How small drones will conquer the world

A new book by David Hambling

Tactical drones like the Raven and Switchblade lethal drone are already having an impact on the battlefield; even ISIS have hand-launched drones now. Soon warfare will be transformed by swarms of small, cheap drones able to act together as a single unit, enabled by the same technologies that gave us smartphones, too numerous to be stopped by existing weapons. Welcome to the world of Swarm Troopers.

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Flying forever

How small drones can carry out missions lasting weeks or months, by extracting energy from the environment with solar cells, dynamic soaring and power scavenging.


The power of swarms

How drone researchers are borrowing from nature and using a few simple rules to meld hundreds of robots into a single, co-ordinated unit as efficient as a swarm of bees.


Miniature Terminators

From precision guidance and flying snipers to new warhead technology that slices through steel and disintegrates concrete: how small drones have become the ultimate smart weapon.

Phones, Drones and Killer Swarms

The mobile phone industry has the power and momentum of a freight train. Billions of dollars are spent annually on advancing technology for small electronic devices. Aggressive schedules see a new generation appear every two years. New technologies and new capabilities are being developed all the time.

In the course of this technology race, consumer electronics have outstripped their military counterparts and provided cheap, effective solutions for small drones. Like phones, drones need miniature cameras, communications, GPS navigation, batteries and data processing power. They share a need for minimal size, weight, and power usage. A drone is simply a smartphone with wings — and the wings are the cheap part.

Swarm Troopers explains why small military drones will be cheap and plentiful, and how researchers made a military-grade drone for less than $2,000 in a basic workshop using smartphone components and 3D printing. With modern combat aircraft costing upwards of $100,000,000, the military will face a choice between a single manned plane or a swarm of fifty thousand drones. Except that off-the-shelf electronics are getting more powerful and cheaper, so small drones will continue to fall in price while getting ever more capable.

The next drone air force may be built by a small, isolated state with no aviation industry. Or in someone’s garage.

About The Book

This book looks at the history, technology and future of drone warfare.

We start by examining the pre-history of the modern drone, from the first remote-control balloon-bombs of 1849 to the Fire Fly spy drones of Vietnam, and why the military have always disliked them. We see how the Predator finally broke out of this pattern to become the first successful combat drone, and how there has been a quiet revolution in the field of small drones.

We then see how and why military aircraft have become so phenomenally expensive, and how small drones built with smartphone technology can be so cheap. Subsequent chapters look at how drones can fly forever, how smarming technology can transform drone operations, the latest advances in small drones and the startling power of small drone weapons.

We look at how current defences can battle drone swarms, from guns and missiles to jammers and lasers, how military developers plan to deal with the drone threat – and why the best defence against a drone swarm may turn out to be another swarm.

Finally we look at the possible outcomes. How swarms could dramatically reduce the need for military ‘boots on the ground’ and why the US may not be the first country to deploy them, what drone terrorism means. What a world dominated by Swarm Troopers might look like — and what it means for us.

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About the author

David Hambling is a journalist and author. He writes on technology (especially drones) for Aviation Week, New Scientist, The Economist, Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, WIRED and other magazines.

His previous book, Weapons Grade, dealt with the surprising military roots of modern technology from computers to airliners.

His also writes science fiction; his collection The Dulwich Horror And Others was published this summer.

He lives in South London with his wife and cat.

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