, Volume 91, Number 4

Michael Mayer
The expansive use of armed unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAV), or ‘drones’, by the United States over the past decade has occurred within a particular strategic context characterized by irregular warfare operations in permissive environments. Ongoing strategic, ethical and moral debates regarding specific uses of drones may well be overtaken by a new generation of armed combat drones able to survive and operate in contested airspace with design elements such as stealth and greater levels of machine autonomy. These design parameters, and the likely strategic context within which second generation UCAVs will be deployed, suggest a fundamentally different set of missions from those performed by the current generation of drones. The most beneficial characteristic of current unmanned systems has been the ability to combine persistent surveillance with the delivery of small precision-guided munitions. With a shift to more contested environments, this type of armed surveillance mission may become less practical and second generation UCAVs will instead focus on high intensity warfare operations. These new systems may have significant implications for deterrence, force doctrine and the conduct of warfare.

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