June 18, 2024

Why a drone war in Asia would look different from the one in Ukraine

Source: The Economist

Twenty years ago the drone was a rarity in conflict. In 2003, the first year of its war in Iraq, America had a paltry 163 drones, around 1% of its entire fleet of aircraft. Now they have come to dominate the battlefield and have also spread around the world (see chart 1). Russia and Ukraine are both reliant on drones to spot targets or destroy them directly. Many are small and cheap airframes that can be produced in large numbers: the average Ukrainian battalion is getting through 3,000 a month, says Jahara Matisek, a professor at the US Naval War College. But a forthcoming paper published by the Centre for a New American Security (cnas), a think-tank in Washington, DC, shows why a drone war over Taiwan is likely to look very different from the one which has played out in Ukraine.

A decade ago the dominant drones were large, fixed-wing versions such as the American Predator and Reaper, which played important roles in America’s counter-terrorism campaigns around the world. In recent years loitering munitions, sometimes called kamikaze drones, have risen in importance. Taiwan could use kamikaze drones, such as the first-person view (fpv) racing-type ones employed in Ukraine, to batter a Chinese landing force on the beaches. America could also “flood the airspace” with thousands of larger kamikaze drones to hit any ship in sight, say Stacie Pettyjohn, Hannah Dennis and Molly Campbell, the authors of the paper. Both sides would also use drones for intelligence and surveillance.

Read the full story and more from The Economist.


  • Stacie Pettyjohn

    Senior Fellow and Director, Defense Program

    Stacie Pettyjohn is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Defense Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). Her areas of expertise include defense strategy, post...

  • Hannah Dennis

    Research Associate, Defense Program

    Hannah Dennis is a Research Associate for the Defense Program at CNAS where she also supports the CNAS Gaming Lab. Her research focuses on the future of warfare, defense acqui...

  • Molly Campbell

    Program Administrator, Defense Program

    Molly Campbell is the Program Administrator for the Defense Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). Molly graduated from Stanford University with dual degree...