Yesterday’s post about a jihadist drone attack on a Russian base in Syria has produced just as much handwavium as last years’ articles on the same subject. There are those who simply, flatly refuse to believe that small hobbyist UAV’s can pose a threat. There are others – including myself – who point out that they have already become a threat, with multiple attacks in Ukraine, Syria and Iraq to their credit.
I’ve been following the unfolding of the story about the drone attacks on Russians in Syria. Last night the Telegraph in London had this to say about another, even larger one.
Thirteen attack drones were launched against the Khmeimim air base and a naval facility in the city of Tartus on Syria’s western coast, the Russian defence ministry said.
Russian forces shot down seven of the drones with anti-aircraft missiles while the other six were hacked by a cyberware unit and taken under Russian control, the ministry said. No damage or casualties at the two military bases were reported.
The attack appears to be the largest example to date of insurgents using a mass of primitive drones in combat and Russia said it had never before faced such an attack.
“It was the first time when terrorists applied a massed drone aircraft attack launched at a range of more than 50 km using modern GPS guidance systems,” a defence ministry spokesman said.
Defence experts have long predicted that drones will become an increasingly common feature of the modern battlefield, employed by both sophisticated nation state militaries and by low-tech rebel groups.
Three of the drones were recovered by Russian forces, the ministry said, and photographs showed a small aircraft made partly of wood and held together with masking tape. Another picture showed a row of small explosive.
There’s more at the link, including photographs.
This attack does not appear to have succeeded: but it’s a new and dangerous landmark. Thirteen drones, bigger than hobbyist size (images appear to show home-made aircraft types), launched at least 30 miles away from the target (so that the operators could get away cleanly before they could be targeted), and equipped with GPS so that they were at least semi-autonomous, and could reach their target without a human operator constantly guiding them. The next step will be to make them fully autonomous, perhaps with some sort of heat-seeking target sensor, to enable them to go to a position, then seek out anything giving off heat (a stove chimney, a vehicle engine, an aircraft, whatever) and automatically home in on it.
The fact that all thirteen attacking drones were disabled or destroyed in this attack speaks well of Russian defenses. I’m not sure the USA would have been able to do as well, since we don’t have sophisticated mobile point-defense missile and gun systems like the Russians do. There’s also the issue that such attacks can be launched from anywhere, against anywhere. If jihadists were to do so inside the USA, or from a cargo ship sailing in international waters, they could home on any suitable target (say, a coastal city stadium housing a football or baseball game, or a military base such as a port or airfield, or a row of tanks at a refinery containing petroleum products) and do their thing with no opposition to stop them at all.
Those who decry that as being a pipe dream, a ridiculous shibboleth, are ignoring reality. They’re not confined to the Middle East. Ukraine lost two ammunition dumps to such drone attacks last year. Here’s the first attack, at Balakliya in July.
And here’s the second attack, at Vinnytsya in September.
If it can happen to them, it can – and probably will – happen to us. It’s just a matter of time. This genie is well and truly out of the bottle.