Experts: Drones will surpass IEDs as threats in future conflicts

For the majority of this century, one of the biggest threats facing American troops and other allied forces in low-tech conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have been improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.

So pervasive are IED threats that entire units — usually engineer units — have been dedicated to finding and clearing them from roadways. The devices are responsible for about two-thirds of U.S. and coalition deaths in both theaters.

The threat was so pervasive it led to the Pentagon’s creation of the Joint Improvised-Threat Defeat Organization. The Pentagon spent about $45 billion acquiring mine-resistant armored vehicles and nearly $20 billion more on other measures to detect and neutralize IEDs.

But experts say there is a new asymmetrical threat emerging to conventional forces that will surpass the threat of IEDs in the near future: Armed drones, and in many ways, they will challenge the notion of air superiority.

Will peer and competitor militaries have been steadily increasing their drone capabilities, non-state actors have been acquiring and adapting off-the-shelf drone technology to the battlefield, and with deadly effect.

ISIS pioneered the use of small, commercially available drones to bomb Iraqi forces. For the first time, nonstate adversaries will have air power. Equipped with cameras, drones provide terrorists and insurgents with critical, real-time ISR information. Loaded with just a few pounds of explosives, drones become precision-guided weapons. Deployed on ships, drones would provide our adversaries with a low-cost “aircraft carrier.” They could even be employed for targeted assassinations. In 2013, a Pirate Party activist dropped a 20-inch drone at the feet of German Chancellor Angela Merkel as she attended a political rally.

Small, low-flying, quiet drones will be much more difficult to detect and defeat. Swarms of drones would be deadly, devastating and lethal. [source]

Analysis: Fortunately, military planners are aware of the rising threat posed by drones. Israel, for instance, is developing an anti-drone system called Red Hawk 2 Drone Defender, capable of finding and non-destructively countering UAVs out to 5 km. It was recently deployed by the Thai military to protect the funeral procession of the late king. And the U.S. military has recently deployed a similar system to protect air bases.

The drone threat is already real, as are the countermeasures. In recent weeks, Russian forces in Syria used electronic warfare countermeasures to thwart a drone swarm attack against an airbase and naval base. 

As anti-drone systems come online, expect non-state actors and others to discover ways to defeat the countermeasures. — JD

Jon E. Dougherty is a political, foreign policy and national security analyst and reporter with nearly 30 years of experience in both fields. A U.S. Army veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, he holds BA in Political Science from Ashford University and an MA in National Security Studies/Intelligence Analysis from American Military University.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Name *