NATO militaries are betting that UAVs will soon be “as important as artillery” on the battlefield
Multiple drones seen flying above the US Army’s National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, September 11, 2022 © Twitter / US Army
The US Army recently conducted an exercise involving a ‘swarm’ of 40 quadcopter drones equipped with cameras, lasers, and lethal munitions. With the British military testing similar drone tactics, the Pentagon believes that these inexpensive aircraft will dominate the battlefield when “the next war” breaks out.
A video posted to Twitter by Brigadier General Curt Taylor of the Army’s National Training Center at Fort Irwin in California on Sunday shows the drone swarm flying in formation, ahead of a simulated attack on a defended position by the 11th Armored Cavalry division.
The drones flew over what appeared to be a mockup of an urban environment, and the video was apparently shot during an exercise involving nearly 7,000 soldiers, Taylor explained in a separate tweet.
At sunrise this morning a swarm of 40 quadcopters all equipped with cameras, MILES, and lethal munition capable launched in advance of 11th ACR’s attack on a prepared defense by 1AD. Drones will be as important in the first battle of the next war as artillery is today. pic.twitter.com/zPQ2I8SoqN
— NTC Lead 6 (@NTCLead6) September 11, 2022
“Drones will be as important in the first battle of the next war as artillery is today,” Taylor declared.
Inexpensive quadcopter drones have been deployed in eastern Ukraine, with both Kiev’s forces and the troops of the Donbass republics using the remote-controlled aircraft to drop grenades and mortars on each other. Russian forces too have used such drones to observe and direct artillery fire.
Additionally, both the US and UK have provided Ukraine with ‘Switchblade’ loitering munitions, more commonly known as ‘suicide’ or ‘kamikaze’ drones. These semi-autonomous vehicles can circle above a battlefield before dive-bombing enemies below.
However, both Russia and Ukraine are still largely dependent on artillery amid the ongoing conflict – and despite the array of high-tech weapons supplied by the West to Kiev, Moscow’s forces field 15 artillery pieces for every one of Ukraine’s, the deputy head of Ukraine’s military intelligence, Vadim Skibitsky, said in June.
Nevertheless, the UK is also banking on drones as potential game changers on the battlefield of the future. The British Army announced last week that it had successfully tested swarms of drones over a training area at Salisbury Plain. With one operator flying up to six drones with the aid of artificial intelligence, the test was described by the army as a “breakthrough in technology and innovation.”