A drone is simply a smartphone with wings, and the wings are the cheap part

Monday, November 6th, 2023

Swarm Troopers by David HamblingWhen it became clear that drones were playing a significant role in Ukraine, I decided to finally catch up on the topic, and I noticed that David Hambling, whose articles seemed reasonable and well written, had written a book on the topic back in 2013, Swarm Troopers: How small drones will conquer the world.

One of the first points he makes in the book is that the Pentagon used to always be 20 years ahead of the private sector:

Smartphone sales have accelerated from zero in 2006 to over a billion smartphones shipped in 2013.


Billions of dollars are spent annually on advancing technology just for small electronic devices.


These days soldiers are less likely to be awestruck at the gadgetry they are issued than shocked by how clunky it is compared to the sleek lightweight devices they have at home.


Selling to the military means extensive testing and certification, with the related delays and costs. Add to this a military bureaucracy that can take years to agree on the specification it wants in the first place, overseen by a political leadership that may cancel, delay, or divert any project depending on the shifting sands of expediency, and you have a recipe for a long time between generations.

Each generation of electronics roughly translates to a doubling of processing power, memory, pixels, or other relevant metrics. If a commercial product goes through a generation every two years, and the military cycle takes six years per generation, then in twelve years the military product goes from being four times as powerful as the competition to a quarter as powerful.


A drone is simply a smartphone with wings, and the wings are the cheap part.

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