It was not so long ago when I first flew a drone.
It was a small device that could fit in a shoebox. It had four arms with whirling propellers that made a buzzing noise like a swarm of bees. The first time I lifted it off the ground I was astonished by the device’s behavior. It hovered, rock steady, without me doing anything other than commanding it to take off.
In my youth, I had a chance to learn how to fly airplanes. I expected to have some control problems with my new drone but the reality was different. The drone was easy to control, allowing me to concentrate on taking pictures with the high-definition camera and creating stunning movies.
The maneuverability of these small devices is incredible. I found it wonderful to see the world from a different point of view as I took the drone hundreds of meters into the sky.
I expected to use my drone to take pictures, video and to inspect the rain gutters on my house. Little did I know that this small device would soon revolutionize the world of warfare in many unexpected ways.
Drones have been around for decades, first used as remote-controlled bombs by the Nazis in the Second World War. Modern versions are packed with incredible features.
The military created huge drones with jet engines that were first used for reconnaissance, but later armed with weapons. They could hover over a battlefield, select targets and employ weapons with astonishing precision.
These multi-million dollar aircraft could be controlled from the safety of a control room halfway around the world. Using real-time video from the drone, intelligence is gathered, targets are selected and missions executed at the touch of a button.
It is this technology that probably will be the death knell for manned fighter aircraft. Indeed, it is possible to employ drone technology to remotely man bombers, fighters and reconnaissance aircraft without risking the loss of an expensive pilot.
While these military drones were more akin to large aircraft, the development of the quad-copter has allowed new capabilities for the common soldier in the field. Knowing where the enemy is located, and in what strength, has always been a problem for armies. Quad-copters allow for cheap surveillance of the battlefield in a package that can be easily carried in a soldier’s backpack.
One need only look at the use of these kinds of drones in the current war in Ukraine to understand their power on the battlefield.
Beyond reconnaissance, small drones have been armed with grenades and small mortar rounds that can be dropped on enemy positions with devastating effect. Anyone who has flown a drone knows just how difficult it can be to see them in the sky. And they are quiet enough that a bombing attack can come as a surprise.
As game-changing as drones are in the military world, no advancement lasts long.
Companies are now developing countermeasures that promise to make the battlefield environment hostile for drones.
While small, drones still can appear on radar tracking systems.
A new system under development can track and destroy many drones within seconds of acquiring them on radar. Of course, stealth drones would be the next development in this chain of technological improvement that wars bring.
With the development of computer design and manufacturing, the pace of technology is improving faster than ever before.
Who would have thought that, in only a few years, a device that morphed into a toy is now a combat-effective weapon?
Oh, brave new world.
Tim Philp has enjoyed science since he was old enough to read. Having worked in technical fields all his life, he shares his love of science with readers weekly. He can be reached by e-mail at: [email protected]