Drone Swarms Are About to Change the Balance of Military Power

Credit: The 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment via Picryl.com


The Shahed-model drone that killed three U.S. service members at a remote base in Jordan on Jan. 28 cost around $20,000. It was part of a family of drones built by Shahed Aviation Industries Research Center, an Iranian company run by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. A thousand miles away and three days later, on the night of Jan. 31 into the morning of Feb. 1, unmanned maritime drones deployed by Ukraine’s secretive Unit 13 sunk the $70 million Russian warship Ivanovets in the Black Sea. And for the past several months, Houthi proxies have shut down billions of dollars of trade through the Gulf of Aden through similarly inexpensive drone attacks on maritime shipping. Drones have become suddenly ubiquitous on the battlefield—but we are only at the dawn of this new age in warfare.

This would not be the first time that a low-cost technology and a new conception of warfare combined to supplant high-cost technologies based on old ways. History is littered with similar stories. A favorite comes from the time of Alexander the Great. His conquests are as much a technological story as a political one. When Alexander’s army stepped onto the battlefield it was not only with a new technology—the sarissa, a 16-foot spear—but also with a new conception of how to use that weapon in tight, impregnable phalanxes. These heavily armed formations allowed Alexander to repel Persian armored chariots and Indian war elephants and to march deep into the subcontinent.