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News | Oct. 20, 2021

Defence Dominance: Advantage for Small States

By T.X. Hammes RSIS

A U.S. Marine utilizes a drone at Combined Arms Training Center, Camp Fuji, Japan, Jan. 22.
A U.S. Marine utilizes a drone at Combined Arms Training Center, Camp Fuji, Japan, Jan. 22.
A U.S. Marine utilizes a drone at Combined Arms Training Center, Camp Fuji, Japan, Jan. 22.
Eyes in the Sky
A U.S. Marine utilizes a drone at Combined Arms Training Center, Camp Fuji, Japan, Jan. 22.
Photo By: Cpl. Savannah Mesimer
VIRIN: 210122-M-GB409-173

EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES are dramatically changing the international security environment. Of particular interest to small states is the emerging operational environment of pervasive global surveillance paired with large numbers of long-range precision weapons.

Pervasive surveillance is a direct result of the massive expansion of commercial space assets. Today firms offer high resolution satellite imagery to include interpreted 4-metre resolution imagery of the entire planet daily and, on request, it can photograph objects as small as 50 centimetres.

Changing the Environment

San Francisco-based Capella Space offers on-demand, interpreted, 50 cm resolution Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imagery of any location on the planet. Like all radar, SAR works at night and through weather. The commercial firm Hawkeye360 can locate a specific radio frequency signature within 3 kilometres. By mid-2022, a Hawkeye satellite will pass over the target every 20 minutes.

In effect, the planet is being imaged by visual, infrared, radar, and electromagnetic sensors virtually continuously. This family of long-endurance, commercial surveillance drones can provide affordable intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance (ISR) assets for even small states.

Simultaneously, long-range autonomous drones and cruise missiles are being produced by numerous nations globally. Several of these systems are being built into standard shipping containers that can be easily transported and blend into the commercial traffic globally. Many have much greater operational range than current fighter/bomber aircraft and they require no airfields.

Further changing the environment are advance manufacturing techniques. Automated factories, robotics, and artificial intelligence can be combined to dramatically reduce the cost of these emerging autonomous systems. In 2014, an aeronautics professor designed and 3D-printed a drone. By adding a small electric motor, two batteries, and a cell phone, he created a hand-launched, autonomous drone with a range of 50 km.

Once the design was refined, the production process took about 28 hours. Today’s 3D printers are over 100 times faster. A plant with 100 modern 3D printers could produce 10,000 of these drones per day. By incorporating AI and robotics, the final assembly could be automated. Thus drone swarms of thousands of autonomous hunters are possible today.

Read the rest at RSIS here - 

Dr. T.X. Hammes is a Distinguished Research Fellow at the Institute for National Strategic Studies, Center for Strategic Research at National Defense University. The views expressed are his own and do not reflect those of the National Defense University or the Department of Defense.