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Book and Arts Review

In ‘Swarm Troopers: How Drones Will Conquer the World’, technology journalist David Hambling unleashes the truth behind the true power, benefits and deadly drawbacks of the drone’s rapid rise. Few are aware that, while such technology allows western military forces to increase their mission accuracy without having to put boots on the ground, miniature drone technology could equally allow enemies such as North Korea and ISIS to target the west with incredible ease. In ‘Swarm Troopers’, Hambling lifts the lid on exactly what drones are capable of.

United Kingdom – Over the past ten years, the use of drones among western military forces has grown at an alarming rate, with hundreds of missions each year now carried out without the need to expose pilots to danger. But, useful as this technology is, its prevalence could also spark global disaster.

Nobody knows this better than David Hambling, a technology journalist who has been following the rise of drone technology since its early days. In ‘Swarm Troopers: How Small Drones Will Conquer the World’, Hambling gives the layperson the low-down on just what this technology really means for the future of humanity.

Synopsis:

Swarm Troopers: How Small Drones Will Conquer the World looks at how new technology will upend the military balance and make the ultimate weapon available to everyone.

Although little noticed by the media, small drones have already proven highly effective on the battlefield. The Raven series, which resemble model aircraft with a five-foot wingspan, are by far the most common military drones on the planet, comprising over 90% of the US drone fleet. The Switchblade, an armed version, has been used to take out ‘high value targets’ in Afghanistan by US Special Forces.

The military have a historic antipathy to drones which has always held back unmanned aircraft. Mobile phone technology has made cheap, lightweight cameras, processors, GPS navigation and other electronics. This is bringing the cost of military grade drones from tens of thousands of dollars to thousands -- or less.

Solar power, perching and other developments will allow small drones to carry out missions lasting days or weeks. Swarming software means that a single operator can control large numbers at once. New weapons mean they can pack a deadly punch against people, vehicles and buildings.

Modern military kit is expensive. A single F-35 Lightning II – the latest model fielded by the Pentagon and the British MoD – costs well over $100m. A smarm of tens of thousands of small drones will be a fraction of the price of one such aircraft. In the air they are a flying minefield, a lethal hazard to manned planes. They can give an operator a close-up view of a target on the ground and are precise enough to pick out one individual, and numerous enough to kill thousands.

A drone swarm is impossible to stop with current weapons. Air defence missiles can easily be swamped by large numbers; other options, from electronic jamming to laser weapons, have little impact. Aircraft carriers, immune to most forms of attack, would be easily overrun. The only thing that is likely to stop a swarm is another swarm.

The Western military have a longstanding aversion to drones. It will be difficult for them to shift away from their prized manned aircraft. Others may field drone swarms sooner, and may include powers like China (manufacturer of most of the world’s civil drones) as well as non-state actors like ISIS.

“I wanted this book to unravel the confusion about drone technology, educate the public about its specifics, as well as objectively outline the benefits and dangers of its growing prevalence,” explains Hambling. “Of course, they bring a huge benefit to military forces through their ability to practically obliterate collateral damage but, at the same time, this ability could drive politicians and Governments to launch new military operations without the sort of measured assessment they would give to deploying living, breathing humans.”

Continuing, “Equally, it puts previously-unavailable power into the hands of countries such as North Korea and groups such as ISIS – who started to use home-made ‘killer drones’ in December 2015. Drone swarms cannot be stopped by existing defences, and technologies like solar power remove the safety once provided by distance. It may only be a few years before we see drones being launched in the Middle East with their targets set on the centre of London. I hope my book gives people plenty to think about.”

About the Author:

David Hambling is a technology journalist and author based in South London, and has been writing about military drones for 15 years. He writes for The Economist magazine, WIRED, Aviation Week, Popular Mechanics and Popular Science among others. His first book, Weapons Grade looked at the surprising military roots of modern technology.