How are Drones Changing Warfare?

How are Drones Changing Warfare?


Drones, or unmanned air systems, are changing the face of war in the 21st century, for combatants and civilians. We are used to a history of the RAF based on a narrative of the ‘bravery of the few’ with fighter pilot missions in the Battle of Britain seeing a mortality rate of 20% and a staggeringly higher rate for ‘the many’ of Bomber Command (over 50% of aircrew died on operations). But in the UK over the last fifteen years, an increasing number of air missions have been carried out remotely by drone.

The tasks these drones can carry out include targeted assassinations, bombings and intelligence-gathering, and the forces that deploy them claim to minimise the loss of life on both sides. These drones still have operators, who can be based thousands of miles away from the field of battle, but in future they may not need operators at all. What does operating drones mean for the mental health of the operators? What does it mean for the concept of bravery in battle? How does distance affect the chances of operations going wrong? What are the ethical challenges of unmanned warfare today? And how much harder will those challenges become in a future era of autonomous drones? Ultimately, how are the risks and realities of unmanned air power changing those that fight, those who command them, and those they target?

The transcript and downloadable versions of the lecture are available from the Gresham College website:

Gresham College has been giving free public lectures since 1597. This tradition continues today with all of our five or so public lectures a week being made available for free download from our website. There are currently over 2,000 lectures free to access or download from the website.



  1. Dick Bird on April 9, 2021 at 1:08 am

    the issues she’s talking about seem to be mainly about effects on morale. i think it’s important to focus on how such weapons are used, rather than on the nature of the weapons themselves. it would be absurd to me, to reject new technology with such potentials, based on what i’d call their misuse, and the morale effects that ensue. the real issue, to me, is what i see as a massive disconnect from reality, in the minds of those formulating our national military strategies, at the highest levels. that’s what leads to our endless wars without victory. these weapons enable such benighted strategists, but they’re only tools. given more realistic leadership, they would prove valuable

  2. Hugo Robins on April 9, 2021 at 1:43 am

    Speaker is Dr Sophy Antrobus. Many thanks to her, very absorbing.

  3. Brian Kirk on April 9, 2021 at 1:55 am

    Thx GRESHAM!

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