Armed UAV’s and precision weapons are spreading like wildfire

I’ve commented before about the dangers to US and European forces posed by high-technology weapons proliferating around the world.  Terrorist movements now use anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles with virtual impunity (see, for example, Hezbollah – despite Israel trying to bomb every convoy that delivers such weapons to them, inevitably some get through).  So-called ‘rogue’ nations are striving to develop weapons that can target their enemies at a distance, some equipped with weapons of mass destruction.  (See, for example, North Korea.)

To make matters more complicated, many nations are now developing for themselves the technologies that the US has previously relied on to give it an edge.  Unmanned aerial vehicles equiped with laser- and GPS-guided bombs, and other cutting-edge equipment, are now commonplace.  To name but a few examples:

  •  Drones similar in capability to the US Predator and Reaper UAV’s have been developed in Israel, China, South Africa and several other nations.  More advanced drones are in development by multiple nations (see, for example, this joint European program).
  • The decades-old Hydra 70mm. rocket has been turned into a precision weapon by the development of guidance kits, which are being produced in several countries.  This weapon can be found all around the globe in huge quantities.  Now, by simply buying a guidance kit, any country can make it far more lethal.  What’s more, the proliferation of such small electronic devices is very hard to track, as they’re often listed simply as ‘electronics’ in international trade documentation – so one can’t be sure whether or not a potential enemy has them.
  • The US JDAM guided bomb kit has been copied and/or emulated by several countries, including Russia, China, South Africa, Abu Dhabi, India, Turkey and others.
  • The US Hellfire missile has been duplicated (and sometimes exceeded in performance) by other countries.  One example is South Africa’s Mokopa missile.  There are several more.

Many of these, and many other smart weapons, are available for sale to anyone with enough money and the right political connections.  Some countries will ask fewer questions than others, and are willing to assist nations and movements that share their theological and/or ideological perspective, whether or not such assistance is legal (or desirable to the rest of the world).

The latest example of this technological proliferation is Turkey’s launch of a Roketsan MAM-L miniaturized guided weapon from its indigenous Bayraktar TB2 UAV.  Here’s a video clip of the test.

Note that the Erdogan government in Turkey (which is notoriously corrupt) is Islamist in orientation.  That would suggest that weapons systems like the MAM-L are likely to be made available to countries and movements with a similar outlook, with few or no questions asked.  (Consider, for example, Turkey’s support for ISIL.  Think of the havoc that terrorist movement could wreak with UAV’s and/or ‘smart weapons’ at its disposal!)

US forces are going to have to learn to fight in a world where their enemies are increasingly likely to have the same precision targeting and attack capabilities as themselves.  That’s not going to be a pleasant experience for those on the receiving end.



  1. Hey now, what's with the defeatist thinking? (Kidding) We have women on submarines and in combat leadership positions now, as well as women in combat MOS's! How could we lose?
    *sound of head, thumping into desk, repeatedly*

  2. I don't worry about us troops. Drones against against a modern force won't do much at this time. That may change with technology…

    I worry much more about kamikaze type drones filled with explosives. I have been surprised nine has been used yet for assassinations by terrorists.

  3. This is a serious issue, and one that ISN'T being made public for obvious reasons… Counterbattery, if you will, to combat them is still in a serious state of disarray.

  4. "whether or not such assistance is legal "

    I would suggest that unless we are willing to be bound by "international" law and the ICC, we should not worry about "legal" in this context. Not that we should stand for this sort of behavior, but we should shut it down not because it is illegal, but because it is a hostile act against us and our allies. I believe that this is a much better and healthier attitude both for us and everyone else.

  5. This is very difficult to embargo, given modern technology. A camera chip, a controller chip (one from the old Nintendo Gameboy Advanced or better will do) along with a GPS chip, software and you have a cruise missile controller package. A UAV is cheap and easy, we have camera drones for sale. Upgrade the chassis and motors with small engines (RC plane equipment), load with explosives.

    It isn't rocket science, not any more.

  6. expanding on what Tweell said.

    A Nintendo Wii remote includes an IR camera with spot tracking capability. It's pretty trivial for any model aircraft buff with even a limited amount of programming capability to create a home-on-target guidence system.

    add a second drone/model aircraft that has a camera and IR laser on it to provide targeting, and you can drop a drone on target pretty precisely.

    It's not as easy to do at high speed (rocket or artillery shell) but high speed only matters some of the time.

    There isn't any military that is roaming around with anti-aircraft defences that are going to spot and shoot down things the size of large model aircraft.

  7. Meh.

    Terrorism doesn't work unless you claim responsibility for your attacks. A terrorist attack with a drone is tactically much like an attack with a suicide bomber or a strategically placed IED.

    America and Israel need to actually fight the war on terror rather than focusing on restraint and winning the hearts and minds of animals that have neither…

  8. In line with Glen Filthie above, it's about time we faced a fair and more even challenge. Then maybe we could actually be worried about something real, rather than the piddly things we do now. Not to mention, we currently don't really have any high-visibility enemies, other than terroristic civilians that bomb and shoot at us. But sending a coordinated and decently-armed army at us? We'd finally have something to actually fight. Our vast military supremacy over the last two decades has made us weak, or rather, forget what it's like to struggle, and facing enemies with similar technology will light a fire under our butts that I think is sorely needed.

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