June 20, 2024

Swarms over the Strait

Drone Warfare in a Future Fight to Defend Taiwan

Executive Summary

Drones have transformed battlefields in Libya, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Ukraine, but in a companion report, Evolution Not Revolution: Drone Warfare in Russia’s 2022 Invasion of Ukraine, Stacie Pettyjohn finds that today’s drones have not yet revolutionized warfare and only present an evolution to existing ways of fighting. This report details the ways that drones have proliferated and impacted warfare in recent conflicts, with an eye toward their likely effect on a potential future American effort to defeat a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. The authors identify a range of ways that drones could be employed in this scenario to execute key missions for the United States, Taiwan, and China, and find that all parties could make extensive use of drones to rapidly close kill chains.

The United States is betting that it can out-innovate China and use drones to defeat a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) invasion of Taiwan. Here, the United States should view Ukraine as a cautionary tale. Ukraine consistently has pioneered new approaches to drone warfare, but Russia has rapidly adapted and scaled drone production in a way that Ukraine cannot match. Technological and tactical innovations are necessary but not sufficient. Mass production of an affordable mix of drones is also needed to support a large and likely protracted conflict. The research found that the geography of the Indo-Pacific significantly disadvantages the United States, which needs drones with long range and considerable endurance that will inevitably cost more than the drones used in Ukraine, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Libya. Today, China is positioned to take advantage of its large fleet of drones, which could provide it with an edge in a war over Taiwan. The United States and Taiwan need to close this gap rapidly and develop a layered system of counterdrone defenses or risk being on the losing side of a war. Washington must also find a way to supply allies and partners, such as Taiwan, with military and commercial drones. And the Pentagon must consider how these diverse technologies enable new operational concepts and doctrine. Ultimately, the United States must recognize that while drones alone would not win a war against China to defend Taiwan, they have become a key part of the competition and the United States cannot afford to remain behind.

Recommendations: Preparing for the Pacing Scenario

The findings from this analysis yielded the following recommendations for the United States and Taiwan.

For the United States

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) needs to acquire more “good enough” longer-range drones for this fight in the Pacific. The DoD must develop and procure drones with the range to perform useful missions in this theater that can be purchased in sufficient quantities to make up for the many that will inevitably be lost in combat.

The United States needs a diverse fleet of aerial drones that includes a mix of higher-end and cheaper systems. In addition to acquiring “good enough” long-range drones for target acquisition and strike, the United States should have a smaller number of stealthy drones that can conduct surveillance in highly contested airspace and provide targeting information for standoff missile strikes. More sophisticated drones will also likely be needed as a part of the collaborative combat aircraft program.

The United States should invest in autonomous kamikaze drones for attacking ships. Affordable kamikaze drones with relatively simple autonomy could overwhelm the Chinese navy’s air defenses and damage or destroy the invasion fleet.

The United States should consider pre-positioning short- and medium-range drones on Taiwan. Smaller drones face a time-distance problem and will be difficult to put in place once a war has begun. Doing so would require tying up in-demand transport assets, and deployment missions would be quite risky once the shooting begins. However, the operational benefit of such a sensitive decision must be carefully weighed against the geostrategic risk.

The DoD must develop and refine operational concepts and tactics for drone employment specific to U.S. challenges in a fight in the Indo-Pacific, such as those outlined in this report. This task includes considering how U.S. forces will get drones into the theater before a conflict or quickly after one begins, and how to team drones with crewed platforms. It also includes defensive counter-counterdrone measures to make “good enough” drones more survivable where possible. These concepts should include drone technology that the United States has today and what it is developing for the future.

The United States needs to invest in training drone pilots so they are skilled and can operate closely with crewed systems. Since most drones the United States develops would likely be remotely piloted or semiautonomous, the DoD needs to invest in training large numbers of drone pilots and implement a rigorous program to test and train them to operate alongside crewed platforms across all domains.

The U.S. Department of Defense urgently needs to invest in a range of counterdrone capabilities, including layered, high-capacity air defenses and electronic warfare systems. The U.S. military should prepare to counter large, diverse adversary drone fleets by investing in cheaper, proven technologies and higher-end future technologies that could defend against drone swarms. The DoD should explore efforts to repurpose existing technologies, such as the Vampire system created for Ukraine, and find gun- or cannon-based systems that can be fielded quickly and are much cheaper than missile interceptors.

The DoD and Congress, in partnership with U.S. industry, need to build both the commercial and military drone industrial base to scale production and create surge capacity. Although drones have proved not to be survivable, the United States can achieve some resiliency in its drone fleet by developing the capacity to rapidly reconstitute platforms lost in a conflict. This will require a more robust drone industrial base.

The United States should advocate for changes to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and look at alternatives for stemming drone proliferation. It should continue to advocate for changes to the MTCR controls on Category I drones to ensure its allies have the types of drones needed for operations in the Indo-Pacific.

The DoD should work with Congress, the State Department, and the National Security Council to reform its export control and foreign military sales process so it can more quickly deliver capabilities to allies and partners. The United States must be able quickly to provide allies and partners with drone and counterdrone technologies in a timely and predictable manner.

The DoD and Congress should consider whether the United States and its allies and partners can leverage the drone industrial capabilities of allies. The United States and its allies and partners need to find trusted and affordable non-Chinese sources for military and commercial drones.

For Taiwan

Taiwan needs to foster its commercial and military drone industrial base. This effort should prioritize large numbers of kamikaze drones and other short- and medium-range aerial drones that do not require runways to operate, as well as drone boats and undersea drones.

Taiwan should arm its ground forces with first-person-view (FPV) kamikaze drones to provide additional cost-effective short-range precision fires. FPV drones could be used by Taiwanese defenders against PLA landing forces. Given their extremely low cost, Taiwan should build large numbers of these simple systems and invest in technologies that could provide autonomous terminal guidance for contested environments.

Taiwanese forces need to integrate short- and medium-range drones with their ground-based fires units and stockpile large amounts of artillery shells, mortars, rockets, and missiles. In Nagorno-Karabakh and Ukraine drones were most effective as a part of a ground-based fires complex and helped to turn unguided artillery into precision weapons. Taiwan should focus on building the capabilities for these drone-fires reconnaissance-strike complexes.

Taiwan should develop battle management software to integrate drones with ground-based fires units. To rapidly close kill chains, drones need to be linked to artillery units. Taiwan should develop map-based software that will accelerate information sharing to, in turn, accelerate targeting timelines and enable highly responsive fires against emergent targets.

The Taiwanese air force and army should develop operational concepts and tactics and focus on integrating and sharing information between drones and fires units and with allies. In addition to developing battle networks that enhance Taiwanese forces’ situational awareness, Taiwan and the United States should explore ways for Taiwan to share targeting information with the United States and multinational partners while under attack. This enhanced air-to-ground coordination would be necessary to mount an effective defense against an invasion.

Taiwan should acquire kamikaze drone boats and underwater drones to bolster its defenses. Ukrainian forces have successfully denied the Russian navy control over parts of the Black Sea through a combination of kamikaze drone boats and antiship missiles. Taiwan should use the same combination of capabilities along with underwater drones to prevent Chinese ships from reaching the shore.

Taiwanese forces need to begin training on commercial, military, and especially FPV drones. It takes time to learn how to effectively operate drones and integrate them into operations with other types of forces. Taiwan needs to establish a robust training pipeline for its drone operators of all types so that it has a large, skilled cadre of operators.

The Taiwanese military needs to invest in a robust system of counterdrone capabilities, including layered, high-capacity, mobile air defenses, and electronic warfare systems. In addition to long-range air defenses, Taiwan needs to bolster its short-range air defense system significantly.


On battlefields in Libya, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Ukraine, combatants have used uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, to great effect, leading some analysts to conclude that they are fundamentally changing the character of war. In Libya, a 2019 offensive by General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) was supported by Chinese-made drones, leaving the United Nations–backed Government of National Accord (GNA) clinging to power in Tripoli. Then, in late 2019, Turkey provided the GNA with Bayraktar TB2 medium-altitude drones and air defenses, enabling GNA forces to control the skies over Tripoli and repel the LNA attack. Similarly, in the lopsided 2020 war over Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan’s fleet of Turkish TB2s and Israeli drones destroyed Armenian air defenses and precisely attacked rear echelon forces. Observers hailed drones as the pivotal capability responsible for Azerbaijan’s decisive victory. Now, in the ongoing Ukraine war that began in 2022, drones are playing an unprecedented role. Both Russia and Ukraine have extensively employed military-grade as well as commercial drones for surveillance, artillery fire targeting, and strike missions. Additionally, Ukrainian and Russian forces have made extensive use of kamikaze drones to conduct battlefield precision strikes and attack enemy targets deep behind the front lines. Many now see drones as a key capability for achieving victory—or at least avoiding defeat.

These recent conflicts have led to a range of conclusions about the future of warfare. Technology enthusiasts maintain that drones are fundamentally changing the character of war. They argue that drones allow actors to field a relatively cheap air force that is disposable yet able to deliver firepower through mass and resiliency. There are also hotly contested claims about drones rendering tanks obsolete or replacing existing weapons such as artillery. Another camp holds that drones are an evolutionary improvement to existing technology. These skeptics argue that air defenses can easily counter drones, which means that uncrewed aircraft are only valuable for countering terrorists and nonstate actors, but not effective against nations with modern militaries. According to Antonio Calcara and his coauthors, the purported revolutionary effects of drones are “at least premature and probably exaggerated.”

In between these two extremes, there is a third camp that argues that drones have been most effective when used with other capabilities, such as artillery, to rapidly close kill chains. Military forces undertake a series of actions, called kill chains, which consist of collecting information on the environment, deciding what to do, and then acting. Typically, kill chains refer to a targeting cycle, which involves finding potential targets, confirming the target, precisely locating it, engaging it with a weapon, and then assessing whether the attack had the desired effect. Armed drones can perform every step in the kill chain themselves, but unarmed drones—that perform the front-end tasks in the kill chain (find, fix, track, and target) and then share this information with artillery units or other drones that fire on or engage the target—have had the biggest impact on the battlefield. In Ukraine, drones allow defenders to quickly detect an attacking force and concentrate fires on it, thereby making offensive maneuvers prohibitively costly. These drone debates, however, have not been extensively scrutinized or systematically examined across a range of cases.

The authors conclude that the tempered drone optimists are correct. Drones—particularly when they are paired with other systems—are transforming the battlefield, but this is an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary change. In Ukraine, small drones are making it difficult to mass forces or conduct offensive operations, but their effects remain localized, and most drones remain piloted by humans who control and coordinate their actions. Drones are not substitutes for crewed aircraft, artillery, or missiles, but rather complements to existing weapons. As drones more broadly share real-time information, become more autonomous, and shape doctrine and organizational structures, they may revolutionize warfare, but that day is yet to come.

This report explores the impact drones could have on strategic competition and a high-end conflict with China, and what drones could mean for future warfare. The 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS) shifted the focus of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) from counterterrorism operations in the Middle East to great power competition with China and Russia. It identified China as the priority challenge, tasking the DoD with developing the capabilities and concepts required to stop a Chinese fait accompli attack. The 2022 NDS confirmed that focus, noting that the United States is engaged in a strategic competition with China and identifying Beijing as the Defense Department’s “pacing challenge.”

Drones already play a role in peacetime competition with China today. In peacetime, China has used gray zone tactics involving drones to harass and intimidate other nations in an attempt to expand control over international waters and disputed features in East Asia. Long loiter times and ranges allow Chinese drones to frequently patrol the skies over the East and South China Seas and, increasingly, near Taiwan. The United States has deployed its large military drones to the Indo-Pacific, establishing an Air Force intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) drone squadron in Japan and a Marine Corps drone squadron in Hawaii. China and the United States also compete globally, as each seeks to expand its influence over third parties, often through military sales. Drones have become a hot item in the international arms marketplace and an increasingly important diplomatic tool. The United States has been limited in its ability to use drone diplomacy because of its adherence to a Cold War–era arms control agreement, the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). In contrast, China and Turkey, which are not party to the MTCR, have become leading exporters of armed military drones, while Chinese companies simultaneously dominate the commercial drone market.

Drones would also impact the outcome of a potential future war between the United States and China. Many believe that drones may help the United States and Taiwan to deter and, if necessary, defeat China in a war. A 2020 RAND Corporation report concludes that hundreds of networked, low-cost drones could guide American long-range antiship missiles toward a Chinese invasion fleet and would be a key capability needed to defeat China and successfully defend Taiwan. Similarly, proponents of air denial strategy argue that using “sufficiently large numbers of smaller, cheaper weapons,” including ground-based air defenses and drone swarms, “in a distributed way” would prevent China from gaining air superiority. Others have focused on the potential for drones to offer the U.S. military affordable mass and thereby offset the quantitative advantage of the Chinese military. For instance, in August 2023, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks announced the replicator initiative, which seeks to produce thousands of “attritable autonomous systems” in less than two years. Replicator aims to apply lessons from Ukraine to the Indo-Pacific theater—mainly, that thousands of cheap drones can help a determined defender mount an effective resistance against a larger aggressor. Taiwan also is trying to emulate Ukrainian success by manufacturing thousands of drones as a part of its defensive strategy by mid-2024.

These initiatives beg several questions: Have the United States and its Indo-Pacific partners learned the right lessons from recent conflicts, including Ukraine? Will the types of drones used in Ukraine and other wars play important roles in a potential U.S.-China war? What roles and missions have drones performed in recent wars, and which tactics have been the most effective? Would these approaches also be useful in a war over Taiwan? Could drones provide the United States and its allies and partners an edge over China and enable a successful defense of Taiwan?

If China were to invade Taiwan today, Chinese forces are better positioned to leverage drones than the United States or Taiwan.

To answer these questions and further explore the roles drones are playing in the competition between the United States and China, the authors took a mixed methods approach. The authors developed a novel dataset of instances of pursuit and actual transfers of military drones between January 1995 and September 2023 and used this dataset to identify trends in drone diplomacy and drone proliferation over the last almost 30 of recent wars in which drones played a significant role: the 2019–2020 battle for Tripoli in the Libyan civil war, the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War, and the ongoing war in Ukraine, from February 2022–September 2023. From this historical analysis, the authors identified types of drones employed in recent conflicts and considered their effectiveness in different missions and at different parts of various kill chains. Third, to consider the role of drones in a war between the United States and China over Taiwan, the authors conducted a tabletop exercise that sought to develop innovative operational concepts involving drones.

The authors conclude that if China were to invade Taiwan today, Chinese forces are better positioned to leverage drones than the United States or Taiwan. China already has a large and diverse fleet of relatively inexpensive drones that it could employ to find and attack U.S. and Taiwanese forces. This stands in contrast to American and Taiwanese forces, who do not have large inventories of drones or the right mix of drones to successfully defeat a Chinese invasion. The geography of the Indo-Pacific and the distances American forces would need to operate from would put the United States at a disadvantage in a Taiwan scenario. The United States must rapidly acquire longer-range drones with more endurance to close this gap, while developing a layered system of defenses to counter Chinese drones. Taiwan also needs to improve its air defenses and to acquire more short- and medium-range drones across different domains. At the same time, Washington and Taipei need to develop more sophisticated and autonomous drones for the future.

The remainder of this report is divided into four chapters. The first chapter lays out a typology of drones. The second examines how drones have proliferated globally and how the cast of characters has changed along with the drones themselves. Chapter 3 explores how drones have been used in recent conflicts in Libya, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Ukraine and concludes with comparative conclusions from these three case studies. The fourth chapter examines the roles that drones could play in a future war over Taiwan between China and the United States, presenting notional drone and counterdrone operational concepts for each nation’s military. The report concludes with overall findings and recommendations to U.S. and Taiwanese policymakers. The appendix provides more details about the drone pursuit and transfer dataset.

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  1. The authors use the term “drone” to refer to uncrewed aerial systems (UAS), uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAV), and remotely piloted aircraft (RPA). This report also briefly discusses drone boats.
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  4. Additionally, because they are uncrewed, drones lower the costs of conflict and make war more tempting and likely, but also reduce the risk of escalation. Jack Watling and Sidharth Kaushal, “The Democratisation of Precision Strike in the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict,” Royal United Services Institute, October 22, 2020, https://www.rusi.org/explore-our-research/publications/commentary/democratisation-precision-strike-nagorno-karabakh-conflict; Jacquelyn Schneider and Julia Macdonald, “The Information Technology Counter-Revolution: Cheap, Disposable, and Decentralized,” War on the Rocks, July 19, 2021, https://warontherocks.com/2021/07/the-information-technology-counter-revolution-cheap-disposable-and-decentralized/; Jason Lyall, “Drones Are Destabilizing Global Politics: Simple Vehicles Make Conflict Tempting and Cheap,” Foreign Affairs, December 16, 2020, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/middle-east/2020-12-16/drones-are-destabilizing-global-politics; Sarah Kreps and Micah Zenko, “The Next Drone Wars: Preparing for Proliferation,” Foreign Affairs 93, no. 2 (2014): 68–79, https://www.jstor.org/stable/24483585; Micah Zenko and Sarah E. Kreps, Limiting Armed Drone Proliferation (Council on Foreign Relations, June 2014), https://www.cfr.org/report/limiting-armed-drone-proliferation; Erik Lin-Greenberg, “Game of Drones: What Experimental Wargames Reveal about Drones and Escalation,” War on the Rocks, January 10, 2019, https://warontherocks.com/2019/01/game-of-drones-what-experimental-wargames-reveal-about-drones-and-escalation/; and John Schaus and Kaitlyn Johnson, Unmanned Aerial Systems’ Influences on Conflict Escalation Dynamics (Center for Strategic and International Studies, August 2, 2018), https://www.csis.org/analysis/unmanned-aerial-systems-influences-conflict-escalation-dynamics.
  5. Peter Suciu, “Does the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict Prove the Tank Is Toast?” The National Interest, October 5, 2020, https://nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz/does-nagorno-karabakh-conflict-prove-tank-toast-170155; Robert Bateman, “No, Drones Haven’t Made Tanks Obsolete,” Foreign Policy, October 15, 2020, https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/10/15/drones-tanks-obsolete-nagorno-karabakh-azerbaijan-armenia/; David Johnson, “The Tank Is Dead: Long Live the Javelin, the Switchblade, The … ?,” War on the Rocks, April 18, 2022, https://warontherocks.com/2022/04/the-tank-is-dead-long-live-the-javelin-the-switchblade-the/; Rob Lee, “The Tank Is Not Obsolete, and Other Observations about the Future of Combat,” War on the Rocks, September 6, 2022, https://warontherocks.com/2022/09/the-tank-is-not-obsolete-and-other-observations-about-the-future-of-combat/; David Hambling, “Could Small Drones Really Replace Artillery?” Forbes, August 16, 2023, https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidhambling/2023/08/16/could-small-drones-really-replace-artillery/?sh=145840791a83; and “How Cheap Drones Are Transforming Warfare in Ukraine,” The Economist, February 5, 2024, https://www.economist.com/interactive/science-and-technology/2024/02/05/cheap-racing-drones-offer-precision-warfare-at-scale.
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  7. Calcara et al., “Why Drones Have Not Revolutionized War,” 134.
  8. Seth G. Jones et al., Combined Arms Warfare and Unmanned Aircraft Systems: A New Era of Strategic Competition (Center for Strategic and International Studies, November 2022), 34, https://www.csis.org/analysis/combined-arms-warfare-and-unmanned-aircraft-systems; Calcara et al., “Why Drones Have Not Revolutionized War,” 169; S. Clinton Hinote and Mick Ryan, Empowering the Edge: Uncrewed Systems and the Transformation of U.S. Warfighting Capacity (Special Competitive Studies Project, February 2024), 12, https://www.scsp.ai/wp-content/uploads/2024/02/SCSP-Drone-Paper-Hinote-Ryan.pdf.
  9. Christian Brose, The Kill Chain: Defending America in the Future of High-Tech Warfare (New York: Hachette Books, 2020), Kindle edition, 217.
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  11. This is an extension of the revolution-in-military-affairs argument. Shashank Joshi, “The War in Ukraine Shows How Technology Is Changing the Battlefield,” The Economist, July 3, 2023, https://www.economist.com/special-report/2023/07/03/the-war-in-ukraine-shows-how-technology-is-changing-the-battlefield; Eliot A. Cohen, “A Revolution in Warfare,” Foreign Affairs, March 1, 1996, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/1996-03-01/revolution-warfare.
  12. U.S. Department of Defense, Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III, “Message to the Force,” March 4, 2021, https://media.defense.gov/2021/Mar/04/2002593656/-1/-1/0/SECRETARY-LLOYD-J-AUSTIN-III-MESSAGE-TO-THE-FORCE.PDF; 2022 National Defense Strategy (U.S. Department of Defense, October 27, 2022), https://media.defense.gov/2022/Oct/27/2003103845/-1/-1/1/2022-NATIONAL-DEFENSE-STRATEGY-NPR-MDR.PDF.
  13. Bonny Lin et al., Competition in the Gray Zone: Countering China’s Coercion against U.S. Allies and Partners in the Indo-Pacific (RAND Corporation, 2022), https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RRA594-1.html; Lyle J. Morris et al., Gaining Competitive Advantage in the Gray Zone: Response Options for Coercive Aggression below the Threshold of Major War, (RAND Corporation, 2019), https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR2942.html.
  14. Olli Pekka Suorsa and Adrian Ang U-Jin, “How China Integrates Drones into PLA Operations Surrounding Taiwan,” The Diplomat, May 27, 2023, https://thediplomat.com/2023/05/how-china-integrates-drones-into-pla-operations-surrounding-taiwan/; Adrian Ang U-Jin and Olli Pekka Suorsa, “The ‘New Normal’ in PLA Incursions into Taiwan’s ADIZ,” The Diplomat, September 27, 2022, https://thediplomat.com/2022/09/the-new-normal-in-pla-incursions-into-taiwans-adiz/.
  15. Seth Robson and Hana Kusumoto, “Air Force Squadron Demonstrates Drones at New Home in Southern Japan,” Stars and Stripes, November 8, 2022, https://www.stripes.com/theaters/asia_pacific/2022-11-07/air-force-drones-japan-reaper-kanoya-7966600.html; Sebastian Romawac, “First MQ-9 Arrives at Kadena in Major Relocation Milestone,” Pacific Air Forces, October 13, 2023, https://www.pacaf.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/3558510/first-mq-9-arrives-at-kadena-in-major-relocation-milestone/; and Irene Loewenson, “Marine Corps Now Has Unit in Indo-Pacific Flying Reaper Drones,” Marine Corps Times, August 3, 2023, https://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/your-marine-corps/2023/08/03/marine-corps-now-has-unit-in-indo-pacific-flying-reaper-drones/.
  16. Bonny Lin et al., Regional Responses to U.S.-China Competition in the Indo-Pacific (RAND Corporation, 2020), https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR4412.html.
  17. Erik Lin-Greenberg, “The Dawn of Drone Diplomacy,” Foreign Affairs, December 20, 2022, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/ukraine/dawn-drone-diplomacy.
  18. Michael C. Horowitz, Joshua A. Schwartz, and Matthew Fuhrmann, “China Has Made Drone Warfare Global,” Foreign Affairs, November 20, 2020, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/china/2020-11-20/china-has-made-drone-warfare-global; Faine Greenwood, “There’s No Substitute for Chinese Drones (and That’s a Problem),” Foreign Policy, July 9, 2023, https://foreignpolicy.com/2023/07/09/chinese-drone-dominance-dji-defense-florida/.
  19. Maximillian K. Bremer and Kelly A. Grieco, “Air Denial: The Dangerous Illusion of Decisive Air Superiority,” Atlantic Council, August 30, 2022, https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/content-series/airpower-after-ukraine/air-denial-the-dangerous-illusion-of-decisive-air-superiority/; Caitlin Lee, “Winning the Air Battle for Taiwan: Lessons from Ukraine’s Drone Operations,” War on the Rocks, February 28, 2023, https://warontherocks.com/2023/02/winning-the-air-battle-for-taiwan-lessons-from-ukraines-drone-operations/; and Maximilian K. Bremer and Kelly A. Grieco, “In Defense of Denial: Why Deterring China Requires New Airpower Thinking,” War on the Rocks, April 3, 2023, https://warontherocks.com/2023/04/in-defense-of-denial-why-deterring-china-requires-new-airpower-thinking/.
  20. Thomas Hamilton and David A. Ochmanek, Operating Low-Cost, Reusable Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in Contested Environments (RAND Corporation, 2020), https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR4407.html; Joseph Trevithick, “Massive Drone Swarm over Strait Decisive in Taiwan Conflict Wargames,” The War Zone, May 19, 2022, https://www.twz.com/massive-drone-swarm-over-strait-decisive-in-taiwan-conflict-wargames.
  21. Bremer and Grieco, “In Defense of Denial: Why Deterring China Requires New Airpower Thinking.”
  22. Caitlin Lee and Mark Gunzinger, The Next Frontier: UAVs for Great Power Conflict (Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, December 2022), 10, https://mitchellaerospacepower.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/The-Next-Frontier-UAVs-for-Great-Power-Conflict-FINAL.pdf; Bryan Clark, Timothy A. Walton, and Seth Cropsey, American Sea Power at a Crossroads: A Plan to Restore the US Navy’s Maritime Advantage (Hudson Institute, October 2020), 38–39, https://s3.amazonaws.com/media.hudson.org/Clark%20Cropsey%20Walton_American%20Sea%20Power%20at%20a%20Crossroads.pdf; and Bryan Clark, “We Don’t Have the Missiles to Stop China. Time for Drone Swarms,” Defense One, February 1, 2023, https://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2023/02/we-dont-have-missiles-stop-china-time-drone-swarms/382423/.
  23. Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks, “The Urgency to Innovate” (keynote speech, NDIA Emerging Technologies for Defense Conference, Washington, August 28, 2023), https://www.defense.gov/News/Speeches/Speech/Article/3507156/deputy-secretary-of-defense-kathleen-hicks-keynote-address-the-urgency-to-innov/.
  24. Jim Garamone, “Hicks Discusses Replicator Initiative,” DOD News, September 7, 2023, https://www.defense.gov/News/News-Stories/Article/Article/3518827/hicks-discusses-replicator-initiative/.
  25. Yimou Lee, James Pomfret, and David Lague, “Inspired by Ukraine War, Taiwan Launches Drone Blitz to Counter China,” Reuters, July 21, 2023, https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/us-china-tech-taiwan/.
  26. There is a companion report that goes into more details about the Ukraine War. See: Stacie Pettyjohn, Evolution Not Revolution: Drone Warfare in Russia’s 2022 Invasion of Ukraine (Center for a New American Security, February 2024), https://www.cnas.org/publications/reports/evolution-not-revolution.


  • 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...

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