Mini-drones swarms and their potential in conflict situations

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DOI: 10.34190/ICCWS.20.084
Conference: 15th International Conference on Cyber Warfare and Security, ICCWS 2020, At Norfolk, Virginia, USA
Cite this publication
Abstract
The Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) commonly known as drones are currently used in a wide range of operations such as border monitoring, aerial reconnaissance, traffic control and military interventions in armed conflicts. These aerial vehicles are expected to be reliable, automated and sometimes autonomous machines, albeit the human factor continues to play a crucial role in programming and control. At their genesis, drones were complex, large and reserved to an exclusive club of technologically advanced military powers. They tended to be used against technologically weak military targets. Developments in the price, size and sophistication of drones has now enabled almost anyone to purchase them. These contemporary machines are often small, and, with increasing usage of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has put them in the cost and usage range of almost any combatant. Therefore, there is a need to rethink strategies and tactics for their use. These 'mini-drones' rarely have the sophistication and capabilities of 'conventional' drones, but they do have the ability to provide an asset in large numbers and increasing capabilities. Although they might not have such attributes as the lifting capabilities of the larger models, they can be used economically and en masse and so have can have a different but equally effective outcomes. This paper examines the swarming and associated abilities to overwhelm a combatant as well as bring extra functionality by means of extra sensors spread throughout the swarm. Thus, sophisticated AI provides a swarm with various types of functionality to the drones: for instance, dummy/distraction drones, kinetic and non-kinetic attack drones, surveillance drones as well as drones that can be equipped with wireless access points and deployed to configure an ad-hoc flying network. This paper also examines UAV/drone categories and autonomy and also how autonomy and Swarm intelligence (SI) can be used to create efficiency for a variety of operation concepts.
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ResearchGate
Mini-drones swarms and
their potential in conflict
situations
2020
Martti Lehto, University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, Finland
Bill Hutchinson, Edith Cowan University, Australia
DOI: 10.34190/ICCWS.20.084
Originally published in the proceedings of the 15th International
Conference on Cyber Warfare and Security, 12 - 13 March 2020, Norfolk,
Virginia, Old Dominion University, USA, pages 326-334
Proceedings of the 15th International Conference on Cyber Warfare and Security, ICCWS2020
326
Mini-drones swarms and their potential in conflict situations
Martti Lehto, University of Jyväskylä, Finland
Bill Hutchinson, Edith Cowan University, Australia
martti.j.lehto@jyu.fi
w.hutchinson@ecu.edu.au
Abstract
The Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) commonly known as drones are currently used in a wide range of
operations such as border monitoring, aerial reconnaissance, traffic control and military interventions in armed
conflicts. These aerial vehicles are expected to be reliable, automated and sometimes autonomous machines,
albeit the human factor continues to play a crucial role in programming and control. At their genesis, drones
were complex, large and reserved to an exclusive club of technologically advanced military powers. They
tended to be used against technologically weak military targets. Developments in the price, size and
sophistication of drones has now enabled almost anyone to purchase them. These contemporary machines
are often small, and, with increasing usage of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has put them in the cost and usage
range of almost any combatant. Therefore, there is a need to re-think strategies and tactics for their use.
These ‘mini-drones’ rarely have the sophistication and capabilities of ‘conventional’ drones, but they do have
the ability to provide an asset in large numbers and increasing capabilities. Although they might not have such
attributes as the lifting capabilities of the larger models, they can be used economically and en masse and so
have can have a different but equally effective outcomes. This paper examines the swarming and associated
abilities to overwhelm a combatant as well as bring extra functionality by means of extra sensors spread
throughout the swarm. Thus, sophisticated AI provides a swarm with various types of functionality to the
drones: for instance, dummy/distraction drones, kinetic and non-kinetic attack drones, surveillance drones as
well as drones that can be equipped with wireless access points and deployed to configure an ad-hoc flying
network. This paper also examines UAV/drone categories and autonomy and also how autonomy and Swarm
intelligence (SI) can be used to create efficiency for a variety of operation concepts.
Key words: drone, security, artificial intelligence, swarming
1. Introduction
There is no one standard when it comes to the classification of unmanned aircraft system (UAS) sometimes
called an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). Defense agencies have their own standards, and civilians have
their ever-evolving loose categories for UASs. People classify them by size, range and endurance, and use a
tier system that is employed by the military. An UAS is a “system whose components include the necessary
equipment, network, and personnel to control an unmanned aircraft.” In some cases, the UAS includes a
launching element. (DoD, 2014)
An Unmanned Aircraft is defined as a powerful system, that does not carry a human operator, uses
aerodynamic forces to provide vehicle lift, can fly autonomously or be piloted remotely; it can be expendable
or recoverable, and can carry a payload. (Papireddy, 2015)
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) employs the acronym RPAS (standing for Remotely
Piloted Aircraft System). The definition is: “A remotely piloted aircraft, its associated remote pilot station(s), the
required command and control links and any other components as specified in the type design.” (ICAO, 2019)
By being the world pioneer in the creation and implementation of regulations for the use of commercial
unmanned aerial vehicles, the French Directorate for Civil Aviation (DGAC) sees commercial unmanned aerial
vehicles as drones. In a general way, many countries use the term ‘drone’. For many, UAVs are mostly used
in a military context. However, drones cover both civil and military purposes of any type of aerial unmanned
vehicle. (Alligator Unmanned Systems, 2019)
This article uses the term drone to cover the whole spectrum of unmanned aerial vehicles. The research
focuses on categories, autonomy, military and civilian operations, and swarming. The study has used content
analysis as a research method drawing analysis from various documents. The resulting data collected are
summarized in order to provide better understanding of both advantages and inconveniences associated with
development and wide utilization of drones in a variety of settings.
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2. Drone categories and autonomy
2.1 Drone categories
There is no one standard when it comes to the classification of unmanned aircraft system (UAS). Defense
agencies have their own standards, and civilians have their own categories. Unmanned aircraft can be roughly
divided into fixed winged and rotary winged. Multi-rotor helicopters are referred to as multi-copters. Other
classification arguments are: size, Maximum Gross Takeoff Weight (MGTW), range and endurance. For
combat, there are two main groups: Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV) and Unmanned Combat Aerial
Rotorcraft (UCAR). These can be ‘categorized’ by performance and combat mission.
Multi-rotor multi-copters powered by an electric power source are manufactured with various numbers of
engines. According to the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD2), as illustrated in Tables 1 &2 below, the
commonly used ones include:
Quadrocopter (4 propellers vertically oriented)
Hexacopter (6 propellers, 6-angle, symmetrically mounted)
Oktocopter (8 propellers either 4 or 8 angles symmetrically mounted, in 4-angle installation, the motors
are arranged in pairs on top of each other)
Table 1 UAVs Classification according to the US Department of Defense (DoD) (PSU, 2019)
Category
Size
Maximum
Gross
Takeoff
Weight
(MGTW) (kg)
Airspeed
(knots)
Small UAV
- Mini - Micro - Nano
UAV
Length 15 cm - 2 m
Nano UAVs can also be
smaller
0-9
<1,200 ft Above
Ground Level,
AGL
<100
Medium UAV
5-10 m
9-25
<3,500 AGL
<250
Large UAV
> 10 m
<600
<18,000 Mean
Sea Level
<250
Larger UAV
> 10 m
>600
<18,000 MSL
Any
airspeed
Largest UAV
> 10 m
>600
>18,000 MSL
Any
airspeed
Table 2 UAVs Classification according range and operating time (PSU, 2019)
Category
Range (km)
Operating time
Very low close-range UAV
5
20-45 min
Close range UAV
50
1-6 hours
Short range UAV
> 150
8-12 hours
Mid-range UAV
< 1000
12-24 hours
Endurance UAV
> 10 000
24-36 hours
In the late 1990s, the US Armed Forces produced a classification according to the information of the UAV
system provided to the different user levels. This classification is shown in Table 3.
Table 3 UAV classification-based capability
UAV
Capability
Micro Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (MUAV)
Producing information within a radius of less than 100
kilometers from its land station.
Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (TUAV)
Producing information within a radius of about 200
kilometers of its land station.
Medium Altitude Endurance Unmanned Aerial
Vehicle (MAE)
Producing information within a radius of about 750 kilo
meters of its land station.
High Altitude Endurance Unmanned Aerial
Vehicle (HAE)
Producing information for long-term and near real-time
information for the control of large areas.
Over the past two decades, Remotely Piloted Aircraft System(s) (RPAS) have been fielded in increasing
numbers across many nations and military services. It is very unlikely there will be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution
for RPAS operations in a contested environment. In addition to Reconnaissance RPAS, which are expected
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to be upgraded and continue the role of current medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE)/ High-Altitude Long
Endurance (HALE) systems, is illustrated in Table 4 below. (JAPCC, 2014)
Table 4 UCAV classification based on combat missions
UACV
Performance
Combat mission
Deep
Penetration
RPAS
Designed for full
electromagnetic stealth
Designated to conduct reconnaissance and air
strikes deep inside enemy territory
Combat RPAS
Designed for high G-forces and
maneuverability
Designated to conduct air-to-air and air to-ground
combat in non-permissive and hos-tile air
environments
Swarm RPAS
Forming a swarm
Designed for expendability and operating in large
numbers
Carrier RPAS
Designed to carry an immense
stock of long-range
Precision-guided air-to-air and air-to ground
munitions, designated to project military power like
naval aircraft carriers
2.2 Drone autonomy
Autonomy allows for the reduction of the frequency at which the operators must interact with the drone and
supporting the implementation of more robust system solutions, where the role of the operators is to manage
and supervise, through appropriate human machine interface, the command and control functions without
direct interaction.
There are various ways to discuss autonomy in weapon systems. Although precise definitions are critical for
design and engineering purposes, understanding the debate about autonomy requires an acknowledgement
of these differing uses of the term, typically centered on ethically relevant subprocesses of the system as a
whole; targeting, goal-seeking, and the initiation of lethality (Payne, 2017).
According US DoD (2018) autonomy is defined as the ability of an entity to independently develop and select
among different courses of action to achieve goals based on the entity’s knowledge and understanding of the
world, itself, and the situation. Autonomous systems are governed by broad rules that allow the system to
deviate from the baseline. This contrasts with automated systems, which are governed by prescriptive rules
that allow for no deviations. While early robots generally only exhibited automated capabilities, advances in
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (ML) technology allow systems with greater levels of autonomous
capabilities to be developed. The future of unmanned systems will stretch across the broad spectrum of
autonomy, from remote controlled and automated systems to near fully autonomy. The following autonomous
categories have been identified:
Semiautonomous (Human-in-the-loop): In this mode, humans retain control of selected functions
preventing actions by the AI without authorization; humans are integral to the system’s control loop.
Supervised Autonomous (Human-on-the-loop): The AI controls all aspects of its operations, but
humans monitor the operations and can intervene when, and if, necessary.
Fully Autonomous (Human-out-of-the-loop): The AI-algorithms control all aspects of system
operation without human guidance or intervention. The autonomous drone engages without direct
human authorization or notification.
Autonomy results from delegation of a decision to an authorized entity to act within specific boundaries. An
important distinction is that systems governed by prescriptive rules that permit no deviations are automated,
but they are not autonomous. US Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (2016) addresses that to be
autonomous, a system must have the capability to independently compose and select among different courses
of action to accomplish goals based on its knowledge and understanding of the world, itself, and the situation.
3. Drone’s military and civilian operations
3.1 Drone’s military operations
The development of unmanned aerial vehicles is intensifying as related technologies are becoming cheaper.
Drones can be used in a flexible manner in performing different tasks such as intelligence, surveillance, target
acquisition, and reconnaissance missions. More specifically, they are used in strikes against surface targets,
relaying of information over-the-horizon, Electronic Warfare (EW), Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR)
operations, Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Warfare (CBRN) threats motoring, payloads and
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logistics transportation. Even in deploying Counter Improvised Explosive Devices (C-IED) in areas where the
risk level is too high for human interventions.
Drones are presumed to provide their services at any time, be reliable, automated and autonomous. Based on
these presumptions, governmental and military leaders expect drones to improve national security through
surveillance or combat missions. To fulfill their missions, drones need to collect and process data. Therefore,
drones may store a wide range of information from troop movements to environmental data and strategic
operations. The amount and kind of information enclosed make drones an extremely interesting target for
espionage and exposed these versatile aerial vehicles to theft, manipulation and attacks.
Various types of air domination systems are being considered to enable a military force to dominate an area
from the air for extended periods and deny enemy movements and maneuvering. Unmanned combat aircraft
can be divided into two categories according to their operating model: loitering or swarming.
A loitering weaponized drone (also known as a suicide drone or kamikaze drone) is a weapon system category
in which the weaponized drone (or munitions) loiters around the target area for some time, searches for targets,
and attacks once a target is located. Loitering systems enable faster reaction times against concealed or
hidden targets that emerge for short periods without placing high-value platforms close to the target area and
allow more selective targeting as the actual attack mission can be aborted.
3.2 Drone’s civilian operations
Various UAVs are increasingly being used for various civilian purposes, such as government missions (e.g.,
for law enforcement, border security, coastguard) or broader security and safety missions to include
firefighting, surveillance of oil and gas industry infrastructure and electricity grids/ distribution networks, traffic
control, disaster management, agriculture, forestry and fisheries, earth observation and remote sensing and
communications and broadcasting.
According to Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR, 2016) the growing drone marketplace shows
significant potential, with European demand exceeding over 10 billion EUR annually, in nominal terms, by 2035
and over 15 billion EUR annually by 2050. Fortune Business Insights (2019) estimates that UAV market to
Reach USD 27.40 billion by 2026.
The development of the civil drone industry is dependent on the ability of drones to operate in various areas
of the airspace, especially at very low levels. In aggregate, some seven (7) million consumer leisure drones
are expected to be operating across Europe and a fleet of 400 000 is expected to be used for commercial and
government missions in 2050. (SESAR, 2016)
Critical infrastructure (CI) includes large variety elements from nuclear reactors, chemical facilities, water
systems, logistics and airports to healthcare and communications. Today drones play an important role in
monitoring, maintaining and ensuring the safety and security of critical infrastructures. For example in the
energy sector, drones are expected to improve maintenance and be used for inspections, which are
segmented into two primary mission types: 1) local site inspections, performed by multi-copters operating today
in Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) and below 150 meters altitude and 2) long range utility inspections for which the
fleet is expected to be composed of Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) fixed wing drones flying near 150
meters of altitude with potentially (SESAR, 2016). So, human work is reduced, and tasks can be performed
cost-effectively.
At the same time CI must deal with the new and emerging threat of drones. The most headline-grabbing risks
tend to be those of physical and electronic attacks. For example, drones could carry explosives into a nuclear
power plant or get close enough to execute cyber-attacks, causing disruptions or even mechanical failures or
even stealing sensitive data. The low-cost, global proliferation and capabilities of drones weighing less than
20 pounds make them worthy of specific focus. Future adversaries could use these small systems to play
havoc with critical infrastructure both in the air and on the ground, necessitating new actions to defend CI
assets. Today some drones have payload capacity, extended range, and the ability to be GPS- or pilot-guided
to locations with great precision. (Palmer & Geis, 2017)
Meanwhile, as there is a development from Cold War to “Code” War, highly trained cyber warriors continue to
target defense and other protected computer information networks thereby threatening critical
infrastructures. For instance, built on and remotely guided by “codes,” military drones are essentially versatile
“flying computers” with the devastating power to hunt and kill the enemy. (Hyacinthe, 2009)
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4. Drone swarming
Various types of air domination systems are being considered to enable a military force to dominate an area
from the air (and in the sea, ground and space for that matter) for extended periods and deny enemy
movements and maneuvering. Unmanned combat aircraft can be divided into two categories according to their
operating model: loitering or swarming.
Current systems under consideration are standard weaponized UASs or small expendable loitering weapons,
fitted with imaging sensors, such as the Low-Cost Autonomous Attack System (LOCAAS). Operating in
swarms of ‘intelligent munitions’ weapons, the LOCAAS can autonomously search for and destroy critical
mobile targets while aiming over a wide combat area. (DoD, 2014) Along with sensor autonomy, swarming
drones will require the ability to self-navigate and self-position to collect imagery and signals efficiently. (DoD,
2005)
As widely documented, a loitering munition is a weapon system category in which the munition loiters around
the target area for some time, searches for targets, and attacks once a target is located. Loitering munitions
enable faster reaction times against concealed or hidden targets that emerge for short periods without placing
high-value platforms close to the target area and allow more selective targeting as the actual attack mission
can be aborted. Loitering munitions fit in the niche between cruise missiles and unmanned combat aerial
vehicles sharing characteristics with both. They differ from cruise missiles in that they are designed to loiter for
a relatively long time around the target area, and from UCAVs in that a loitering munition is intended to be
expended in an attack and has a built-in warhead.
The widespread use of drones around the world is evident, but the ability to employ a swarm of these systems
to operate collaboratively to achieve a common goal will be of great benefit to national defence and security.
Swarming is the coordinated use of various drones which might be of different types, ‘intelligence’, size, and
capabilities so they can act in unison. This use of swarming techniques where numerous drones are used for
one purpose has increasing interest. A swarm could support lower operating costs, greater system efficiency
as well as increased resilience in many areas. (Hutchinson, 2018)
Drone swarms carry additional communications needs. Effective distributed operations require a battlefield
network for drone-to-drone communications to allocate sensor targets and priorities and to position aircraft
where needed. While the constellation of sensors and aircraft needs to be visible to operators, human
oversight of many drones operating in combat must be reduced to the minimum necessary to prosecute
electronic warfare. Automated target acquisition will transfer initiative to the autonomous drone, and a robust,
anti-jam communications network that protects against hostile jamming, capturing and manipulation of data is
a crucial enabler of drone swarming. (DoD, 2005)
Kallenborn (2018) from US National Defense University defines drone swarm technology as the ability of
drones to autonomously make decisions based on shared information. This has the potential to revolutionize
the dynamics of conflict. In fact, swarms will have significant applications to almost every area of national and
homeland security. Swarms of drones could search the oceans for adversary submarines or disperse over
large areas to identify and eliminate hostile surface-to-air missiles and other air defenses. Drone swarms could
potentially even serve as novel missile defenses, blocking incoming hypersonic missiles. On the homeland
security front, security swarms equipped with chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) detectors,
facial recognition, anti-drone weapons, and other capabilities offer defenses against a range of threats. Also,
they could be used in attack mode as vectors of some of these scenarios.
McMullan (2019) argues that swarming drones come in different shapes and sizes. For example, the US
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been working on a program dubbed Gremlins;
micro-drones the size and shape of missiles, designed to be dropped from planes and perform reconnaissance
over vast areas. On the other side of the spectrum is the larger XQ-58 Valkyrie drone (8.8 m in length).
A San Diego company, Kratos Defense & Security Solutions, produces two classes of jet-powered autonomous
drones, the UTAP-22 Mako and the XQ-58 Valkyrie, which would collaborate with manned fighter jets as a
'loyal wingman' for a human pilot. They are able to carry precision-guided bombs and surveillance equipment.
(Gregg, 2019)
DARPA launched in 2016 OFFSET-program (OFFensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics) envisions future small-unit
infantry forces using swarms comprising upwards of 250 small unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) and/or small
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unmanned ground systems (UGSs) to accomplish diverse missions in complex urban environments. By
leveraging and combining emerging technologies in swarm autonomy and human-swarm teaming, the
program seeks to enable rapid development and deployment of breakthrough capabilities. OFFSET aims to
provide the tools to quickly generate swarm tactics, evaluate those swarm tactics for effectiveness, and
integrate the best swarm tactics into field operations. OFFSET will develop an active swarm tactics
development ecosystem and supporting open systems architecture, including:
An advanced human-swarm interface to enable users to monitor and direct potentially hundreds of
unmanned platforms simultaneously in real time.
A real-time, networked virtual environment that would support a physics-based, swarm tactics game.
A community-driven swarm tactics exchange. (Chung, 2016)
At present, the flight path, sensor payload and weapons systems of airborne drones are coordinated from
ground control stations. However, the concept of an autonomous or semi-autonomous wingman is arriving
even faster than expected. Future fighters will be able to provide a drone with tasks and objectives, manage
sensor payload and direct flight-path from the air. (Osborn, 2019)
In the OFFSET-program by leveraging and combining emerging technologies in swarm autonomy and human-
swarm teaming, the program seeks to enable rapid development and deployment of breakthrough capabilities.
The program consists five research and experiment areas: swarm technology, human-swarm teaming, swarm
perception, swarm networking, and swarm logistics. Figure 1 illustrates the autonomous swarm capability
development OFFSET-program. (Peters, 2019)
In August 2019 DARPA had an OFFSET test with using a swarm of autonomous drones and ground robots to
assist with military missions. DARPA showed how its robots analyzed two city blocks to find, surround, and
secure a mock city building. (Peters, 2019)
Finland’s MoD (2015) addresses that in some cases, drones can carry out missions better and cheaper than
manned aircraft. The widespread proliferation of Micro Air Vehicles (MAV) which are difficult to detect is on the
cusp of becoming extremely challenging for air defences. Even the smallest drones are suitable for intelligence
and precision-guided munitions (PGM) target designation. Moreover, they can double as weapons, even inside
buildings. The most radical concepts focus on replacing the intelligence-targetingfire chain; they aim at
achieving a rapid weapons effect with the coordinated use of swarming unmanned aerial vehicles. This
requires sufficient survivability and cost-effectiveness from drones in order to saturate the defence.
Haberl and Huemer (2019) described in their conference paper the drone swarm attack. In 2018 the Russian
Ministry of Defence announced that 13 drones, which had been fitted with small bombs managed to attack
Russian bases in Syria. Such drones, which are intended to explode on impact need to be modified in order
to carry explosives and it is easy to imagine how 3D-printing could come in handy in this regard, especially
since drones are capable of evading missile warning systems without any additionally needed infrastructure
or equipment.
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Figure 1 Autonomous Swarm Capability development in OFFSET-program (modified from Chung, 2016)
In swarming operations interconnected, co-operative drones are capable of working together intelligent.
Swarm intelligence is the collective behavior of decentralized, self-organized systems, natural or artificial (Beni
& Wang, 1993). This use of swarming techniques where numerous drones are used for one purpose is of
increasing interest. Generally, when dealing with security related actins there are two main emphases -
overwhelming force and deception. The decreasing cost of smaller drones (Hambling, 2015) plus the built-in
redundancy of swarms makes the use of many drones for an attack much more appealing as it tends to
overwhelm any countermeasures against them. Also, it can make deception much more difficult as some
drones that are disabled will still leave others to carry out the mission. Thus, at its simplest attack of sacrificial,
impact aerial drones in a swarm makes an effective tactic which can overwhelm the opponent.
At present, these ‘swarming drone systems’ are used and considered for underwater protection of valuable
assets such as submarines and in the air for protecting manned aircraft, providing surveillance for military units
at a cheap cost. The initial use of ‘tethered’ drones linked to a ‘mothership’ gives protection to the controlling
vehicle and its crew which, in turn, gives extra surveillance facilities and, possibly firepower as well as cover
by providing sacrificial drones to the central control function. This concept develops into autonomous swarms
whereby each drone is independent but keeps communications with other drones and acted like one entity
much like a flock of birds. (Singer, 2009) This implementation gives the group a lot more power and is much
more difficult to deceive unless its elements are consistently very simple. However, simple, self-organizing
swarms can lose some members without losing too much functionality deceiving and/or destroying the swarm
will be harder than deceiving the individual. Nevertheless, swarms, because they need to link up with each
other, are more vulnerable to infection from malware and ironically this could be a weak point.
Underwater drones do have a communication problem especially when not tethered to a ‘mother ship’ as
communication signals are attenuated by the water medium. Signals are sent by radio and acoustic means or
by light (blue has been used up to now). However, this has been partially overcome by using each drone being
arranged into lines and passing the signal from one to another thereby extending the range much as classical
network technology does.
The concept of swarms came out of a need to find asymmetric approaches to developing terrorist and insurgent
approaches to war. From the US perspective, the enemy in the early 21st century tended to be relatively small
dispersed groups compared to conventional forces. Although these tactics were not really new (Arquilla and
Ronfeldt, 2000), they did seem to be needed to compensate for the large, hierarchical forces which did not
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prove as flexible and speedy as these small groups. With the development of military drones, and with the
continuing advancement of them, came the technological ability to produce smaller and more flexible varieties.
As this development advanced, the increased communications and AI techniques allowed an ever-increasing
potential of these machines to provide to develop drone swarms. The extension of network theory allowed the
development of intelligent swarms which broadly can be hierarchical or networked (in an organizational sense).
Swarms can be designed such that the development of swarming systems can allow each element to work
independently and come together in a swarm when needed so groups of drones can be expanded or
decreased as the problem being tackled varies. Hence, drones of various abilities, function and form, can be
coordinated as necessary. This ability is very powerful and would require an opponent to work at a population
level rather than targeting an individual drone (although a well-chosen targeted drone might have the desired
impact, but this would depend on the architecture of the network). (Newman, 2018).
Conclusion and Discussion
The swarm idea inherently drives drone development toward autonomy. Smart drone swarm technology could
have a significant impact on every area of military capability, for enhancing supply chains to C5ISR and
delivering kinetic ammunitions. Swarms of small attack drones that confuse and overwhelm antiaircraft
defenses could soon become an important part of the modern military arsenal, something that would mark a
major evolution in robot-enabled warfare. (Gregg, 2019)
Advances in computer power, processing speed and AI are rapidly changing the scope of what platforms are
able to perform without needing human intervention. At the moment, multiple humans are often needed to
control a single drone, and new algorithms increasing autonomy for drones could greatly change this ratio.
(Osborn, 2019)
The components of the swarm can communicate with one another makes the swarm different from a group of
individual drones. Smart communication and autonomy allow the swarm to adjust behavior in response to real-
time information. Drones equipped with cameras and other environmental sensors (sensor drones) can identify
potential targets, environmental hazards, or defenses and relay that information to the rest of the swarm. The
swarm may then maneuver to avoid a hazard or defense, or a weapon-equipped drone (attack drone) may
strike the target or defense. Real-time information collection makes drone swarms well-suited for searching
over broad areas for mobile or other hard-to-find units in military or civilian operations.
While individual drones can be useful, a swarm of them would be more difficult for someone to eliminate. A
swarm of drones would help with a complicated environment like an urban or covered terrain, where it is hard
to see long distances. A large group of drones can provide better situational awareness than single drone.
According to Kallenborn (2018) a future drone swarm need not consist of the same type and size of drones
but incorporate both large and small drones equipped with different payloads. Joining a diverse set of drones
creates a whole that is more capable than the individual parts. A single drone swarm could even operate across
domain, with undersea and surface drones or ground and aerial drones coordinating their actions. As
established above, information dominance is reserved to wary military planners with the foresight to embrace
system-of-systems landscape for warfare, in which networks of manned and unmanned platforms, weapons,
sensors and electronic warfare systems interact each other (Birkey et.al, 2018).
Among other drawbacks, it is important to acknowledge that swarming also adds new vulnerabilities. Drone
swarms are particularly vulnerable to electronic warfare attacks. Because drone swarms are dependent on
drone-to-drone communication, disrupting that signal also disrupts the swarm. As swarms become more
sophisticated, they will also be more vulnerable to cyber-attack. Adversaries may attempt to hijack the swarm
by, for example, feeding it false information, hacking, or generating manipulative environmental signals.
(Kallenborn and Bleek, 2019)
The international intelligence community has been on notice since the late 1930’s. The scale might be all that
has been modified from a 1944 German design of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) intended to disperse
deadly airborne bioactive substances according to U.S. intelligence accounts declassified by Los Alamos
labs (Hyacinthe, 2009).
How to defend against drone swarming attack? US Air Force recently unveiled a new tool for that: a high-
powered microwave system called Tactical High-Power Microwave Operational Responder (THOR), which is
Proceedings of the 15th International Conference on Cyber Warfare and Security, ICCWS2020
334
designed to protect bases against swarms of drones. According to USAF this system is designed to take out
a large number of drones all at once and has a further range than bullets or nets. (Cohen, 2019)
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  • Manned-Unmanned Aircraft Teaming: Taking Combat Airpower to the Next Level
    • D Birkey
    • D Deptula
    • L Stutzriem
    Birkey D., Deptula D. Stutzriem L. (2018) Manned-Unmanned Aircraft Teaming: Taking Combat Airpower to the Next Level, Mitchell Institute Policy Papers, Vol. 15, July 2018.
  • OFFensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics (OFFSET
    • T Chung
    Chung T. (2016) OFFensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics (OFFSET), https://www.darpa.mil/program/offensiveswarm-enabled-tactics.
  • Microwave Weapons Moving Toward Operational Use, Air Force Magazine
    • R S Cohen
    Cohen R. S. (2019) Microwave Weapons Moving Toward Operational Use, Air Force Magazine, March 20, 2019.
  • DoD (2014) Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap
    • Dod
    DoD (2005) Unmanned Aircraft Systems Roadmap 2005-2030, July 20, 2005. DoD (2014) Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap 2013-2038, January 2014.
  • Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Market to Reach USD 27.40 Billion by 2026
    • Dod
    DoD (2018) Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap 2017-2042, August 28, 2018. Fortune Business Insights. (2019) Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Market to Reach USD 27.40 Billion by 2026; Increasing Demand from Defense Forces to Boost Growth, November 11, 2019
  • Swarming attack drones could soon be real weapons for the military
    • A Gregg
    Gregg A. (2019) Swarming attack drones could soon be real weapons for the military, Washington Post, February 19, 2019.
  • The Terrorist/Jihadi use of 3D-Printing Technologies: Operational Realities, Technical Capabilities, Intentions and the Risk of Psychological Operations
    • F Haberl
    • F Huemer
    Haberl F. & Huemer F. (2019) The Terrorist/Jihadi use of 3D-Printing Technologies: Operational Realities, Technical Capabilities, Intentions and the Risk of Psychological Operations, Proceedings of the ICCWS 2019, 28 February -1 March 2019, Stellenbosch, South-Africa.
  • Swarm Troopers -How Small Drones Will Conquer the World
    • D Hambling
    Hambling, D. (2015). Swarm Troopers -How Small Drones Will Conquer the World, Archangel Ink. Venice, USA.
  • Article
    Drone swarms—multiple unmanned systems capable of coordinating their actions to accomplish shared objectives—have major implications for the future of warfare. One important set of implications relates to the ability of drone swarms to complement, challenge, and even substitute for chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) weapons. For example, swarming drones might enable more effective CBRN delivery. Or they might facilitate standoff detection, search the oceans for nuclear-armed submarines, or otherwise impede an adversary’s ability to threaten or employ CBRN weapons. Conventionally armed drone swarms might serve as strategic deterrents in lieu of CBRN weapons. At the same time, many CBRN-relevant applications of drone-swarm technology entail significant technical challenges even for very sophisticated states, and even more so for non-state actors whose capabilities will be far more limited, so there is considerable uncertainty around whether, how much, and when drone-swarm technology will complement, challenge, or substitute for CBRN weapons.