Combined Arms Warfare and Unmanned Aircraft Systems

A New Era of Strategic Competition

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Unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) have played an important role in warfare over the past two decades, including to conduct counterterrorism operations. But there has been a growing debate about their utility for competition and interstate war. To better understand the utility of UASs, this report adopts a comparative case study approach and examines the Nagorno-Karabakh war in 2020, Ukraine war in 2022, and Northern Edge-21 exercise in the Indo-Pacific in 2021. These cases demonstrate that UASs have been increasingly integrated into combined arms warfare, a major change from the past. In addition, UASs are likely to play an increasingly important role in several types of missions as part of strategic competition and warfare with such countries as China and Russia, including early warning, domain awareness, targeting for standoff attacks, strike, electronic warfare, and information operations.

This report is made possible by general support to CSIS and support from General Atomics.



Seth G. Jones
Senior Vice President; Harold Brown Chair; and Director, International Security Program
Jake Harrington

Jake Harrington

Former Intelligence Fellow, International Security Program

Christopher K. Reid

Matthew Strohmeyer