The dronesboth military and commercial, became a fundamental weapon in current conflicts given its increasingly lower cost and its good results without having to put combatants in danger. Ukraine first, Loop then and now the crisis in the Red Sea have exposed the pressing need to find equally economical solutions to face this challenge.
The use of drones on the battlefield is not new, although for a long time the capacity had been limited to major military powers, such as the United States or Israel, due to its high cost. However, in recent years, thanks to its use also for other purposes, mainly commercial and recreational, Costs have become cheaper, democratizing access.
Initiallythis type of devices were used for collect intelligence information, such as enemy positions, through rudimentary cameras and radio systems, but their capabilities have evolved as technology has. Now, military devices can launch precision attackslike the one carried out by the CIA in the summer of 2022 in which the leader of Al Qaeda, Ayman al Zawahiriin Kabul.
The qualitative leap occurred in recent years, as it was growing the commercial drone market with devices at affordable prices and manageable with a simple mobile phone. As a consequence, small insurgent groups that do not have multimillion-dollar budgets like those of states have access to these drones, which can be used as guided missiles to carry out attacks.
Hamas and Houthi attacks
This happened, for example, during the terrorist attack perpetrated by Hamas against Israel last October 7th. The terrorist group initially launched unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVfor its acronym in English) for destroy the observation towers and cameras on the Gaza border and also disrupt communications, thus leaving Israel ‘blind’.
Likewise, the terrorist group also used drones to launch ammunition against tanksas well as against soldiers and other troops, and sent drone ‘swarms’ against ships and energy infrastructure. Added to this were thousands of rockets and the so-called ‘suicide drones’armed aerial vehicles capable of wandering until they locate an objective and which in their case have been named Zuariby a former drone pilot for the group named Mohamed Zuari.
Drones are also being one of the key weapons in Yemeni Houthi offensive against shipping in the Red Sea and in support of the Palestinians of Gaza. This insurgent group supported by Iranwhich also supports Hamashas used drones as well as missiles in its attacks against ships transiting through these waters, forcing large shipping companies to ignore the Strait of Bab el Mandeb and choose to go all the way around Africa.
Nevertheless, Neither Hamas nor the Houthis are being pioneers in this matteralthough they may have perfected their capabilities, but other terrorist and insurgent groups, from the Islamic State to Al Qaeda through the Lebanese Shiite militia party Hezbollahthe talibanSyrian rebel groups or pro-Iran militias in Syria and Iraq They also use them in their actions.
Keys to stopping Russia in Ukraine
Definitely, Ukraine has represented the turning point. kyiv not only managed to resist the first attack by Russian troops after the February 2022 invasion but push back Russiadespite the fact that its military capabilities were inferior, thanks to the extensive use of drones in their response. Although both Moscow and kyiv had a good arsenal of UAVs, which have greater range and precision but are also much more expensive, It has been commercial drones that have made the difference.
He prolific use of drones by Ukraine It has meant a real change since combatants can observe the positions and movements of Russian troops and improve the definition of objectives to attack with conventional weapons, in addition to harassing and putting pressure on the enemy without having to put troops in danger. The use of commercial drones for these activities has become so common that the Ukrainian Army would lose about 10,000 of these devices per month.
However, although Russia was initially taken by surprise by this new threat, it knew how to adapt its strategy and incorporate new UAVs into its arsenal. Thus, it has developed the ‘Orlan-10′a spy drone that is responsible for collecting information on the situation on the ground, and the ‘Lancet’an attack drone with the ability to loiter in the air until it finds the target to hit.
Anti-aircraft systems, very expensive
In these three cases, The response to this threat has generally been to resort to traditional anti-aircraft systems or surface-to-air missiles, But although they may be effective in some cases, they are not the ideal solution, as the retired lieutenant colonel explains. Paul Maxwelldirector of the Army Cyber Institute at the US Military Academy.
“Hitting a very small, fast target with relatively large caliber projectiles is a challenge,” Maxwell acknowledges in a recent article published by the Institute of Modern Warfare. At the same time, “spending many thousands, if not millions, of dollars on each missile to eliminate a UAV that costs nothing is economically wasteful.”
There is also the option, according to this expert, of use devices that use the electromagnetic spectrum and they can range from jamming systems (GPS denial, communication link denial) to directed energy weapons such as lasers or microwaves. The problem in this case, he points out, is that these mechanisms can also interfere with one’s own systems and attract the attention of enemy artillery once detected.
In both cases, according to Lieutenant Colonel Maxwell, “there are not enough systems to offer adequate protection against UAV swarms”. For this reason, this military expert defends that just as airplanes evolved from reconnaissance work to becoming another weapon in combat with the development of fighters, now drones must evolve and “combat UAVs” must be created.
Combat drones are needed
“What armies need quickly are small, cheap platforms (and therefore disposable) that can defend against the numerous commercial and recreational drones “that cast a shadow over the battlefield,” he emphasizes in his article, highlighting the importance of these devices being equally economical given that regular forces cannot spend much in the face of a “cheap and effective threat.”
These combat drones should have a “significant autonomy” that allows them to fly patterns without the need for user intervention, detect threats and calculate interception routes, as well as the ability to cooperate with other similar devices. Maxwell highlights the advantage that the target to be combated is also an unmanned device, ethical issues are simplified.
Likewise, he maintains that it is important that use via smartphone and tablets with a view to ensuring that the soldiers who have to use them on the battlefield do not require weeks of training for the use of these systems, and that they are available to the ground units that require them, without reserving it only to the traditional air superiority services. . “The time has come for the development and deployment of air combat UAVs”he claims.
(with information from Europa Press)