No Longer the Sole Province of Israel and the U.S., Drones Are Revolutionizing Aerial Warfare

April 7, 2021 | Francis Fukuyama
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A decade ago, only the IDF—which originally pioneered the technology—and the U.S. had sophisticated military drones. But now that monopoly has been broken, with Turkey taking the lead and sharing its drones with allies in Libya and Azerbaijan. Iranian proxies in Yemen and perhaps Iraq have also used unmanned aircraft to carry out daring attacks on Saudi Arabia, but Ankara has done the most to develop new, and deadly, tactics for using them, as Francis Fukuyama observes:

The effectiveness of these weapons was first demonstrated beyond Turkey’s borders in Syria in March 2020, where in retaliation for a Russian-backed Syrian attack that killed 36 Turkish soldiers, Ankara launched a devastating attack on Syrian armored forces that were moving into Idlib province along the Turkish border. Video footage showed them destroying one Syrian armored vehicle after another, including more than 100 tanks, armored personnel carriers, and air-defense systems. The Syrian offensive was brought to a complete halt, and Idlib province secured as a haven for refugees.

Combined-arms land forces of the sort that defeated Iraq twice in the 1991 and 2003 Gulf wars are built around tanks, whose primacy was due to the fact that for many years only a tank could destroy another tank. Drones have now changed this picture substantially because they are relatively cheap, hard to defeat, and don’t risk the lives of human pilots. Militaries around the world are scrambling now to figure out how to defend themselves against drones, and it is not clear who will win the arms race between drones and drone countermeasures. But it is possible that the world saw its last massive tank battle during the 2003 Iraq war.

Many American critics of U.S. drone policy are still living in a world where the U.S. and Israel were the main users of this technology. But that world has already disappeared and is quickly giving way to one in which drones become central battlefield weapons. What that will look like in ten years’ time is anyone’s guess.

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