Traditional anti-aircraft systems and other mechanisms to disable them are insufficient and there is already talk of creating combat drones
MADRID, 3 Feb. (EUROPA PRESS) -
Drones, both military and commercial, have become a fundamental weapon in current conflicts given their increasingly lower cost and good results without having to put combatants in danger. First Ukraine, then Gaza and now the crisis in the Red Sea have exposed the urgent need to seek equally economical solutions to face this challenge.
The use of drones on the battlefield is not new, although for a long time the capability had been limited to major military powers, such as the United States or Israel, due to their high cost. However, in recent years, thanks to its use also for other purposes, mainly commercial and recreational, costs have become cheaper, democratizing its access.
Initially, these types of devices were used to collect intelligence information, such as enemy positions, through rudimentary cameras and radio systems, but their capabilities have evolved as technology has evolved. Now, military apparatus can launch precision attacks, such as the one carried out by the CIA in the summer of 2022 in which Al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri was allegedly killed in Kabul.
The qualitative leap has occurred in recent years, as the market for commercial drones has grown with devices at affordable prices and manageable using 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.
This happened, for example, during the terrorist attack perpetrated by Hamas against Israel on October 7. The Islamic Resistance Movement initially launched unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to destroy 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 tanks, as well as against soldiers and other troops, and sent 'swarms' of drones 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 a target and which in their case have been named Zuari, after a former drone pilot of the group called Mohamed Zuari.
Drones are also being one of the key weapons in the Yemeni Houthis' offensive against shipping in the Red Sea and in support of the Palestinians in Gaza. This insurgent group supported by Iran, which also supports Hamas, has used drones as well as missiles in its attacks against ships transiting through these waters, forcing large shipping companies to ignore the Bab el Mandeb Strait and opt to give all back to Africa.
However, neither Hamas nor the Houthis are being pioneers in this matter, although 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 Hezbollah, the Taliban, the Syrian rebel groups or pro-Iranian militias in Syria and Iraq also use them in their actions.
Without a doubt, the turning point has been Ukraine. kyiv not only managed to resist the first attack by Russian troops after the February 2022 invasion but also pushed Russia back, despite the fact that its military capabilities were inferior, thanks to the extensive use of drones in its 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.
The prolific use of drones by Ukraine 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 pressuring the enemy without having to place to 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 has been able 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 hover in the air until it finds the target it needs. reach.
In these three cases, the response to this threat has generally been the use of 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 explained by the retired lieutenant colonel. Paul Maxwell, director of the Army Cyber Institute at the US Military Academy.
"Hitting a very small and 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 take out a UAV that costs nothing is economically wasteful."
There is also the option, according to this expert, of using devices that use the electromagnetic spectrum and that 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 provide 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.
"What armies quickly need are small, cheap (and therefore disposable) platforms that can defend against the numerous commercial and recreational drones that shadow the battlefield," he emphasizes in his article, underlining the importance of these devices being equally economical given that regular forces cannot spend much against a "cheap and effective threat."
These combat drones should have "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 they can be used through smartphones and tablets so that 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 for ground units that require them, without reserving it only to traditional air superiority services. "The time has come for the development and deployment of aerial combat UAVs," he claims.