WASHINGTON — In August 2014, well-directed artillery fire was used to devastating effect in Ukraine, leaving three mechanized battalions a smoking ruin. Because the units and their positions were identified by a mini-drone, the Ukrainian government lost 200 vehicles, and very-short-range air defenses weren’t even able to locate it.
Today, UAVs have grown from a niche intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability to “a favored tool of the non-state actor, initially for ISR, but increasingly for weapons delivery,” according to a newly released assessment of military capabilities and defense economics by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
While much has been made of emerging hypersonic weapons, “uninhabited aerial vehicles” of all classes are another key modern air-defense challenge, according to IISS, alongside other traditional targets and “novel threats,” like combat aircraft with a reduced radar-signature, precision-guided munitions and land-attack cruise missiles.
“The U.S. military and any military has to prepare for an operating environment in which enemy drones are not just occasional, but omnipresent,” said Dan Gettinger, co-director of the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College. “Whether it’s a small, tactical UAS, midsize or strategic, drones of any size will be commonplace on the battlefield of the future.”