seth j. frantzman

Dr. Seth J. Frantzman is the author of After ISIS: America, Iran and the Struggle for the Middle East. This website is dedicated to coverage of drones and their use by militaries, new technological developments in the field and new tactics and strategies on the battlefield in the rapidly expanding realm of drones vs. counter-drone systems.

Frantzman was born in Maine and has covered the Middle East for fifteen years as a correspondent for The Jerusalem Post, a contributor to Defense News, The National Interest and other publications. He is a graduate of the University of Arizona and has a PhD from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He was previously an assistant professor at Al-Quds University.

After years covering Israel and the Israeli Palestinian conflict, including the 2009, 2012 and 2014 Gaza wars, Frantzman went on to cover the refugee crisis in Europe in 2015, the war on ISIS from the frontlines in Iraq, conflict in the Ukraine and security issues in the Gulf, Turkey, West Africa, Egypt, Jordan and other regions. Frantzman has appeared on BBC, CNN, FoxNews, and in media around the world.

Listen to Seth Frantzman discuss drone warfare with BC NewsRadio’s Steve Chase on May 29, 2020

Why a new book and website on drones and the future of their use?

Drones are everywhere. Every day brings news of new applications for drones and new threats. From search and rescue to border patrol, to duels in the skies of Syria and Libya. In January 2020, mysterious drone formations appeared in Colorado terrorizing farmers and leaving people fearful about what might come next. They might be lingering near nuclear power plants and pose a threat. In the Middle East, the US used a drone to kill Qasem Soleimani, a key Iranian commander. Drones are transforming the battlefield from Syria to Libya and Yemen.

I first saw military drones used by Israel in the 2014 war on the Gaza border. Later in Iraq I was in Mosul with the Iraqi Federal Police covering the war when ISIS used them frequently to target Iraqi forces. In Ukraine in 2018 I heard them again as Russian separatists operated them near the frontline as I was covering the Ukrainian armed forces. I covered Israel’s SkyLark and other drones over the years and saw them used by protesters and by law enforcement. As I covered war I noticed more and more how these machines were rapidly changing its face, not just for western militaries like the US, but also being used by Iran and terrorist groups, or in proxy wars such as Libya. There needed to be a place to tell this story of the pioneers and also the innovators countering drones and building the next generation.

For militaries and security agencies, the main users of drones, the UAV market is expanding as well. There were more than 20,000 military drones in use by 2020. Once the province of only a few hi-tech militaries like the US and Israel, drones are now being built in Turkey, China, Russia and smaller countries like Taiwan may be joining the military drone market. It’s big business too. $96 billion was spent on military drones in 2019. Militaries may soon be spending more on drones than tanks, much as navies transitioned away from giant vulnerable battleships to more agile ships. Terrorists are using them too, buying civilian drones and putting grenades and bombs on them.

Drones are inherently a futuristic topic, but also one that is not well understood. They are seen as otherworldly and their use possibly unethical because they conjure up images of evil machines dealing out death from above while unseen humans monitor the lives of others. Yet drone operators see themselves as pilots, even if they aren’t exactly Tom Cruise from Top Gun.

This website is dedicated to a book project on Drone Wars of the past and future set for publication in 2021. It will be a fast-moving narrative covering the history and present, the pioneers and terrorists, of drone warfare. Moving from the Israeli soldiers carrying their light-weight drones over hills to launch them over Lebanon, to the containers where American “strike cell” operators follow top terrorists, it provides an account of the people and the machines. It blends personal experience and interviews with operators, generals and insiders, from different countries, technologies and eras of the ever-expanding empire of drones we now live under. This is not an exhaustive history of drones, but a look at key technological vectors and riveting applications of drones. Each chapter examines how these unmanned aerial vehicles are being used in a new way. Themes include targeted assassinations, surveillance, terrorism and future uses. The book includes interviews with players from industries, activists, innovators, or those running various parts of the drone wars, for a sweeping narrative covering a large canvas.

The biggest focus is more on Israel and the US—the main pioneers of drones—but also reflects my own experiences encountering drones across the Middle East. The book looks at both the military objectives (surveillance and killing) but also on challenges linked to drones, such as making them smaller, faster or more capable; and spotlighting the  theorists who have posited that they could replace warplanes, or how they can be used in swarms. It is based on interviews with operators, the first commanders to deploy them, to those watching Turkish drones perform new airstrikes in Iraq, Syria and Libya; to air defense officials planning to fight off Iranian drone swarms.