Emulating underdogs: Tactical drones in the Russia-Ukraine war

Kerry Chávez, Ori Swed

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Early studies on state drone proliferation argued that it would be temperate, constrained by high financial, technical, and infrastructural requisites and fielded according to the logic of scarce, exquisite airpower. While this rationale has held for limited conflicts, the high attrition and massive demand of a total war compelled strong standing armies to follow a different model of adoption: emulating weaker violent nonstate actors leveraging low-cost commercial platforms. The Russia-Ukraine war has captured this trend. Despite earlier expectations of armies maintaining advanced airpower for strategic ends, underdog Ukraine, followed by Russia have developed heavy reliance on commercial drone technologies for tactical aims. Framing this in military and battlefield innovation literature and drawing on studies on commercial drone use among violent nonstate actors, we argue that this constitutes a new trajectory involving mixed military arsenals enhanced with dual-use commercial platforms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)592-605
Number of pages14
JournalContemporary Security Policy
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2023


  • Drones
  • interstate conflict
  • military innovation
  • modern warfare
  • unmanned aerial vehicles


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