January 29, 2014

Study: Fleets Of Unmanned, 3D-Printed Drones The Future Of Warfare

Source: CBS DC

WASHINGTON (CBS DC) – The future of military warfare will be decided by specialized robots, guided munitions and fleets of 3D-printed, remote-controlled drones in the not-too-distant future, according to a report from national security think-tank, according to the Center for a New American Security.

The CNAS study, “Process Over Platforms: A Paradigm Shift in Acquisition through Advanced Manufacturing,” highlights future military technology that will “change the game” with unmanned aircraft and fleets of 3D-printed, remote-controlled drones stealthily swooping in and out of battlefields. The report argues for rapid advancements in unmanned military technology, allowing the U.S. to “prepare for war in the robotic age.”

The report states that the remotely-piloted Unmanned Aircraft Systems employed over the past decade in Afghanistan, Iraq and other locations will soon be replaced by “increasingly autonomous systems” on land, sea, undersea, air and space. The authors argue that the U.S. will be pushed to use these unmanned systems “out of operational necessity” along with the rising “costs of personnel” and the “unsustainable pace” of training soldiers.

The future of war will be a battle of sheer robotic numbers: “By relying on smaller size and superior numbers, unmanned systems can be built to be lost in combat, making survivability a characteristic not of any individual platform but of a swarm of systems, operating together.”

Cyber warfare tools, guided munitions, and mass production of 3D-printed, automated drones are the technologies that the U.S. should be focusing on in future military development

Study authors Robert O. Work and Shawn Brimley urge the U.S. to make investments in fleets of unmanned drones urgently, saying that U.S. dominance of advancing military technology is fading.

“Technological superiority over potential state adversaries is now considered a foundational aspect of any U.S. defense strategy,” write the authors. “If we do not innovate boldly, others will. There is no reason to believe that other countries less friendly to the U.S. will be unable to surprise the U.S. by introducing militarily useful robotic system.”

The federal budget bill passed by Congress for 2014 approved $497 billion for the Defense Department, which is about the same as 2013. But the Pentagon will also receive an additional $85.2 billion for war expenses, or nearly $6 billion more than was requested.

The authors warn of accidental conflict with other countries, noting that the use of unmanned, autonomous systems in “crisis-prone regions” could cause inadvertent technology standoffs. The authors cite a September 2013 example of a Chinese military drone flying towards Japanese-controlled islands, prompting Japan to scramble F-15 fighter jets to engage the craft.


  • Robert O. Work

    Senior Counselor for Defense and Distinguished Senior Fellow for Defense and National Security

    Secretary Robert O. Work is the Distinguished Senior Fellow for Defense and National Security at the Center for a New American Security and the owner of TeamWork, LLC, which s...

  • Shawn Brimley

    Former Executive Vice President and Director of Studies

    Shawn Brimley was the Executive Vice President and Director of Studies at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), where he managed the center’s research agenda and staf...