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Swarms of Mass Destruction: Are Drone Swarms Weapons of Mass Destruction?

Swarms of Mass Destruction: Are Drone Swarms Weapons of Mass Destruction?

Friday, February 19, 2021
11:00am - 12:00pm


On Friday, February 19 at 11:00 a.m. ET, WMD Warfare and Drone Swarms Analyst Zachary Kallenborn provided a virtual talk on “Swarms of Mass Destruction: Are Drone Swarms Weapons of Mass Destruction?” A recording of the event can be viewed at this link. If you have any questions, please email the START events team at start-events@umd.edu.

From the United States to China and Spain, numerous states are developing drone swarms. The technology has the potential to become a new weapon of destruction akin to chemical weapons, non-contagious biological weapons, and potentially low-yield nuclear weapons. Armed, fully autonomous drone swarms can bypass any arbitrary threshold for "mass destruction" and the limits of autonomous decision-making coupled with the complexity of swarms means the weapons cannot effectively discriminate between civilian and military targets. In considering traditional WMD roles, drone swarms could be effective mass casualty weapons, but are not likely to be effective strategic deterrents. Drone swarms could be useful anti-access/ area-denial and assassination weapons, depending on context.

Zachary Kallenborn is a Research Affiliate with the Unconventional Weapons and Technology Division of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command "Mad Scientist," and Senior Consultant at ABS Group.  His work has been published in a wide range of peer-reviewed, trade, and popular outlets, including Foreign Policy, Slate, War on the Rocks, and the Nonproliferation Review. Journalists have written about and shared that research in Forbes, Popular Mechanics, Yahoo News!, the National Interest, and MSN.

All views expressed here are Kallenborn’s own and do not represent those of any current or former employers, funders, or affiliates.