Public discussion has raised significant fears over armed drone swarms being used in a manner like weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). However, should they be considered WMDs? The first half of the article explores the question of comparing drone swarms to various conceptions of WMD. Overall, it finds that a subset of drone swarms, armed fully autonomous drone swarms (AFADS), are WMD.
The second half examines the potential of drone swarms to serve in traditional WMD roles. Although drone swarms could be effective mass casualty weapons, they are likely to be a poor strategic deterrent. Drone swarms could be a useful anti-access/area-denial or assassination weapon in some contexts. The study has broad conceptual, legal, and policy implications. If drone swarms are WMD, then various international treaties apply, their use may justify military intervention in conflict, and new nonproliferation treaties should be developed.