UNMANNED AIRCRAFT: Think Tank Raises the Security Issue of Worldwide Drone Proliferation
A “Drone-Saturated World”.
Industry is looking to use unmanned aircraft for a variety of commercial purposes — from monitoring crops and livestock to inspecting oil rigs and pipelines — but a Washington think tank warns that the proliferation of drones poses a national security risk that government leaders must consider before the technology’s rapid development leaves them behind.
The Center for a New American Security this past week issued the first in a series of reports from its World of Proliferated Drones project, which recommends the U.S. government consider foreign policy and national security issues arising from “a drone saturated world” in the future.
The project, which plans a number of reports and war games “engaging international audiences” isn’t anti-drone. And it doesn’t raise the usual privacy or public safety arguments espoused by civil libertarians or pilots groups. Instead, it notes that thousands of drones are here now — mostly used by militaries around the world. But those numbers are going to skyrocket as the technology becomes available for more individuals, companies and industries.
“Over 90 countries and non-state actors operate drones today, including at least 30 that operate or are developing armed drones,” notes the 40-page report, A Technology Primer, adding” This global proliferation raises a number of challenging security issues.” For example: “Are states more willing to shoot down a spy drone since there is no one on board — and if they do, does that constitute an act of war?
Small “hobbyist” drones, which can be purchased by anyone and flown without a license or formal training pose a small risk because of their limited payload and range capabilities although the recent incident of a small drone crash-landing on the White House grounds shows they are ubiquitous and hard to detect near even the most heavily-guarded site.
Of more concern are midsize military and commercial drones, which can fly farther, stay aloft longer and carry larger payloads. They are too complicated to operate and too expensive to acquire by most individuals or small groups but the report notes 87 countries from — military powers like the United States and China to small countries like Cyprus and Trinidad and Tobago — are operating such systems — “and this number is likely to grow in the years to come.” And non-state entities like the terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah have obtained midsize military-grade systems already.
Larger military drones that can carry bombs and missiles or highly sophisticated surveillance payloads are also proliferating but until they acquire stealth technology or electronic attack capabilities, the report says, they are vulnerable to advanced air defenses and manned fighter aircraft. So far, only U.S. drones have those capabilities but a number of countries including Russia, Israel, China, India, France, Italy, Sweden, Spain, Greece, Switzerland and Britain are working on their own stealth combat drones.
“Preventing the proliferation of armed drones is impossible — drones are hear to stay,” the CNAS report concludes. What that means for international security “is an open question,” it adds noting that the United States, which is the industry leader, “can help influence how drones are used and perceived by others.”
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