In an opinion piece published at TheHill.com, author Seth J. Frantzman maintains that rather than truly helping to turn the tide of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the battle may have put the limits of drone warfare on full display.
"Over the past few decades, there have been many prophecies about how drones will transform our lives," says Frantzman. "From stories about drones making pizza deliveries to discussions about 'drone swarms' that could be used to overwhelm enemies in combat. However, the United States' planned sale of four American-made Gray Eagle drones to Ukraine has run into some hurdles because of concerns they might get shot down and their sophisticated systems could fall into Russian hands."
And therein lies the conundrum for drone warfare. Armed drones are complex and expensive. If they get shot down by enemy forces, the best-case scenario is a critical financial burden. The worst case is that your drone technology falls into the hands of the very forces you are fighting.
In the Russia-Ukraine war, both sides have drones, as well as the defensive measures to knock them out of the sky. But Ukraine only has a few high-end combat drones, and their military forces can't afford to lose them.
But even in cases where a superpower can send "drone swarms" against a far less drone-armed enemy, the military advantage doesn't guarantee victories. After all, massive deployment of drones did not stop the Taliban in Afghanistan.
There's also the fact that many drones are loud, and anyone with a cell phone—combatants and no-combatants—can shoot videos of the potential threats, often robbing drones of the clandestine nature of their battle campaigns. Furthermore, as seen in Ukraine, conventional weapons still do a very fine job of wreaking destruction.
"To wage a large-scale drone war, the countries that use them need more than a few armed drones, and they need to not fear losing some of them," asserts Frantzman. "The whole point of unmanned aerial vehicles is that they can be used for dull, dirty, dangerous missions—especially those in which a country doesn’t want to risk sacrificing pilots."