The Vertical Flight Society (VFS), which is the world’s oldest and largest technical society focused on improving the understanding of vertical flight technology, has recently released an extensive report on one-way attack drones, also known as loitering munitions. The report, titled “One-Way Attack Drones: Loitering Munitions of Past and Present,” highlights that the origins of these weapons are more intricate than previously thought, and the market for one-way attack (OWA) drones has expanded beyond expectations.
The research delves into the history of one-way attack drones, tracing their evolution from military programs in the early 1970s to the present day. During the 1970s and 1980s, advancements in fabrication materials and lightweight sensors led to the development of low-cost drones that targeted adversary radar sites. Over time, the military applications of one-way attack (OWA) drones expanded beyond the suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD) role. In the early 2000s, the emergence of the Switchblade drone provided the infantry with a portable loitering munition, while the proliferation of Iranian drones allowed non-state and increasingly, state actors to utilize low-cost drones for long-range precision strikes.
“The development of one-way attack drones formed a critical part of the transition from the era of jet-powered target drones to that of remotely pilot vehicles, which resulted in the burgeoning market for drones of all types that exists today,” said Dan Gettinger, VFS Director of Communications and Publications, and the author of the study. “Once thought of as designed for a specialized task, one-way attack drones are increasingly assuming a broader role on the battlefield.”