The Origins of Drone Warfare and How It's Changing Modern Warfare
Wed, April 21, 2021

The Origins of Drone Warfare and How It's Changing Modern Warfare

Military technology is also advancing, albeit slower. The principal drones used currently are “evolutions of the technology” that were first deployed during the 1999 Kosovo war / Photo by: Bobbi Zapka via Wikimedia Commons

 

Advances in miniaturization and cost mean that drones are now used for filming and recreation, wrote defense and security editor Dan Sabbagh, via British daily newspaper The Guardian. They are also used to monitor conservation or to deliver medicines in remote areas. However, as we use drones for our own liking, states nowadays are using drones as a weapon against threats.  

Military technology is also advancing, albeit slower. The principal drones used currently are “evolutions of the technology” that were first deployed during the 1999 Kosovo war. At that time, the drones helped spot “hidden Serbian positions." Analysts at information group Jane’s estimated that over 80,000 surveillance drones and almost 2,000 drones will be purchased globally in the next decade. 

History of Drone Warfare

Did you know that drones have been part of warfare since the 19th century? One known example is when the Austrians bombed Venice using pilotless hot-air balloons, explained The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, an independent, non-profit organization. The development of pilotless flying machines began as soon as the Wright brothers demonstrated powered flight with the first remote control planes, which were created during the First World War. 

During the interwar period, unmanned technology advanced and this was the era when the term “drone” was used after Queen Bee was developed by the UK. It is a bi-plane “converted to be controlled by radio from the ground.” Similar to other military drones, the Queen Bee served as a remote-controlled target for anti-aircraft gunners “to use for target practice.” Others such as the Nazi V1 “Doodlebug” were guided bombs, which were primitive versions of modern cruise missiles. 

By the late 1950s, the US and others found they could use “unmanned, remotely piloted aircraft as spy planes.” Equipped with film cameras, the drones were radio-controlled, flying over North Vietnam and China to gather imagery intelligence without putting the lives of pilots at risk or even the likelihood of U.S. airmen being caught by Communists.  

Today’s drones were the product of three technological leaps. In the 1970s, an Israeli aviation genius developed an aircraft with glider-like properties. The aircraft had long, thin wings that could help it stay aloft for hours at end. This is why modern armed drones like the General Atomics Reaper drone “are so in vogue.” 

The pilots would just stay on the ground since drones are lighter than manned aircraft. This particular feature was proven invaluable during the ensuing conflict in the former Yugoslavia. The drones could “stay on station for 24 hours at a time” while keeping an eye on targets. The second technological occurred when transmitters were used to send the footage to battlefield commanders. The usage of transmitters was associated with convincing NATO generals to bomb the Serbs again, hastening the signing of the Dayton peace accords. 

Since then, the US has taken the above-mentioned Balkan systems to a new level by transmitting video footage through satellite networks, not radio waves. In 2000, drone advancement culminated when the US Air Force and CIA became the first to equip drones with missiles as part of the latter’s failed attempt to execute Osama bin Laden. America’s drone war expanded under President Barack Obama as a response to evolving military threats and the “greater availability of remote piloting technology.” 

Today’s drones were the product of three technological leaps. In the 1970s, an Israeli aviation genius developed an aircraft with glider-like properties / Photo by: Alex Evers via Wikimedia Commons

 

Which States Mainly Use Drones? 

The US the UK, and Israel are the main users of drones. The US and the UK rely on Predator and Reaper drones. Israel, on the other hand, develops its own technology. Pakistan and Turkey also started to develop their own drone programs over the last five years. Since 2016, the latter has used drones against the Kurdish PKK in its own borders, in northern Iraq, and in Syria. 

China is also supplying other states such as the UAE with its Wing Loong and CH series drones. The UAE has used the drones to launch a barrage of deadly strikes in Egypt, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. 

The US the UK, and Israel are the main users of drones. The US and the UK rely on Predator and Reaper drones / Photo by: Max Pixel

 

Drones are Changing Warfare

Drones have already changed warfare, providing a more efficient alternative to traditional aerial missions. But analysts have expressed their concern on how drones will make it easier for states to engage in wars and “shadow wars,” putting more civilians at risk. For instance, the US acknowledged that its drone strikes resulted in 16 civilian deaths, 4% of the reported casualties. Director of Drone Wars Chris Cole noted, “Simply put, they transfer risk from combatants to civilians.” 

What if humans were removed from operating drones? Imagine AI-powered drones locking onto targets without any human intervention. Still, the medium-term risk remains as the Stop the Killer Robots campaign attempts to halt the development of lethal drones with a global treaty. Russia, China, and the US opposed the treaty. Hopefully, experts will introduce rules with autonomous warfare. However, there is no serious attempt to stop the proliferation or development of drone technology.  

It’s not a rare occurrence when global superpowers use drones in their military operations. The proliferation of drone technology shows the eagerness of states to advance their military prowess and national interests, even at the cost of human life. This is due to the fact that states are interested in bolstering their security from outside threats. In this context, it looks like drone technology and warfare are a country’s idea of peace.