Sep 28, 2019

The military drone bonanza

Data: The Drone Databook; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

About half of the world's militaries are now flying drones, according to a sweeping new study published this week that revealed the swift spread of a critical technology that until recently was too expensive or sophisticated for most countries.

Why it matters: The increasingly robot-crowded skies mean that clashes involving drones — like the recent attack on a Saudi oil facility that the U.S. has blamed on Iran — are likely to become commonplace.

The takeaways: From cheap, off-the-shelf quadcopters to enormous, missile-toting aircraft, flying drones are not only proliferating widely, but they're becoming integrated increasingly deeply into militaries, according to the new report from Dan Gettinger, co-founder of the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College.

  • They are already changing the way countries project power over adversaries. Chinese drones are flying over the South and East China seas, Russian drones are over Ukraine, and Iranian drones allegedly operate in Yemen and Syria.
  • Despite the explosion of new players, the U.S., China and Israel still have the most sophisticated drone operations, Gettinger tells Axios. But new leaders, like Turkey and Russia, are emerging.
  • China has fewer experiences operating drones than its peers — but, as one of the largest suppliers of drones to other countries, it's likely learning vicariously, Gettinger says.

Between the lines: The study's focus on training and R&D programs in addition to drone arsenals reveals some militaries' deeper preparations for drone warfare.

  • South Korea, for example, has about as many drones as you'd expect for a country its size, according to the report. But a look at its training programs shows something different: Its military intends to train thousands of small-drone operators.
  • "South Korea recognizes that small drones are going to become ubiquitous on the battlefield of the future," Gettinger says.

What's next: Big R&D efforts are underway in several countries to develop drone swarms — groupings of drones that can be flown by one remote operator, or even autonomously.

Go deeper

UPS receives approval to fly commercial drones

The UPS Flight Forward unit is the first to win FAA approval for drone deliveries. Photo: Courtesy of UPS

UPS is the first company in the nation to receive FAA approval to operate a commercial drone fleet.

Why it matters: It's a big step forward in the effort to safely integrate unmanned aircraft systems into the country's existing airspace, and will allow UPS to scale drone package delivery across the country.

Go deeperArrowOct 2, 2019

UPS drone fleet expands services to CVS and others

Medical supplies delivery via UPS drone. Photo: UPS

UPS announced Monday that it's expanding drone-delivery services to include CVS Pharmacy, Kaiser Permanente, wholesale pharmaceutical distributor AmerisourceBergen and the University of Utah health system.

The state of play: UPS is hitting the health care business on all sides, from patients to providers and suppliers — all of whom would value faster deliveries on lab testing, prescriptions and medical supplies.

Go deeperArrowOct 22, 2019

Under new bill, states and towns could set their own drone rules

Photo: Matthew Horwood/Getty

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) plans to introduce a bill that would assign states, cities, and Native American tribes sweeping new powers to set rules for small, low-flying drones, and give property owners more control over what happens immediately over their land.

Why it matters: Lee's proposal would establish new clear rules for the first 200 feet above ground, and override Federal Aviation Administration concerns about a "patchwork quilt" of regulations that differ from one locale to another.

Go deeperArrowOct 15, 2019