New Book Address the Birth of Drones at DARPA

imagineers of war

The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency or as most know them, DARPA, has changed the face of warfare and technology on numerous occasions. A new book, ‘The Imagineers of War’ by Sharon Weinberger tells the stories behind many such occasions, including a section dedicated to the birth of drones.

The book portrays drones as one of DARPA’s main contributions to modern warfare and traces unmanned aircraft from their beginning as spotter and trackers in Vietnam to an indispensable part of US air power in the 21st century.

Learning about where drones came from is important to understanding how they will continue to shape the future. Most of the technology on commercial and consumer drones today came from direct military applications. Also, drone technologies of the future like sense and avoid abilities and particularly swarming technology, continue to be driven by military or military-funded research.

The Laboratory of Asymmetric Drone Warfare


The Middle East is a laboratory for asymmetric drone warfare. Iran-backed Houthi Rebels in Yemen recently used a drone boat to damage a Saudi frigate. An American ally (mostly like Israel or Saudi Arabia) used a multi-million dollar Patriot missile to shoot down a cheap drone. ISIS terrorists are turning regularly available consumer drones into bombers to attack Iraqi and Kurdish forces that are trying to push the out of Mosul. In all three of these cases, an enemy that had little or no conventional capability in the sea or air, used drones to asymmetrically attack in ways their opponents weren’t ready for.

But it’s the recent efforts of Houthi Rebels in Yeman that are most chilling because it appears they are attempting to use drones for a larger strategic purpose—to suppress the ability of Saudi and UAE Patriot missile batteries.

The Rebel’s Qasef-1 drone (mostly likely from Iran) has the ability to lock unto a particular radio emission and then slam into whatever is producing the emission and destroy it. If the Houthi Rebels can get enough of the Qaesef-1 drones they could attack Saudi and UAE Patriot missile batteries or force them expend all their missiles. If successful, this could open a door in air defenses that the Houthi Rebels could use to launch ballistic missiles at either Saudi Arabia or the UAE.


So when you read about a drone being shot down by a Patriot missile, look beyond the headline to see the significance—drones allow small, technologically inferior forces the ability to make a lot of havoc. Now, everyone has to adapt to this new threat. And just like asymmetric drone warfare, the Middle East is the laboratory for solutions against this threat.

Military Drones Are a Big Business


In the next 10 years, major world militaries will spend over $82 billion on building over 63,000 drones according to a recent forecast from Jane’s Defense. In the US alone, Business Intelligence estimates that drone revenues (of both military and commercial) would reach $21 billion by 2021. That is a lot of money being put into drones.

The US military market is clearly dominated by General Atomics, Northrop Grumman, Textron and Boeing who together make up over 66% of the total military market. While new technologies like swarming drones open the doors for other companies to capture more market share, these four companies are positioned very well to reap the benefits of what appears to be expanded drones use under a new US President.

Military Factory currently has a list of 140 drone models in use by world militaries. The list shows that Israel, China and Russia have the most models of drones in service, apart from the United States. Other countries like Iran and India are also heavily investing in military drone technology.

However, such official lists do not even cover more organic home-grown development of military drones like what is being done by the Ukraine and terrorist groups like ISIS.

The conflict in the Ukraine has forced the country to basically crowd source its drones forces. Motherboard has a good video about Ukraine’s internal effort to supply its military with drones. The most advanced home-grown Ukraine drone is the People’s Drone 1 (PD-1) which costs over $30,000 to make and is used by Ukrainian special forces and artillery units for surveillance and spotting. The video also reports on the Ukraine’s efforts to weaponize commercially available drones.

War Drones (3/4)

War Drones is Drone Dossier’s roundup of new stories related to military drones. See the roundup below.

  • At the end of January the US Army lost a $1.5 million drone during a routine training exercise in Southern Arizona. The drone was found in Colorado, over 600 miles away, a few days later. The drone, a AAI RQ-7 Shadow, normally has a range of 77 miles. The Army lost communication with the drone, which normally would hover until a link is reestablished or try to ‘go home’. Some speculate that the drone might have been originally based at an Army facility in Washington State and was trying to make it back.
  • The US military has started off March by pounding al-Qaeda in Yemen with around 30 drone strikes in just two days. While it may be too early to tell, it looks like this is part of a new American wave a drone attacks. Pentagon Spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said, “This is part of a plan to go after this very real threat and ensure they are defeated, and denied the opportunity to plan and carry out terrorist attacks from ungoverned spaces in Yemen.”
  • Jane’s is reporting that China just secured its largest ever international order for military drones. The order was placed on Feb. 28th for the Wing Loong II, which resembles the American Reaper drone. The customer and exact value of the order was not made public by China.
  • Jane’s also reported that Taiwan just introduced a new armed Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) drone. The drone can reportedly carry two ground-attack missiles and has an operating range of over 1,000 km.
  • For over 15 years, various branches of the US military have used Predator drones in combat operation. Putting aside the controversy and necessity of these strikes, in many ways the Predator became a recognizable symbol for combat drones…but it won’t be for much longer. The US Air Force just announced it is retiring the Predator starting this July, with it being fully out of service by early 2018. The Predator will be replaced by the more advanced MQ-9 Reaper drones.

War Drones (2/25)

War Drones is Drone Dossier’s roundup of new stories related to military drones. See the roundup below.

  • An article in Popular Mechanics chronicles the growth The Ukraine’s new drone army from basically nothing. A great read to find out about how drones are being used against an enemy that has sophisticated jamming capability.
  • The US military is working on developing drones that can be controlled from the cockpit of its latest F-35 and F-22 fighter jets. Scientists working on the project said that pilots would be able to use nearby drones for reconnaissance, sensing and targeting.
  • Israeli Aerospace Industry has signed agreements with Indian companies to jointly produce UAVs for the Indian market.
  • Earlier this week an Israeli jet shot down a Hamas drone that and violated Israeli airspace. The drone took off from the Gaza strip and was downed over the Mediterranean Sea.
  • In the continuing Battle for Mosul ISIS is increasing using drones to attack the Iraqi Army. ISIS’s drone fleet consists of everything from homemade drones to easily available consumer drones. If you want to search there is also aerial videos of these attacks out there. Typically they are very low sophistication attacks—basically just dropping weighted bombs on troop and vehicles from above.
  • It has now been determined that an attack last month on a Saudi Arabian frigate was carried about by a drone boat operated by Houthi rebels—who the Saudi’s are fighting in Yemen. Two sailors were killed and the frigate suffered substantial damage in the attack.

War Drones (Jan. 25)

War Drones is Drone Dossier’s weekly roundup of new stories related to military drones. See the roundup below.

  • A Ukrainian group calling themselves the Technology Matrix Design Bureau has revealed a new drone that is armed with a anti-tank missile system. The drone, which is called ‘The Commander’, can reportedly fly for about an hour, but this claim is unconfirmed as well as its ability to accurately even fire the anti-tank missile it is armed with.

War Drones (Jan 17)

War Drones is Drone Dossier’s weekly roundup of new stories related to military drones. See the roundup below.

  • ISIS is using drones everyday to attack Iraqi forces that are trying to force the out of the city of Mosul. Reports from the battlefield claim ISIS is using everything from the most popular consumer drones (like DJI drones) to homemade drones to drop explosive devices on Iraqi and Kurd troops.

  • Yonhap News reports that South Korea is so concerned about North Korean drones that it plans to build a laser weapons system by 2020 to deal with the threat. In recent months the South Korean military has seen increasing drone activity by the north and worries radar will not be enough to track and destroy drones that breach its airspace.

  • Drone swarms and even individual drones can pose a danger to ships. To address this danger DARPA has picked Raytheon to continue to develop its The MAD-FIRES project (Multi Azimuth Defense Fast Intercept Round Engagement System). The system can fire small caliber bullets with the guidance capability of a missile. The new drone defense system is scheduled to be done by 2018, which is really bad news for any malicious drone that flies near a US Navy ship.

  • Defense News reports that France has ordered its fourth batch of Reaper medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) drones for delivery by 2019. Looks like the French like the versatile abilities of the Reaper!

  • The Atlantic’s CityLab published a report that chronologically maps US drones strikes in Afghanistan. The map shows a clear pattern of drone strike concentration on the tribal borders regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

War Drones (Jan. 3)


War Drones is Drone Dossier’s weekly roundup of new stories related to military drones. See the roundup below.

  • Israeli news is claiming that an European Union (EU) drone crashed near Mount Hevron after conducting flyovers of Jewish settlements and possible Israeli Defense Force (IDF) positions. The Israeli news is suggesting this might be espionage or the EU conducting illegal operations. There is no confirmation as of the writing of this post if the drones was definitely an EU drone, or what mission it was on.
  • A drone attack near the town of Sarmada in Syria has reportedly killed 8 al-Qaida terrorists including a senior commander of a Chinese-based Islamic militant group. The attack is believed to be carried out by the US, but as of the writing of this post, that has not been confirmed.
  • Janes Defense Weekly has some rather disheartening news that North Korea is possibly developing a drone to carry out a dirty bomb attack. The drone could be rigged with an explosive device that would spread radioactive material.
  • The Straight Times (Singapore) reports that Iraqi Forces believe drones are key to defeating ISIS. The second phase of Iraq’s push into ISIS controlled Mosul began earlier this week. Iraqi forces are using drones to scout enemy positions and to act as spotters for their artillery.

War Drones (12/27)

War Drones is Drone Dossier’s weekly roundup of new stories related to military drones. See the roundup below.

-The Chinese military will soon take delivery of new variants of its Xianglong (soaring dragon) HALE (high-altitude long-endurance) drone. Reports suggest the new variants can rival the capabilities of the Global Hawk drone.

US-supplied drones have disappointed in the Ukrainian conflict. The small Raven analog mini-drones supplied to the Ukrainian government were not hardened against electronic warfare and have been rendered useless by the advanced electronic jamming and interference of Russian-backed separatists in Easter Ukraine.

-The Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) has conducted its first test flight of the hydrogen-powered fuel cell Ion Tiger drone.

-Swarming drone technology is getting a lot of attention from armies around the world for its ability to overwhelm more technologically advanced units by using large amounts of coordinated drones. Chinese State-owned China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC) recently released video of it testing swarming drones that have the ability to communicate with each other and react to external objects. Many experts say China can match the drone capabilities of more advanced nations, which is a cause of concern for some.

-We will end this week’s report with an ironic story out of the UK, where an all-weather UK army drone refused to land in foggy weather. Not only did it refuse to land, but after safety protocols were shut off it crashed. Guess they need to work on the ‘all-weather’ part of that drone!