Commercial UASs as a New Component of Modern Warfare

By: CDR Azamat Murzabekov, Kazakhstan Armed Forces, US Central Command: Strategy Plans and Policy Directorate; Combined Strategic Analysis Group
26 May 2021


Since the end of the Cold War, unconventional asymmetric warfare has become the primary means of military conflict by the enemies of the US. Armed civilian and paramilitary forces have become more prominent than regular armies. In this type of irregular warfare, unconventional weapons are the weapons of choice. In recent military conflicts in the Middle East and South Asia, the evolution of unconventional warfare has created a serious threat to US Forces, the coalition, and allies.

After the conventional Iraq war in 2003, the US-led coalition suffered Improvised Explosive Devise (IED) attacks, which were difficult to predict and defend against. Later, the battlefield environment got even more dangerous for the coalition when IEDs (as two-dimensional space) were joined by the use of UASs as (three-dimensional space), which was another innovation and development. The use of drones created a dilemma for the military as well as international organizations. It can be predicted that cyber (as four-dimensional space) will play a bigger role in asymmetric warfare in the future.

According to the International Trade Administration of the US Department of Commerce, UASs are air vehicles and associated equipment that do not carry a human operator, but instead are either remotely piloted or fly autonomously. UASs are commonly referred to as Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS), and drones.

The use of commercial UASs seems to have become the primary method of warfare. UAS have a wide spectrum; from home-made and civilian models to military drones, carrying hundreds of kilograms of load, operating at high altitudes and capable of operating for hours at long distances deep into hostile territories. The global commercial UAS market value in 2020 was $13.5 B. The revenue forecast for 2025 is $129 B.

Whether these commercial UASs are controlled by a remote or a smart phone app, they require the least amount of effort, time, and energy. This is why they are being adopted by different terrorist organizations in all parts of the world.

Key Points:

  • Commercial Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) possess the capability to reach the most remote areas with minimal effort, time, and energy.
  • Historically, the IED’s impact on the conflict demanded significant effort from the US military to develop aggressive counter-IED objectives.
  • One of the reasons that small drones have proliferated across the battlespace is that they are easy to obtain and use.
  • Counteracting small UAVs is extremely difficult due to size, material of construction, and flight altitude.
  • Implementation of new US Counter-Small UAS strategy, along with establishing a Joint C-UAS Office, will allow the Department of Defense to regain the initiative in the fight against adversaries

Read the complete paper here.

The opinions and conclusions expressed herein are those of a number of international officers within the Combined Strategic Analysis Group (CSAG) and do not necessarily reflect the views of United States Central Command, not of the nations represented within the CSAG or any other governmental agency.