« The Inexorable Rise of Drones »: 4 questions to Olivier Dujardin
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In your latest article (the Inexorable Rise of Drones published for CF2R) you highlight five reasons why drone usage will grow in the up-coming years. In an increasingly unstable world (tensions between states, climate change, etc.) combined with declining resources, the model of the armies must also evolve. The mass of armed forces that are insufficient today, limited industrial production capacities and a scarcity of natural resources are all constraints that drones can, at least partially, respond to. They also offer significant flexibility and employment savings while having fewer training limitations. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles apprear to be as the only possible alternative to a technological resources decrease.
1. Which nation has anticipated the complex equation you’ve been describing in such article?
Probably Israel. The first country to develop a major drone industry. With a few natural ressources, the area is small, without strategic depth, with a limited population and -therefore- a military personnel not expandable. Nevertheless, Israel feels threatened at its borders with countries that can line up far more troops than its own. The use of drone is a way to solve this complex equation.
On a second hand, USA and China took the lead in order to restore a mass they no longer have despite of the huge size of their armies. For these two nations, the deflation of the numbers has been very important in the last 30 years and the resurgence of a potential global conflict makes the size question a critical issue.
Outsiders countries like Turkey, investing massively in drones, are peaking up. The pivot country between Middle East and Europe faces a limited budget, multiple fronts but has shown great ambitions. Drones are therefore a budget-friendly way to give Turkey’s rulers a mean to achieve their ambitions.
It takes 24 months to release a single Rafale aircraft and Dassault's production capacity is around a dozen copies per year. Like the Rafale, many modern military equipment (planes, tanks, armored vehicles or combat ships) suffer from these incompressible delays.
Production volumes and times are not compatible with the pace of operations.
2. Is there any country currently able to produce enough drones in a multiple encounter context?
Today, China has by far the largest drone production capacity. Above all, it is able to produce a large number of machines at a relatively low cost. Israel also has a strong production capacity. But the suicide drones* they have produced are not cheap and they weigh heavily on the budget, as in the USA. Turkish capabilities are growing like a weed, such as Russians’ ones.
We can only regret the virtual absence of European countries. There are many programmes under the way, but they are spread over time, without significant quantities purchased and the high costs. Europe is not at all ready.
3. Are drone swarms a sci-fi scenario or a real threat (i.e. training, technology…)?
Before talking about swarms, let’s highlight that the saturation attack is already a threat in itself. Technologically simple and effective. To be able to talk about swarms, we probably have to wait a little longer. It’s a fairly complex technology with a notion of collective intelligence and therefore communication between platforms. It does not seem to be operational yet, but it’s just a matter of time, and the answer may be different in a year or two.
4. Can drones really replace all of the platforms currently piloted ?
No. They will not be able to replace everything and will probably not be as effective in all missions. However, industrial, supply or cost constraints may eventually limit our ability to produce, maintain or implement these piloted platforms and require the use of drones (smaller, cheaper to produce and implement) for lack of better and even if they do not have exactly the same capabilities.
* Kargu – Rotary Wing Attack Drone Loitering Munition System. Find out more here.
About the author: Olivier Dujardin, associate researcher at the CF2R (French Intelligence Research Centre), responsible for intelligence, technology and weapons. With over 20 years of experience in electronic warfare, radar signal processing and weapons systems analysis. Olivier Dujardin has successively performed operational functions in radar electronic warfare, in the study of radar and electronic warfare systems, analysis and signal collection. He also held the position of technical expert in collection systems. Olivier Dujardin is regularly consulted by CERBAIR for its expertise.