multi-user context, where similar, if not identical systems, are deployed by myriad disparate actors. The second drone age also poses broader implications for international security, stability, and Great Power politics. Decisions about who joins the ‘global drone club’ are not made by accident, especially where the transfer of military UAS is concerned. The unrestricted supply of armed UAS to surrogate, partner, and proxy actors by state suppliers – of which China is one of the most prolific – will influence the fate of nations. As recent ‘State versus State’ drone wars in the Caucasus and Libya show, the politically motivated supply of military UAS has contributed to international instability and conflict escalation. The supply of both commercial and military-grade remote technologies to non-state actors, allegedly by countries like Iran or through commercial shell companies, exacerbate the manifest threats present in this altered security environment. The relaxation of commercial drone regulations in reaction to COVID-19 will only exacerbate this problem as belligerents seek to move against perceived weak-points. Put simply, new ‘Drone Powers’, and the ‘new drone world’, present fundamentally different challenges to those faced during the first drone age.i
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationA comprehensive approach to countering unmanned aircraft systems
EditorsMatthew Willis, André Haider, Daniel C. Teletin, Daniel Wagner
Place of PublicationKalkar
PublisherThe Joint Air Power Competence Centre
Publication date2021
Pages481-505
Chapter26
Publication statusPublished - 2021
EventDrone Warfare: Trends and Emerging Issues - Rothermere American Institute, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom
Duration: 20. Sep 201821. Sep 2018

Workshop

WorkshopDrone Warfare: Trends and Emerging Issues
LocationRothermere American Institute, University of Oxford
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
CityOxford
Period20/09/201821/09/2018

Keywords

  • Drones
  • War
  • security
  • Technology
  • Strategy
  • NATO

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