“We have just won a war with a lot of heroes flying around in planes. The next war may be fought by airplanes with no men in them at all. Take everything you’ve learned about aviation in war, throw it out of the window, and let’s go to work on tomorrow’s aviation. It will be different from anything the world has ever seen.”
– General Hap Arnold, V-J Day, August 1945
The word drone is the most widely recognised definition and an umbrella name for a pilotless aircraft; the etymology of the name itself thought to have stemmed from the characteristically low humming noise the machines make, or rather with entomological connotations, from early drones being painted with black stripes on the fuselage, making the aircraft look like a male honeybee (a drone) . As drones have progressed over the years they have developed a number of different names; Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) and Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA). In a military context, a drone is a small-unmanned aircraft with video surveillance technology, they can be large as commercial plane or as small as a bird; the key attribute of a drone being that they can be controlled from a distance, removing the possibility of danger to a pilot’s life.
‘UAS have been under development for nearly half a century and have been deployed on the battlefield since the Vietnam War.’
-Nurkin & Drewry . (2010)
Over the last decade drones have become pivotal in the modern battlefield: the US Department of Defense having expanded its drone department from 50 to over 7,500 and spent a total of $5 billon; and in the next decade, global spending on the research and manufacturing of drones is expected to reach in excess of $94 billion . As technology naturally progresses, drones have become iteratively more effective, now no longer needing to be within line-of-sight or short-range radio link with their pilots. Satellites have extended their range and enabled them to conduct longer missions, currently up to 30 hours (Predator). As such, the utilisation of drones has become highly attractive for tracking targets for long durations. It is for this reason over fifty nations now posses drone technology, making them an integral part of the battlefield.
Whilst initially drones were solely utilised for ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance) missions, in the wake of 9/11 they have increasingly become tasked with strike missions as an advanced guided weaponry system. Differentiating between the two mission types is important when analysing how drones have altered the modern battlefield: each has brought with it new challenges to modern warfare.
The evolving character of modern conflict, particularly focusing on recent western forces’ operations (i.e. Afghanistan and Iraq), where the threat is more asymmetric in nature, verses the traditional state-on-state threat, has perhaps affected the implementation and utilisation of modern and...