The issues pertaining to the use of armed drones have so far been mostly caused by larger ones, such as the Predator, Wing Loong, and Reaper drones. A new report by the United Nations Institute for Disarmament (UNIDIR) has investigated “whether small armed UAVs may provide a disruptive capability far more rapidly than their larger cousins”, and the findings are worrying.
Smaller drones, particularly when used in swarms, might provide significant military advantages. In large numbers they can be used to overwhelm enemy forces without any risk to one’s own pilots, while simultaneously carrying out both pre- and post-strike reconnaissance. They might also be difficult to attribute, meaning states might use them against other states in a covert way. Swarms of drones could be used in ‘mass-precision attacks’, which provides opportunities compared to traditional large scale offensives, but could also possibly be used to ‘inflict mass civilian casualties more effectively’.
Lastly, there is not a single-clear drone-defense system that could potentially stop an onslaught of small UAVs. The development of a drone swarm by one state could therefor rapidly change power dynamics and lead to insecure and volatile situations. Considering these and previously mentioned risks, it is not suprising that the report ends with a call:
“These are the early days of a new and fast-moving technology. If no action is taken to develop standards, principles or regulation, States are likely to find themselves being carried in the slipstream of UAV technology rather than guiding it.”
You can read the full report at UNIDIR, and find it in our depository by clicking ‘Access Resource’ to the right.