Drones in warfare: Weapons have evolved, but thirst for war remains

This picture taken from southern Israel shows an Israeli military drone flying over the Gaza Strip on March 14, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas movement. Picture: JACK GUEZ / AFP)

This picture taken from southern Israel shows an Israeli military drone flying over the Gaza Strip on March 14, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas movement. Picture: JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Published Mar 17, 2024


If you browse through the news on any channel in just about any country around the globe, you are likely to watch or hear about some form of conflict or war happening, either in the Americas, Europe, Africa or Asia.

But with technology having developed substantially over recent decades, the warfare practises used in the regions have changed over time, with drones now at the vanguard of many defence lines.

Mobile, agile, nimble, accurate and highly lethal, the military- grade drones or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAVs) available today offer the military the added advantage of not having to sacrifice lives while in battle.

While technology has evolved far beyond what soldiers on the frontlines of the French invasion of Russia in 1812 would have thought possible, the thirst for war still remains the same.

Retired South African National Defence Force (SANDF) Colonel Pat Acutt said his family has seen their fair share of war and weapons and have watched mounted cavalries develop over the years until they were rendered useless by the rise of technology.

“I remember some of the early World War I weapons that were used, some of which is still deployed to the India army,” Acutt said.

“When mounted rifles and mounted guns came in, it was kind of a revolution because the older weapons were pushed out and we started using new guns and bullets.

“But now even those weapons are considered out of date because we have these drones flying around.

“It is both amazing and scary when you think about it, because we went from shooting each other on the battlefield and now someone with a drone in Europe can kill you all the way here in South Africa if they have a drone,” Acutt said.

News outlet AFP has catalogued the use of drones in conflicts between Israel and Palestine as well as Ukraine and Russia, with the unmanned aerial vehicles being used to target key infrastructure points like oil depots.

Ukrainian authorities said on Friday two people were killed in an overnight Russian drone strike on the central region of Vinnytsia, AFP reported.

In protest of the Israel-Palestine war, Yemen’s Houthi rebels have also employed the use of aerial technology to fight against the West.

But the United States and its allies have technology able to outwit the Iran-backed rebels and have shot down 28 drones in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden on Saturday, AFP reported.

In the Middle-East, Hezbollah on Wednesday held a funeral in southern Lebanon for two of its fighters and a woman, all members of the same family, who were killed in an Israeli strike the day before.

An AFP photographer saw hundreds of people turning up for the funeral in Hula, near the border with Israel that has seen deadly exchanges of fire between Hezbollah and Israeli forces since the start of the Gaza war.

Mike Bolhuis from Specialised Security Services, a private investigation firm, has seen his fair share of weapons throughout his career, and believes that weapons can either be used for good or bad.

Bolhuis also utilises drones for conducting surveillance and other security measures, but never to harm others.

“I think it's important to acknowledge that not everyone that has a weapon is out to kill someone,” he said.

“If you think back to how early cavemen hunted, they first went from rocks to sharpening those rocks and making spears and then ended up with the bow and arrow. We have always been weaponised, either for defence or attack,” Bolhuis said.

“These weapons were to survive and to claim territory or even reclaim territory. Regardless of how cool the technology may be, humans have always tried to outwit their enemies and that is how we see people today comparing the size of their bombs and guns and currently we are using drones,” he said.

“If we take into account how drones are being used currently, it is sad to know that lives are taken. But that is always the case with humans, one person can use something for good, while another can use that same thing to do something bad.”

While Muslims across the world observe the holy month of Ramadan, Gazans trapped under Israeli fire, who are hell-bent on ridding the world of Islamic-Jihadist, must endure constant attacks from above.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s troops have exercised their use of advanced drone technology, so too have the Hamas troops.

Since Hamas fired the first shot on October 7, 2022, InfiniDome, a start-up based in Caesarea, north of Tel Aviv, have been working around the clock to prevent the Israeli army's mini-drones from being intercepted by cheap and simple jamming in Gaza, AFP reported.

While Israel continues to use larger UAVs to observe the besieged Palestinian territory -- with Artificial Intelligence suggesting targets to soldiers on the ground -- its troops have also been supplied with mini surveillance drones.

These fly at very low altitude and are capable of entering buildings and tunnels to determine whether they are safe for soldiers.

But drones that use GPS are easy to jam when flying close to the ground, which is what Hamas fighters have been doing to Israeli UAV’s.

Chief executive of Infinidome, Omer Sharar and the company's chief technical officer worked together with the Israeli Defence Forces.

“Both of us got into the company on Saturday (October 7) and we started doing final testing and packing up GPSdome2 and we started distributing them,” Sharar was quoted saying.