Report: An Urgent Matter of Drones

By Federico Borsari and Gordon B. "Skip" Davis, Jr.

This report was first published by CEPA

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Russia’s war in Ukraine has revealed how important drones are in today’s warfare. NATO needs to adapt rapidly.

Executive Summary

Uncrewed aircraft systems (UAS) 1 have become essential elements of modern warfare and their role will expand in the future, raising the urgency of NATO and individual allies to rapidly adapt starting now.

Individual allied nations own a wide variety of UAS capabilities, and the alliance collectively owns and operates NATO’s Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS). 2 Despite NATO efforts to encourage procurement and capability development and to promote common standards and enabling capabilities, NATO has too few drones for a high-intensity fight against a peer adversary. It would be severely challenged to effectively integrate those it has in a contested environment.

Several challenges hinder the development of robust and effective UAS capabilities across the alliance. These include limited interoperability, critical capability gaps, inadequate platform survivability, deficiencies in personnel and training, limits to intelligence processing, and more.

For NATO and allies to leverage and prepare for the full potential of future drone warfare, this report recommends the following:

  1. First, the alliance must clearly assess UAS and counter-UAS (C-UAS) capability requirements based on lessons learned from recent conflicts, technological developments underway, and expected future threats and challenges.
  2. Second, UAS and C-UAS capability development and policy development must be guided by the need for scale and interoperability and the imperatives of multidomain operations.
  3. Third, enabling capabilities such as AI tools, data architecture, communications networks, and cyber and space capabilities and services must be enhanced.
  4. Fourth, NATO and individual allies should leverage the significant innovation efforts underway while improving operational experimentation and procurement processes.
  5. Fifth, NATO should refine or establish joint allied doctrine, operational concepts, tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) to cover new and expanded roles of UAS and the growing importance of C-UAS.
  6. Sixth, both UAS and C-UAS capability integration into NATO and national forces will require a special focus on human resource development.

Photo Credit: The attached photo belongs to NATO and is used under NATO’s newsroom content policy.