Louis Gautier is the Director of the Contemporary Strategic Issues Chair at the University of Paris-I Panthéon-Sorbonne. At the head of the General Secretariat for Defense and National Security from 2014 to 2018, he edited volume IV of the series “Worlds at war”, entitled War without borders, 1945 to the present day, published at the end of March by Éditions Passés Composites, devoted to recent technological developments, as well as to the ethical debates that accompany them.
The use of drones armed in “bursts” or “swarms”, sometimes in a kamikaze manner, has been observed in several recent conflicts, such as in Libya and in Nagorno-Karabakh. This use goes beyond intelligence missions or targeted eliminations in the context of counterterrorism operations. How do you analyze this phenomenon?
The use of armed drones in bursts or swarms today plays on the complementarity of use with conventional weapons. It is a question, by deployments in swarms, to obtain the saturation of enemy defenses to pierce a device or to protect themselves.
Saturation and surprise have always been sought after on the battlefield. The sprays of arrows longbows [« archers »] English [contre l’armée du royaume de France] during the battle of Crécy, in 1346, the bursts of bullets from the musketeers of the Ming dynasty [XIVe-XVIIe siècles] lined up in rows of three, or field artillery cannonades, still practiced at the start of the First World War, had, in the past, similar maneuver support functions.
The use of drones in swarms in fact revives an approach to tactical combat which had been somewhat lost in most post-Cold War conflicts, characterized by the very high selectivity of strikes and the limitation of material losses. The drone bursts, on the other hand, admit a level high loss. Destroying a drone is not as damaging as destroying a much more expensive fighter plane. Above all, it does not endanger the life of a pilot.
What’s new with drone bursts is a certain unpredictability. Drones can have varying range and stroke which seriously complicates engagements.
The French army is poorly equipped with armed drones, and moreover potentially vulnerable to these “salvos” – in particular the army and special forces. How can this delay be explained, even if the revision of the military programming law, presented to Parliament on June 22 and 23, plans to remedy it?
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