I have a new piece out at War on the Rocks, titled The Dubious Prospects for Cargo-Delivery Drones in Ukraine. It draws on my 2014-2015 effort to develop a siege-breaking capability for Syria.
This was a tricky piece to write. As an innovator, I believe few things are impossible and I always want to encourage people who try hard things. I also earnestly want to see this paradigm realized. At the same time, two years in the trenches taught me just how hard the problem set is. If we want to build a capability like this, we need to be clear-eyed about the challenges that must be overcome. We must also invest properly in the requisite capabilities and organizational capacity.
I hope this piece will drive some healthy conversation and lead to much-needed investments in last-mile battlefield logistics.
Coincidentally, Walmart announced yesterday a significant expansion of its experimental drone delivery service. The timing meant that I wasn’t able to comment on this development in my article. However, I think it reinforces my core message: that developing a scalable drone delivery paradigm requires tremendous organizational capacity and expertise. Walmart has been building this capability up over years, in partnership with companies experienced in drone delivery. They originally started in a single small town, use certified human pilots, only deliver to locations within 1.5 miles of participating stores, and require control towers to maintain visual line of sight with their drones. These are promising developments, but a model like this can’t easily be replicated from scratch in a warzone like Ukraine.