Imagine swarms of undersea, surface, and aerial drones hunting submarines hidden in the vastness of the ocean. Or imagine hundreds of airborne drones darting through New York City, seeking out targets and dosing them with nerve agent.
These imaginary scenarios are not yet reality, but they are quickly becoming so.
Drone swarm technology could have a significant impact on every area of military competition, from enhancing supply chains to delivering nuclear bombs. This article examines the implications for chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) weapons. Some applications are already possible, while others are futuristic, but plausible. Our broader study in the Nonproliferation Review on the applications of drone swarms to CBRN weapons offers additional analysis.
Drone swarms offer significant improvements to both nuclear offense, the ability to successfully deliver a warhead to a target, and defense, the ability to prevent successful delivery and mitigate consequences. When it comes to chemical and biological weapons, drone swarms can improve both defense and offense, but appear to strongly favor offense by addressing key challenges to delivery. In the future, this could weaken the norms against these weapons and encourage proliferation. U.S. national security agencies should act to combat the threat and take advantage of the opportunities this new technology offers for CBRN weapons.
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