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.

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. 10)

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

  • The US Defense Department announced they have carried out the largest test of drone swarms on US soil. 103 Perdix drones were released by three F/A-18 fighter jets. According to the Defense Department the Perdix are not pre-programmed synchronized individuals, they are a collective organism, sharing one distributed brain for decision-making and adapting to each other like swarms in nature. Because every Perdix communicates and collaborates with every other Perdix, the swarm has no leader and can gracefully adapt to drones entering or exiting the team.
  • The Army Research Laboratory is looking into using 3D printing to create on-demand drones for combat operations. During operations, a patrol could request a UAV for a specific support mission and tell a nearby 3D drone printing facilities exactly what they need. Then 24 hours later they have their own custom built UAV for the specifications they requested.

  • If you are looking to learn more about the “surreal” experience of America’s drone pilots of Creech Air Force base outside of Las Vegas, Nevada then this BBC article is a must read. Pilots at the base remotely control US combat drones overseas and talk about commuting to war. From the article: “When they walk through the gate, they’re in a war. Although physically they are at home, mentally they’re at war. So in effect we’re asking them to redeploy every single day, to go back home and be parents and be loved ones – and then come back to war again”. Such are the new frontiers of the modern battlefield.
  • Textron has received a $206 million contract to perform sustainment services for the U.S. Army’s Shadow tactical unmanned aircraft system. The Shadow V2 is a multipurpose unmanned aerial vehicle that can be deployed individually or paired with manned and unmanned platforms.
  • Shephard Media looks back at military UAVs in 2016 and forward to their development in the coming years. The bottom line is that drones are now a well established force worldwide and will only grow. Shephard gives a look into some developments from nations, like the USA, UK, France, China and India.

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!


War Drones Weekly Roundup (Dec 19th)

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

  • China has agreed to return the underwater US drone they seized in intentional waters off the Philippines. Chinese and American officials are working on the details how when and how this will happen. UPDATE: The US Navy confirms China has returned the drone to the US in international waters early Tuesday.
  • A Hamas-linked Tunisian drone export was assassinated last week. The man’s relatives claim he as killed by Mossad due to his work building drones and teaching people to fly them in Palestine.
  • A recent report from Market Forecast projects that worldwide military spending on drones will be $34.6 billion from 2016 to 2022.
  • US Office of Naval Research (ONR) is developing unmanned ‘swarmboats’ which can identify intruding vessels and then swarm around them to attack or prevent entry to coastal waterways and access points.
  • South Korea media is reporting that North Korea is developing long range drones with better capabilities to carry armaments.
  • Northrop is developing a new ship-based combat drone that has better range than carrier-based strike fighters like the F-18 and the brand new F-35. The new TERN drone will have vertical takeoff and landing capability and a range of 600 nautical miles.
  • The British paper ‘The Telegraph is reporting that Iraqi forces trying to liberate the city of Mosul from Islamic State fighters and being harassed and even bombed by ISIS drones.

War Drones Weekly Roundup (Dec 12)

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

  • It is reported by Vocitiv that ISIS has a fleet of drones which it is using to guide suicide bombing missions against the Iraqi army during the continuing fight for the city of Mosul. According to the report ISIS is also working on making drones flying bombs. Everyday dozens of ISIS drones are captured ranging from widely available consumer drones to DYI drones.
  • Iranian media is showing off a new drone gun from that countries armed forces. The ‘gun’ is actually a mobile jamming device that can interrupt the signals to a drone so that it can be taken over or forced to land.
  • The US Air Force is looking for a new long-range stealthy drone to replace the legendary U2.
  • Azerbaijan has shot down more Armenian drones in the disputed Karabakh region between the two nations.