JERUSALEM, Israel - After 9/11, the US military made the drone or unmanned aerial vehicle a major part of the international war on terror.
Fast forward less than two decades and its use is spreading. In September 2019, a swarm of Iranian drones attacked Saudi Arabia’s largest oil refining facility with devastating results.
Earlier this year, in the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia, Azerbaijan’s use of drones tipped the balance of power and helped them win the war.
This is all part of the new face of modern warfare.
Military drones are now a multi-billion-dollar industry. In 2021, the Pentagon budgeted more than $7 billion for drones and by 2027, the global market is expected to explode to more than $55 billion.
Seth Frantzman, author of Drone Wars, says this technology wedded with artificial intelligence represents a revolution.
“I think they’re a weapon of tomorrow,” Frantzman told CBN News. “I mean, you have to think about drones transforming warfare the way tanks did in the Second World War, the way, let’s say, airplanes did, even ironclad ships. I mean, we have to think of them as a total game-changer in terms of how countries and even terror groups or drug warlords are able to wage war.”
It is estimated that as many as 30,000 military drones are in service and they come in all sizes.
“Drones can be anywhere from the size of your thumb to the size of a big airplane, like a 747 if you want to build them that large,” Frantzman explained. “I think what we see these days, especially with Iran in terms of its threats is they claim a 1,000 or 2,000-kilometer range of drones, and those are drones of what usually is called a ‘Kamikaze drone,’ which means a drone goes one way. It doesn’t come back. It just runs into the target.”
That's what Iran recently used in an attack against an Israeli-managed ship off the coast of Oman.
While the US and Israel were among those first out of this gate, the race is now on to see who will become the world's drone superpower.
“I think if the United States or Western countries don’t work really hard to catch up,” said Frantzman. “I think China will be the next superpower because China has the industrial capacity, and their willingness to innovate and use new systems to roll hundreds of thousands of these things off the line. And I think they also are selling them all over the world. So, I think we’ll see a lot more Chinese drones, just like we see a lot of Chinese everything.”
The stunning Saudi attack two years ago showed how lethal drones can be.
“Shows us exactly what can be done with drones even against an advanced power like Saudi Arabia that has ostensibly has Western air defenses. And the drones were able to come in quite low and I think avoid radars and were able to carry out pinpoint attacks,” said Frantzman.
As Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz revealed recently, an Iranian base with hundreds of drones represents one of the latest threats to Israel and the Middle East.
“What it tells us is Iran’s not just exporting the drones and the blueprints. It’s bringing people into Iran, training them, and then setting them back.
And I think that’s a course that sets a big implication in the region because it means you have very skilled operators who can use drones to target ships or energy facilities or whatever they want,” said Frantzman.
Frantzman believes now nations are racing to develop the lasers, microwave weapons, and technology to defend against this drone revolution, and victory in the next major conflict could well depend on who wins the drone wars.