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.”

According to the report, the market for one-way attack drones is experiencing a significant surge, with as many new aircraft models introduced in the past two years as in the previous five decades combined. The study relies on a comprehensive database of over 200 types of one-way attack drones and reveals that more than 120 entities across 30 countries are currently involved in developing, producing, or have previously produced these weapons. The market for vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) one-way attack drones is rapidly emerging, accounting for over one-fourth of all OWA drone models. This trend towards lightweight, hand-carried models is becoming increasingly popular.

The ramifications of this transformation are apparent in the multitude of ongoing military research and acquisition programs worldwide. The increased adoption of one-way attack drones in terms of numbers and variety has the potential to alter force structures, training, and operations. Recent armed conflicts, such as those in Ukraine and Nagorno-Karabakh, have highlighted the vulnerabilities of current air defenses, emphasizing the dominance of drones, including one-way attack drones. For crewed rotorcraft, one-way attack drones offer the prospect of improving the lethality and survivability of Future Vertical Lift platforms.

The VFS report “One-Way Attack Drones: Loitering Munitions of Past and Present” can be downloaded by the public for free through the month of May at, after which it will be available for purchase from the VFS Vertical Flight Library at, along with the dataset of aircraft on which the analysis is based.

Founded as the American Helicopter Society in 1943, the Vertical Flight Society is the global non-profit society for engineers, scientists and others working on vertical flight technology, including helicopters, VTOL drones and electric VTOL aircraft. For more than 80 years, the Society has led technical, safety, advocacy and other important initiatives, and has been the primary forum for interchange of information on vertical flight technology. Information on VFS drone safety initiatives is found at

Sign up for a free C-UAS Hub Membership to bookmark your favorite content and receive the weekly newsletter and important industry updates!