Weaponized “hobby” drones take a toll of Russian aircraft in Syria

Twice last August, and again in October, I mentioned that Islamist militants were ‘weaponizing’ hobby-type drones and using them as weapons in the Middle East, and that such drones would probably pose a threat in the US soon.  A spirited debate ensued in the comments sections of those posts, with some proclaiming loudly that this was technically impossible.  Unfortunately, no-one told the militants that:  so they’ve continued to rack up successes using their modified drones, most recently several Russian strike aircraft and two of their servicemen.

Following a deadly attack on Russia’s Khmeimim Air Base in Syria on December 31st, which killed at least two servicemen and damaged or destroyed aircraft based there, it now seems as if the base is coming under attack on a fairly regular basis according to reports.

Days before the deadly New Years Eve attack that we still know little about, on December 27th, another onslaught of artillery occurred. Two of the rockets were supposedly shot down by Pantsir-S1 point air defense systems while at least one other impacted outside the base.

Just hours ago, on January 6th, 2017, reports of another attack on the base began emerging, this one supposedly coming from weaponized drones.

Although these aren’t the first attacks on the base, three attacks in ten days seems like a significant uptick in enemy action for an installation that is supposedly situated in largely non-hostile territory. And these are only the attacks that have been more widely reported, some sources say there have been multiple weaponized drone attacks just in a single day.

. . .

Weaponized drones are especially attractive for this type of warfare because they can be built in large quantities clandestinely in an urban environment and they are a standoff weapon that allows the user to have a high chance of survivability after their employment. They also put high-value targets that are well defended against a ground infiltration within a single operator’s reach. Russia’s main base in Syria is clearly the juiciest of almost all targets imaginable for such hostile actors. If these factors are indeed at play, these attacks are likely to become even more frequent as time goes on.

There’s more at the link.

Photographs of damaged aircraft and downed drones have since emerged, offering visual confirmation of at least some jihadist successes.  Here’s just one example, greatly reduced in size.  Follow the preceding link for more information.

If anyone thinks such attacks aren’t inevitable on US shores, sooner rather than later, I have this bridge in Brooklyn, NYC I’d like to sell you.  Cash only, please, and in small bills.



  1. Didn't the Russians blow up a couple of Ukrainian ammo dumps in March and July of last year using drones and thermite grenades?

  2. In the coming conflict here, drones will be everywhere. A $300 drone can neutralize any number of military assault vehicles, ground or air… by eliminating their fuel supply. Blow up the fuel storage. Prevent fuel from reaching them.

    Just about 100% of our airfields, military bases and law enforcement centers are vulnerable in one way or another to drones. If you can't attack a military base directly, attack it's supply lines. They have to get fuel, food, electricity. etc., from somewhere, and in a 4G war, there's plenty of time and opportunity. And our law enforcement? 100% vulnerable everywhere.

    Even I could effectively neutralize an entire military supply convoy with a single drone. Hit the lead vehicle at any unprotected choke point. And if there were more than one of me, it could be total mayhem. Can't get explosives? OK. gasoline. Molotov cocktails dropped from the sky…

    We will be hit where we can't possibly defend effectively. For example, a few ounces of plastic – or old-fashioned dynamite – at the base of a completely vulnerable and unprotected powerline tower in the middle of nowhere (no guards no cameras, nothing) and BAM! No electricity for tens of thousands for weeks, maybe months. No available explosives? Just one dedicated lunatic with a hacksaw could bring down a tower.

    Our enemies are not stupid. They know our weak points as well – if not better – than we do.

    It's our own fault: We have let them in by the hundreds of thousands.

    It's our own fault: We have allowed those in our own nation who hate us to create an entire army of hate-filled useful idiots right in our midst. Those useful idiots, the majority being our own brainwashed citizens, will cause great damage and provide effective cover for those who wish to kill us all.

    It's our own fault: We have done nothing as our own government created a vast horde of welfare supported minorities, the cost of which has bankrupted our nation, while at the same time, generated within them a mindless hatred for all things white.

    It's our own fault… We sit on our asses allowing ourselves to be distracted by trivial and meaningless pastimes all the while spending little or no time minding the store.

    The Rambo movie was/is a textbook of tactics for our enemies. Just look what one man with a gun, a man who didn't give a shit about our rules, did to one idiot Sheriff and "His" town. Don't say "That was just Hollywood".

    Stock up on popcorn… you may need it to keep from starving.

  3. A drone has the potential to be a highly efficient delivery system.
    Their primary limitation is in payload capacity, necessitating the use of high explosives, not simply black powder or stumping dynamite, but rather military grade plastique or similar.
    I have every confidence that such are already under tight control and that the precursor components required to manufacture them are also being watched carefully.
    And as is also obvious, if a goose entering the intake can take out a jet engine, so can a drone, particularly at takeoff when the airplane is at its most vulnerable.

  4. Can't wait till your resident nay-sayer calls a 'fake' and says that this is rooshian propaganda.

    Looks like we, the more enlightened ones, were justly right. Unfortunately.

    Looks like we're back in the days of having large numbers of ground troops stationed around critical targets like airbases, with orders to shoot at anything.

    They aren't quiet (yet) so I have found them to be easy to detect and track. Hopefully our military will get its collective head together before this stuff starts impacting us.

  5. Unpossible! Read earlier comments: we were assured that this could never happen, even though I laid out half more dozen ways it could.

    Apparently, terrorists weren't reading the Naysayers' Handbook, and went ahead and did exactly what we suggested: weaponized their drones.

    It's a miracle…

  6. Yeah, Aesop. Just where the hell would the rest of us walking dildos be without geniuses like you and Andrew to keep us all straightened out is far and away above my pay grade.

    While we, the Great Unwashed wait for the government to come up with a viable solution, I suggest those of us who can still yell 'pull' and hit something find a decent sporting clays or five stand range and sharpen up our skills. Anyone breaking 80+ out of 100 at sporting clays could make some decent money doing guard duty with their favorite 12 gauge out at the airport.

    I recommend an auto-loader with an extra full choke, red hot loads and number four shot. Pull!

  7. Huh, They're doing EXACTLY what I earlier was the most viable attacks on aircraft: hit them whule they're parked on the ground and at least damage them. It's not nearly so spectacular as bringing down an airliner in flight, but a mission kill is pretty good. I don't recall anybody arguing that effective drone attacks were impossible, just that engaging aircraft _in flight_ with hobbyist drones is a long, long shot, indeed.

  8. Larry,
    You might want to read Peter's linked earlier posts.
    We were assured by at least one poster repeatedly there was no way for a hobby drone to lift a viable payload. Also promised was an expose of that assertion, which, some months later, is still MIA. The terrorists apparently didn't get the memo either.

    And Mad Jack, I leave you to your own self-applied appellation, but I'm wondering how you imagine your shotgunning skills will suffice for an object coming in at 500' AGL. Let alone if someone decides to have a go with them after dark.

    But maybe you're just a sporting clays night-vision ninja sniper like that; IDK.

    If you were one of those certain that it couldn't happen, laying low might be a better defense now, if not simply acknowledging you were wrong earlier.
    If you weren't, then your inappropriate raging butthurt isn't helping your presentation skills. But your distemper is noted. How does that work for you in real life?

    Just curious.

  9. I suppose we'll soon be amazed at the revelation that something called swept or barrage jamming will soon be used to blanket the frequencies used by drones and that EW scanners will sweep the ether around military installations and jam the hell out of any radio frequencies found operating around it. It's electronic warfare time!

  10. I think we can somewhat reconcile Aesop's and Glen's positions. Without getting into the debate of whether some commercial off-the-shelf drone can lift a grenade or not: Off-the-shelf drones do not have a great lifting capability. Of course not, manufacturers built them price-efficient after all.

    But one of the beauties of being a terrorist organisation is standardising equipment and build plans. Replacing cheap built-in engines with better ones from eBay is easy if someone else goes through the trouble of figuring out a replacement that fits your engine mounts.

    Even building a drone from scratch is simple if someone gives you the instructions and part numbers.

    It is similar to building timers for bombs: You need to be quite knowledgeable in electronics to figure how to build one from scratch. But for the CASIO F91W, there's a simple manual that someone already figured out and distributed. That's why so many terrorists had them and why it became iconic.

    Personally, I find this to be the most relevant influence of the internet on terrorism: It has become much easier to inform all members of a terrorist organisation and the get them on the same level of technical ability.

    And now please excuse me. I have to convince my shooting club that night-vision aided clay pigeon shooting is as awesome as it sounds.

  11. Aesop, I was THERE on those previous posts, which were about using hobbyist drones to attack and destroy AIRBORNE targets, which is a Very Different Matter. Perhaps YOU need to go re-read those posts and the comments. I EXPLICITLY said that given the very limited speed (what, 20-30 mph MAX?), payload, and range restrictions of hobbyist drones, attacking parked aircraft would be the most effective attack vector. Though if you wanted to shut down a major airport, I can think of other single-point failures just waiting for the right kind of pressure to be applied. ATL, anyone? Ones that probably wouldn't affect a competent and prepared military base for more than a few hours, at most. But peacetime bases caught unawares? Who knows? Might be days, just like commercial airports. So you can cease your crowing over imaginary victories over arguments you seem to be ignorant of. That's just gauche. Seriously.

  12. Fake news.

    Look at the damage on that fighter plane. You want to tell me that a hit by a plastic hobby drone is gonna do damage like that? Pull my other finger, Pete. That bird was hit my anti-aircraft ordnance or I will eat my hat! I am seeing a lot of 'stock photos' in your articles that are about as objective as the media coverage of Donald Trump.

    Sure if they get into an engine – things will get interesting. The tactics of setting up to do something like that are nearly impossible and extremely risky. I did the experiment on my blog; my bigger, more powerful scratch built drone could not lift a weight equivalent to your garden variety hand grenade.

    The drone in the pic MIGHT – it's a smidge bigger than my home made Crapcopter.

    The tactical threat posed by hobby drones is going to be, by far, their ability to spy on enemy movements and possibly tertiary damage where a drone might be flown into a jet engine.

    Those of you wishing to gobble in fright about something you don't know about is fine by me – the rest of you are heartily encouraged to inform and educate yourselves.

  13. Sorry, Larry, you seem to have missed all the discussion that was about no such AIRBORNE targets, but rather about using drones against static ground targets.
    Less snark, and more historical fact, please.

    For Glen, who can't believe his lying eyes, and who can't believe a drone did all that contrary to the articles after assuring us that it was, indeed, unpossible for a COTS drone to lift a pound of payload, you might have noted the RPG warhead in the included photo. When last I looked, MiGs and Sukhois aren't built to the sturdiness of even T-62s, so I'd presume such a warhead would be well capable of doing exactly the damage in the photo to an aluminum tail surface, no matter how incredible such simple physics and battle damage seems to you. I'm guessing you're less experienced in IEDs than you are in drone capabilities, but Hadji's minions seem to have aced both classes despite your assertions. Seriously man, go salt and butter your hat, and get cracking on it. You missed this bus, and then stepped in front of it.

    And for those that think EW will be a thing, it has severe limitations: it's already long since been noted that drones can be chip-programmed to go to precise pre-programmed GPS co-ordinates, defeating all attempts to EW them out of the sky (unless someone wants to degrade GPS itself and risk crashing their own planes the old-fashioned way).

    And if you do that, you've given terrorists a kill of the entire GPS system instead of sacrificing your other sites, for his cost of about USD$300.

    Well played.

    Then Hadji just goes back to mortaring your target sites using buried tubes and simple ballistics from the same distance as drone attacks, which has been the height of PLO and IRA technology going back to only about 1968.

    Offense/defense is an endless cycle, and offense always has the initiative.

  14. @Aesop,
    1) If you don't want snark, don't start throwing it yourself like you did in your very first comment in this post. Capiche?

    2) This post by Peter that he himself linked in this post was all about airborne targets, especially airliners.

    3) The post also linked by Peter was also specifically about airborne airliners.

    The 3rd post Peter linked was not, it was about weaponized drones in general. So please don't snark at me about historical facts when you can't even be bothered to double-check the provided links to make sure your memory is accurate. It's not, and that's easily verifiable by anyone who can click on a link and read. Please be have more historical facts instead of emotional snark.

  15. Larry, you get half-credit; I offered one brief comment and no opinion in the two earlier posts regarding hitting aircraft in flight, and I share your suspicion that such would be straining capabilities for COTS drones.
    That seems to be a dog whistle you're still swinging at, even though it was no part of the comments to the third post, where exactly as I noted, Glen assured us, based on his global drone expertise, that what had already happened before he typed his response in October was unpossible, and would continue to be so.

    You did not participate in that latter discussion that I can see, and possibly didn't even read that post (IDK), also exactly as I suggested.
    Which was why I suggested you go back and look at the actual discussion yourself. That was a serious suggestion to you, not snark.

    My comments regarding the opinions of the thrice-wrong Drone King, OTOH…

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