Why Drones Have Not Revolutionized War The Enduring Hider-Finder Competition in Air Warfare

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According to the accepted wisdom in security studies, unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as drones, have revolutionizing effects on war and world politics. Drones allegedly tilt the military balance in favor of the offense, reduce existing asymmetries in military power between major and minor actors, and eliminate close combat from modern battlefields. A new theory about the hider-finder competition between air penetration and air defense shows that drones are vulnerable to air defenses and electronic warfare systems, and that they require support from other force structure assets to be effective. This competition imposes high costs on those who fail to master the set of tactics, techniques, procedures, technologies, and capabilities necessary to limit exposure to enemy fire and to detect enemy targets. Three conflicts that featured extensive employment of drones—the Western Libya military campaign of the second Libyan civil war (2019–2020), the Syrian civil war (2011–2021), and the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh (2020)—probe the mechanisms of the theory. Drones do not by themselves produce the revolutionary effects that many have attributed to them.




Calcara, A., Gilli, A., Gilli, M., Marchetti, R., & Zaccagnini, I. (2022). Why Drones Have Not Revolutionized War The Enduring Hider-Finder Competition in Air Warfare. International Security, 46(4), 130–171. https://doi.org/10.1162/isec_a_00431

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