THE US is in danger of losing the so-called drone wars as rivals such as China and Russia are developing new weapons and beefing up their arsenal, an expert says.

Author Seth J Frantzman told The Sun that the US was “privileged” after the Cold War but warned that Beijing is threatening to challenge its status as a drone superpower.


After the Cold War, officials in Washington spent around 20 years “tinkering” with systems as they had “no need to invent" due to their superiority, the expert said.

The US is a pioneer in drone technology as engineers developed machines such as the Predator, Reaper, and Global Hawk.

Intelligence officials didn't contemplate the possibility that a drone could be gunned down, according to Frantzman.

A Global Hawk was shot down by Iranian Revolutionary Guard militias in 2019 as tensions between Tehran and Washington escalated under former president Donald Trump.

Iranian officials claimed the drone violated their airspace, while the US said the unmanned vehicle was flying in international airspace.

Powers such as Russia and China are among nations investing in drone technology.

China’s military spending has skyrocketed from around 41.2bn in 2000 to $245bn in 2020, according to the SIPRI Military Expenditure Database.

Beijing has already plowed $1trillion into its military this year as President Xi aims to achieve “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” by 2049, according to a Pentagon report published last year.

Washington was locked in the War on Terror as a decade ago, politicians didn't "expect to deal with China", according to the expert.

Frantzman previously told The Sun that Beijing could use drones in a military setting – having already used unmanned technology as a "commercial tool" to entertain crowds at light shows.

Chinese officials are "pouring resources" into drone swarm technology – where machines are networked using artificial intelligence.

This is where robots work together as they try to destroy identified targets.

Frantzman warned that this type of technology is “dangerous” as it could threaten to overwhelm air defenses.

But, drones that are commonly used in swarm attacks do not have a long-range meaning it's unlikely they would reach potential targets such as Hawaii or the US mainland.

ARMS RACE

Frantzman warned that the US is in danger of losing the “drone wars”, depending on how it wants to invest in unmanned technology.

He thinks that a drones arms race is underway due to the investment in unmanned technology.

Fears are mounting that Moscow could use a fleet of 2,000 new generation “kamikaze drones” to strike against the West if US naval ships enter its waters.

A state media report said the unmanned aerial crafts will have the capability to “put frigates or destroyers out of commission by damaging their surveillance, control and weapons systems”.

Frantzman says it remains to be seen if a “drone versus drone” combat occurs.

Fears are escalating that “bomb-laden” drones could cause the next 9/11 style terror attack if the US “doesn’t wake up” to the threat.

A military chief, who asked to remain anonymous, told Newsweek that a nightmare scenario involving small drones could "potentially be in play".

Frantzman said: “9/11 was a unique example but the idea of using drones specifically in a swarm to target civilians or infrastructure such as a power plant is possible."

'RISING FEARS'

But, drones are currently not being used for mass casualty attacks.

Frantzman added: “Drones are being used for precision attacks such as the attack on the Iraq prime minister's home. Those attacks are designed to humiliate and convey that drones can penetrate everywhere.”

Mustafa al-Kadhimi, the Iraq prime minister, escaped unharmed in an assassination attempt by armed drone in Baghdad on Sunday.

Three drones were used in the attack, including two that were intercepted while a third hit the prime minister's residence.

The attack came just days after clashes in Baghdad between government forces and supporters of Iranian-backed political parties.

Ned Price, the US State Department spokesperson, slammed the attack.

He said: “This apparent act of terrorism, which we strongly condemn, was directed at the heart of the Iraqi state.”

Frantzman expects that drones will feature more prominently in future conflicts as technology develops.

He thinks more unmanned helicopters and vehicles will be used on the battlefield and soldiers will be trained into operating tactical drones.

But, he warned that drones have to be integrated into a military arsenal and cannot be their own "vanity project".

Seth J Frantzman is the author of the book Drone Wars: Pioneers, Killing Machines, Artificial Intelligence, and the Battle for the Future.


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