Drone Airforce? Why Not?

I read some very different things from time to time.  Some might think that ‘strange’ but I think of it as ‘broadening my horizons’.  I guess even the strangest of us can find some rationale to support our weirdness in terms of areas of interest.  But, obviously, I digress.

This morning a piece by Levi Maxey on The Cipher Brief was that ‘bright, shiny thing’ capturing my attention.  He is billed as a cyber and technology analyst with that group.  This also happened to coincide with a drone strike of a civilian aircraft, a first, which was reported on the morning news I was tuned into today.  His article involves the impending change to U.S. export regulations that would make it easier for us to sell drones to friendly foreign powers.  Mr. Maxey began by mentioning the first known kinetic (non-explosive) strike by an unmanned aircraft dating back to October 2001.

I tend to think of drones as a ‘poor country’s air force’.  Not that they’re necessarily inexpensive, but they are certainly significantly more affordable than our multi-million dollar-a-piece fighter aircraft.  They don’t require onboard pilots so that cuts their cost significantly given training, etc. of pilots.  Drones range from small things you can hold in your hand to missiles with aircraft-like wings and control surfaces minus the pilot who can be sitting safely anywhere manipulating his or her controls.

Maxey brings a very bright light to the topic of drones.  The countries that might be given the opportunity to stock up on drones from the U.S. would be Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.  This seems to be a response to the fact that China has been exporting drone technology to countries and has worked to very quickly become quite advanced with drone technology.  A particularly riveting question in Maxey’s piece was this: “Will China’s drones become the AK-47s of tomorrow?

Among other things, China has developed ‘networked drone swarms‘ that brought to mind a swarm of bees and how they simply are everywhere all at once and are overwhelming as the result.  That isn’t to say that we have not developed such technology, but it is concerning that China has this technology and that it also can share that technology with any country or even any group it chooses.  Their drones are capable of acting singly or to be controlled in larger groups and to swarm any enemy installation of choice.

Think about one of our superior aircraft carriers being swarmed by small explosive-laden drones coming in such quantities as being impossible to take out of action before they did significant damage to a flight deck, for example, thus rendering this huge aircraft carrier impotent.  China has their own versions of our Predator and Reaper drones which are extremely potent strike devices.

China’s potential to deny us access to targets with these swarms is very real.  If they can keep these drones in swarms and out-of-sight of our radar given relative size and radar signature, we could find ourselves blindsided by a swarming attack.  Things are rapidly changing in the world of the military.  We have enemies and prospective/potential enemies that are very much more potent than they might’ve been even a year or two ago.

This world of drones makes even relatively poor countries potentially very significant adversaries.  Our advanced technology relies upon other technology to make us as militarily capable as we are today.  The idea that relatively low-cost technology can be used so effectively against our advanced threats is disconcerting, to say the least.  I am sure we are also on the cutting edge of drone technology, but the cost barriers, as low as they are, makes for a whole new group of potential adversaries seemingly overnight.

There is even talk about 3-D printed drones being mass-produced.  China has a small drone with folding wings today that can be dropped in large quantities from anything airborne and those could jam frequencies, blind target acquisition radar units and simply disrupt by swarming everywhere.  Our world is changing rapidly and that obviously includes the world of military ops.

A less-expensive military option, unfortunately, opens the doors to adversaries for whom costs had previously been a deterrent.  I can see how effective such an attack could be on ground forces if these small units simply exploded or dropped exploding devices on the troops as they swarmed here, there and everywhere. That is way too cheap a weapon in today’s world.

There is no rest for the wicked, hence none for us either.


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