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Posted on Oct 2, 2015 in Books and Movies

Drone Warfare: The Development of Unmanned Aerial Conflict – Book Review

Drone Warfare: The Development of Unmanned Aerial Conflict – Book Review

By Chris Heatherly

Drone Warfare: The Development of Unmanned Aerial Conflict. Dave Sloggett. Skyhorse Publishing. Hardcover. 249 pages. $24.99.

The term “drone” is a word fraught with controversy. One man’s efficient and modern weapon system is another man’s object of terror. Unmanned aerial systems (UAS) technology has the power to beguile the user into believing it affords solutions to complex global issues – solutions devoid of the third rail in foreign policy development, namely “boots on the ground.” Author Dave Sloggett’s latest work, Drone Warfare, explores the history and controversy of these aerial platforms and their role in today’s warfare. Sloggett writes from a position of unquestioned expertise having served for decades as a scientific advisor to the British military as well as a strategic advisor to publisher IHS Jane’s.

While the reader may picture the iconic Predator drone flying over the endless Afghan mountains, the actual use of drone technology is much more widespread and increasingly available. Contrary to popular belief, drones are not a legacy of the post 9/11 world; their actual genesis began with the Austrian siege of Vienna in 1845. In that engagement, the Austrian military launched explosive laden balloons against the Venetian defenses. Given the vagaries of weather and limited direct control over the actual flight path, the balloons failed to have any direct impact to the battle. The genie, however, had been released from the bottle. Man’s grasp had only to wait for innovation to bring drone the technology to his reach.

Drone Warfare is not a simplistic catalog of UAS akin to so many throw away coffee table books. The book’s eight chapters ascribe to document the history, development, application and future potential of drone technology. Unfortunately, the work falls short of the mark. The writing is ponderous and overly reliant upon piles of statistical data at the expense of a cogent narrative. The book’s opening and middle analyze the lifecycle of drone technology from initial testing to operational deployment to assessment and continued development during World War II, the Cold War, the Arab-Israeli wars to today’s Global War on Terror. Sloggett is at his best in the final chapters when he eschews dry mathematics and considers the ethics associated with drones and their role in future world events.

The overall tempo of the book is uneven and difficult to follow. Sloggett routinely begins to develop an argument in one chapter and then abruptly shifts topics, only to return to the original discussion in later chapters. Indeed, the overall feel of the story is one of a hurried first draft than a carefully edited work. Sloggett’s analysis also feels dated, describing the post-Saddam era Iraq as a success and with no mention of ISIS’ wave of horror across the Middle East – odd considering the 2015 publication date. The book contains a small collection of photographs, albeit too few to illuminate the reader’s understanding of the topic. Sadly, Sloggett chose not to include maps – surprising given his reliance upon statistical data in his analysis. Thankfully, Drone Warfare does not exclusively focus upon American drone programs and wisely includes details on the many other players actively employing UAS platforms including China, the United Kingdom, Australia, Israel, France and many others. UAS technology, formerly the exclusive playground of wealthy nations is now available to the global market. Indeed, one may purchase an entry level drone on any number of internet websites for a relatively modest fee.

Drones, and their surrounding controversy, are here to stay. Their offensive and reconnaissance capabilities will improve. Drones, of all types, will become increasingly common on the battlefield. Although Drone Warfare does not rise to its fullest potential, it does shed valuable light on their role in future warfare. For that reason alone, this book is a must read for military professionals.

Lieutenant Colonel Christopher J. Heatherly enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1994 and earned his commission via Officer Candidate School in 1997. He has held a variety of assignments in special operations, Special Forces, armored, and cavalry units. His operational experience includes deployments to Afghanistan, Iraq, South Korea, Kuwait, Mali, and Nigeria. He holds master’s degrees from the University of Oklahoma and the School of Advanced Military Studies.

The opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of the United States Government, the Department of Defense, or the United States Army.