Are Drone Swarms Weapons of Mass Destruction?

Reports warn of "Nagasaki levels of potential harm"

Are Drone Swarms Weapons of Mass Destruction?
Photo by Alexandre Montes (The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense visual information does not imply or constitute endorsement)

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists issued an article yesterday describing the growing presence of drone swarms as a “future weapon of mass destruction.” The label seems hyperbolic, but the Bulletin is all too correct in asserting that the mass proliferation of weaponized drones is both inevitable and already underway.

When the Army announced it was seeking to expand the ratio of handheld drones in some units beyond one-to-one, it was thought that such a capability might improve the situational awareness of warfighters on the ground. The Marines, however, had a plan to enable an individual Marine to control as many as 15 drones at a time, each carrying an explosive payload.

Two years prior, however, largely lost in the maelstrom of the media’s Trump obsession, the military had already successfully deployed 103 drones from three F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets. It was just one part of the military’s push to increase lethality by raising the ratio of unmanned craft to personnel. The relative lack of traction that story received helps to underscore the Bulletin’s fear that the public is all too unaware of the destructive potential of drone swarms.

“To hit Nagasaki levels of potential harm,” the Bulletin’s article reads, “a drone swarm would only need 39,000 armed drones, and perhaps fewer if the drones had explosives capable of harming multiple people.”

This post is for subscribers only

Subscribe to The Rearguard

Don’t miss out on the latest issues. Sign up now to get access to the library of members-only issues.