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How the Next Generation of Drones Could Reshape Future Wars

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How the Next Generation of Drones Could Reshape Future Wars (excerpt)

(Source: Popular Science; posted Jan 26, 2016)

By Kelsey D. Atherton

We are living in the first age of drone warfare. While unmanned aerial vehicles can trace their origins back at least as far as 1918, it took the War on Terror and its accompanying technological advances to truly showcase the abilities of long-endurance, high-flying remotely piloted machines. Yet despite their prominence in modern battlefields, the greatest impact of drones will be felt in the future. At least, that’s the argument from Michael C. Horowitz, Sarah E. Kreps, and Matthew Fuhrmann in an interesting new paper.

In “The Consequences of Drone Proliferation: Separating Fact from Fiction,” published online this week, the authors speak to fears, both real and imagined, about more and more countries incorporating armed drones into their military arsenals. While the United States is the best-known user of armed drones, it’s hardly the only country, with Israel, Nigeria, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom having all used them in combat.

The paper makes this key points: right now, drones are mostly changing the calculus for counter-insurgency and domestic warfare, but in the future, drones might change wars fought by nations against other nations.

[C]urrent-generation drones offer little utility for coercion against other governments. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, moreover, drones might actually enhance security in disputed border regions by providing states with greater ability to monitor contested regions persistently at lower cost, leading to reassurance that potential adversaries are not attempting to change the status quo through force. The limited significance of current-generation drones in interstate contexts beyond monitoring stems from a key technological limitation: UAVs currently in operation are vulnerable to air defense systems, meaning that they are much less likely to be effective when operating in hostile airspace.

So what happens when drones get better at avoiding anti-air weapons? That’s when drones start to matter a lot more between nations. Stealth technology, which made its wartime debut 25 years ago on American F-117 Nighthawk fighters in Desert Storm, is a likely future of both manned and unmanned combat planes. America’s newest bomber and its in the works replacement are both built stealthy, as are its biggest fighter program ever and the futuristic X-47B combat demonstrator. (end of excerpt)

Click here for the full story, on the Pop Sci website.


The Consequences of Drone Proliferation: Separating Fact from Fiction

(Source: Social Science Research Network; posted Jan 25, 2016)

What are the consequences of drone proliferation for the international security environment? Despite extensive discussions in the policy world concerning drone strikes for counterterrorism purposes, myths about the capabilities and implications of current-generation drones often outstrip reality.

This paper separates fact from fiction by examining the effects of UAVs in six different contexts — counterterrorism, interstate conflict, crisis onset and deterrence, coercive diplomacy, domestic control and repression, and use by non-state actors for the purposes of terrorism.

We show that, while current-generation drones introduce some unique capabilities into conflicts around the world, they are also unlikely to produce the dire consequences that some fear. In particular, drone proliferation carries potentially significant consequences for counterterrorism operations and domestic control in authoritarian regimes.

Drones could also enhance monitoring in disputed territories, potentially leading to greater stability. However, given their technical limitations, current-generation drones are unlikely to have a large impact on interstate warfare.

Our analysis has important implications for a range of policy issues, including the management of regional disputes, the regulation of drone exports, and defense against potential terrorist attacks on the homeland.

Click here for the full report (38 PDF pages) on the SSRN website.