Wargame of Drones: Remotely Piloted Aircraft and Crisis Escalation

43 Pages Posted: 15 Dec 2018 Last revised: 16 Sep 2020

See all articles by Erik Lin-Greenberg

Erik Lin-Greenberg

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Date Written: August 22, 2020


Existing scholarship suggests technologies—like drones—that reduce the costs of combat make decision-makers more willing to use force. I consider whether the same remote warfighting technologies that make conflict initiation more likely might also help limit conflict intensity. I argue that, when used as a substitute for manned assets, drones increase the frequency with which force is used, but can also help limit escalation during crises. I test this logic of remote-controlled restraint using "comparative wargames," in which national security professionals respond to the shootdown of a U.S. military aircraft. I vary otherwise identical scenarios by randomly informing participants that the downed aircraft is either a drone or a manned system. I complement the wargames with a survey experiment and case study. All three sources of evidence provide support for remote controlled restraint. The findings advance theories linking technology and conflict, and unpack the microfoundations of escalation.

Keywords: wargame, experimental wargaming, drones, escalation, crises

Suggested Citation

Lin-Greenberg, Erik, Wargame of Drones: Remotely Piloted Aircraft and Crisis Escalation (August 22, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3288988 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3288988

Erik Lin-Greenberg (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology ( email )

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