Drone Warfare… What is to be done?

Soldiers assigned to 10th Special Forces Group’s (Airborne) Resource Management Staff (S8) host a UAV capabilities display at the group headquarters area on August 7, 2020. The purpose of this display was to show 10th Group their in-house drone capabilities and their applications, especially in the battlefield and the effects drones can bring to a team.

Note: This is a Twitter thread by Trent Telenko. Although he first published these comments last November, he felt it necessary to refer to this thread again in the last few days. I share his alarm. In my opinion, we are far behind both Ukraine and Russia in this field.

The simultaneous Ukraine fielding of new jammers of Russian FPV drones (below) and new longer ranged, cheap, EW hardened FPV’s with a ~30 km range operating in the same electromagnetic battlespace over Krynky to cover ferry operations is a demonstration of its EW mastery.

On November 5, 300 Russian FPV drones were landed or destroyed by Ukrainian forces. Quote from an AFU Marine officer about the situation on the left bank of Kherson: The AFU is less interested in real estate than it is in destroying the enemies logistics and ability to fight

Ukraine fielded a number of powerful river mobile drone jammers while at the same time deploying slightly larger FPV drones with different radio operating frequencies that the jammers don’t cover. What Ukraine did here was what the US manual JP 3-51, Joint Doctrine for Electronic Warfare, calls “Frequency Deconfliction.”** Or the AFU are simply opening windows in time and space where their jammers don’t affect Ukrainian FPV, or grenade dropping drones, frequencies.

Ukraine’s coordination of it’s “Talkers” (jamming community), it’s “Listeners” (Signals intercept community), it’s combat arms and it’s military procurement organizations to deliver what is looking like battle winning performance to cross the Dnipro is something the US Military would be very hard pressed to duplicate. Particularly given the US Army’s complete organizational annihilation of its electronic warfare jamming community, its ‘talkers.’ in the 2000’s.

The lack of ‘talkers’ with the tools to exercise with for 15 years has left it far, far behind Ukraine of November 2023 in terms of systems level coordination of procurements with electronic deconfliction needs on the battlefield. Especially since the US Army’s Military Intelligence “listeners” hate jamming talkers just for existing turf reasons.

Add in decades of a dead ground jamming equipment industrial base, more byzantine than the Byzantine’s DoD procurement laws, rules, and regulations, plus yet more inter-service turf issues of who exactly owns drones there really isn’t a chance the US Military can get this right before combat failure, particularly if it involved the leadership of the US Army.

Just a cursory evaluation of Ukrainian FPV drone jammer numbers suggests a modern US Army division needs two EW battalions in order to function on a modern battlefield. Electronic Warfare for the US Army is set to become the combat engineers of the electromagnetic spectrum. You can’t move on the battlefield without them. The interrelation of drones and EW means we will likely see a combined drone/EW branch eating most of the functions of fire support, aviation and intelligence into a new combat arms branch/union.

Attack helicopters will be replaced by drones in most scenarios, that much is clear. Drones have become the main low tactical level Recce platform. Attack helicopters will need standoff weapons for non-line of sight fire support, and drones to scout ahead and provide over the hill targeting.

Electronic Warfare Officers (EWO) will need to be embedded into every drone, mech, artillery, infantry, etc brigade. Plus technicians to do the maintenance and other EW grunt work. Exactly how to do this structurally is a good question. Embedded and integrated is the likely outcome.

Drones and their required EW force structure is a “disruptive innovation” that will only happen in the US Military over the dead bodies of all the various service pilot unions, plus the US Army’s Military Intelligence and Field Artillery branch chiefs. Only the falls of Poland, France and catastrophic military defeat at Pearl Harbor from Sept. 1939 thru Dec. 1941 got rid of both the Horse Cavalry Generals and the Battleship Admirals. Only a similar level of failure can unscrew the mess the US Military is in now over drones.

P.S.  You can download a copy of JP 3-51, Joint Doctrine for Electronic Warfare at the link below.



Comment: So what are we to do? Adjust, obviously. And fast. We already cancelled the latest attack helicopter project in favor of a UAV solution. At least that’s an acknowledgement of the problem. The Tactical and Land Forces Panel is pushing for a new drone branch in the 2025 Defense authorization Bill. That would professionalize the myriad smaller efforts going on, but that’s going to take a while.

If you want something to happen fast, task Special Forces. All our Gore-Tex and polypropylene winter gear was designed, developed, tested and ready for fielding in one year by 10th SFG(A). Colonel Potter, our CO at the time, got Army approval to address a serious need. A committee of NCOs from our mountain teams were given carte blanche to work with several established mountain gear companies to develop new cold weather and mountain gear. The first iteration was quickly developed and put to the test by teams throughout the Group. Adjustments were made and the second generation was ready for issue. Then the Falkland War blew up. Colonel Potter offered up all the new gear to his SAS and Parachute Regiment buddies. After the war, his buddies told our Colonel that the new equipment saved lives and ensured victories. All that new gear became standard Army issue shortly after that.

The same can happen with drones and drone employment. Even though Special Operations are due to lose thousands of billets due to downsizing, US Army Special Operations Command is looking at increasing the size of the twelve man ODA with the addition of one or more drone/EW/software specialists. The last such change converted to team XO from a first lieutenant to a Special Forces Warrant Officer. Those warrant officers always come from the pool of experienced SF senior NCOs. It was a great move. I suggest we do the same for drone/counter-drone operations. Add a WO position to each team largely drawn from experienced SF Communications NCOs. The training of those SF commo sergeants should include drone/EW training. With a drone/EW WO and two drone/EW commo sergeants along with a good team cross training program, the ODAs will quickly become competent in this field and innovative. It’s their nature.

SF training with tech companies is already taking place. One of the linked articles below describes a four week training course attended by a 3rd SFG(A) team at a JKFSWC training center in Hoffman, NC last year. By now more and more teams are taking similar courses and learning from Ukrainian units they are training in Europe. SF will lead the Army into the future, actually the present, of drone warfare.  





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23 Responses to Drone Warfare… What is to be done?

  1. Lars says:

    I am willing to make a prediction: The US will catch up rather quickly and the results will be smaller, faster and deadlier drones. Set up drone competitions and you will get good results.

  2. F&L says:

    Just putting these 2 links here for future reference. It seems that the proverbial left hand knoweth not what the proverbial right hand is doing when it comes to Charley Brown and Joe Biden.

    1:US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says NATO will deploy troops to Ukraine.

    2:As Russia Advances, NATO Considers Sending Trainers Into Ukraine
    The move could draw the United States and Europe more directly into the war. The Biden administration continues to say there will be no American troops on the ground.

    • leith says:

      F&L –

      Ukraine should send trainers to NATO instead. There is a lot they could teach us.

      • TTG says:


        Learning what lessons that can be learned from host forces is SOP for SF ODAs conducting these training missions. These lessons learned are formalized in AARs once the training missions are completed.

        I recently read about one training mission where the ODAs relied on the Ukrainian unit leaders to train their units based on their own combat experiences and needs rather than sticking to some prepared program of instruction. We did a lot of that in Lebanon knowing that quite a few of our trainees have been fighting for years before we got hold of them. It’s always a mutual learning experience.

  3. James says:

    This war with Ukraine has been really bad for Russia in many ways – but one thing that I think that they got out of it was an appreciation for how Commercial Off the Shelf FPV drones were more useful than larger and more sophisticated UAVs coughed up by their military industrial complex.

    You can do R&D all day long but until you have real users using your systems “in production”, you don’t know squat … says this software engineer.

    • TTG says:


      Ukraine picked up on that early on. Volunteers started dabbling with commercial drones during and immediately after the 2014-2016 war in Donbas and developed into the first drone units in the Ukrainian Army. In the early days it was the Bayraktar that got all the press, but those early drone units were critical to the Army’s developing use of drones.

  4. babelthuap says:

    Drones are sophisticated IED’s. Nothing more. Nobody is winning with drones. Still need lots of bodies to hold the ground. Ukraine does not have the bodies and Russia does not have the bodies to push out much further or even hold what they got.

    If anyone believes this war can’t go on for 20 years may I present to you Afghanistan. Lots of IED’s and even early drones. Nobody won. US left embarrassed and the Taliban got to keep their wasteland that turned into even more of a wasteland.

  5. Barbara Ann says:

    I’ve seen one or two videos of Chinese military drone technology and I’ve a sneaking suspicion the PLA’s capability will scare the bejesus out of everyone – if it doesn’t already. The Chinese love their drones*, have the industrial capability to produce them in vast quantities and the expertise in AI to work toward the killer app; autonomous drone swarms.

    As I think James said here previously, you can forget EW when the image recognition & AI mean the things can navigate and target autonomously. One day in the not too distant future I can see swarms of thousands of the things hunting anything warm on the battlefield. How the heck do you defend against that?

    *Check out the opening show in Shenzhen for the 2022 Beijing winter Olympics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=apokvH4F9Ws

    • TonyL says:

      Barbara Ann,

      “you can forget EW when the image recognition & AI mean the things can navigate and target autonomously. One day in the not too distant future I can see swarms of thousands of the things hunting anything warm on the battlefield. How the heck do you defend against

      It’s not a hard probelm to solve.

      I’d propose that the EW suite needs new capability or a separate add-on. Very simply put, EW means Electronics Warfare, which includes ECM (Counter Measure) and ECCM (Counter-Couter Measure), or in layman term, jamming and anti-jamming. Now a new capability should be Electro-Optical Counter Measure. I don’t know if the DOD has invented these acronyms: EOCM and EOCCM, if not then you’ve first heard it here (c). The EOCM would blind the drones (eg. with light) by messing up their image processing and infrared sensors.

  6. voislav says:

    Unfortunately, I see this going through committees that would develop a drone doctrine and drone specifications, then issue a competition for the new army loitering munition or recon drone, wait for the usual suspects (Boeing, Raytheon, etc.) to submit entries, go through testing to, five years later, end up with something that’s 5 times more expensive and less capable than the current commercial solution.

    That last paragraph discussing “disruptive innovation” is dead on. I fear US military is not institutionally capable of embracing such change unless faced with existential threat. Puts into perspective how flexible and adaptable Russians have been during this war, it only took them a few months to fully embrace drone warfare and less than a year to start churning out Lancets and FPV drones in large numbers.

    • TTG says:


      This is the kind of technology that screams out for small companies to develop drones, electronics and training programs and aggressively market them directly to SF groups, US Army SOCOM and various service schools (artillery, maneuver warfare). They should be calling Quantico Marine Corps Base, as well. This is ground up stuff, not top down. The usual suspects will just screw it up.

    • F&L says:

      Possibly the finest hour of the US military was their rapid mastery of antisubmarine warfare in WW2 which allowed them to make the Atlantic safe for the numerous D-Day convoys.

      • Rob Waddell says:

        Very true F,&L. But the allies had the ‘Device’. The cavity magnetron. Developed by the British and integrated into the American H2S radar, this allowed allied aircraft to detect Uboat periscopes at long-range, thus changing the face of the war in the Atlantic.
        Live many similar ‘devices’ the magnetron didn’t just appear. It was developed upon the ideas of an international array of scientists going back to 19th century scientists like J C Maxwell and most likely earlier.
        What other ‘devices’ are out there waiting discovery that may better mankind instead of destroying it?

  7. leith says:

    The House Bill that mandated a drone branch in the Army wasn’t conceived by the idiots in Congress. It was pushed up to the Hill by young Army officers. They’ve been proposing it for months. A revolt of junior field grades against hidebound generals in the Pentagon. Innovation from the ground up at its finest.

    But the Bill did not go far enough IMHO. Congress should also have directed the Navy and Air Force to establish something similar. Perhaps have SecNav set up a new enlisted MOS and Officer specialty for UAVs/USVs/UUV’s plus training and publish tactical lessons learned to all. Something similar for the Air Force if it can get past the White Scarf mafia? But I think they already have several squadrons devoted to UAVs, mostly the big boys, Reapers and Global Hawks and such.

    Or instead at DoD level establish a new joint combatant command for Drone Warfare on a par with USCYBERCOM?

  8. Keith Harbaugh says:

    So how is directed energy (a possible way of countering drones, etc.) doing in the field?
    A report on that is this:

  9. Keith Harbaugh says:

    Chris Mellon highlights quite a large number of unidentified drones which seem to be surveiling the U.S. military, both in CONUS and overseas.

    What Americans do not yet realize is the shocking extent to which unmanned aircraft of unknown origin are already penetrating restricted airspace and disrupting military operations here in the United States.

    In some cases, these small craft are using spotlights to illuminate and probably photograph sensitive military systems.

    [E.g.] From late February to early March of 2019, unidentified UAS with bright spotlights made recurring incursions over Andersen Air Force Base, one of America’s most important military facilities in the Indo-Pacific. The aircraft seemed especially interested in the newly installed THAAD anti-ballistic missile system. They were observed hovering above it and shining bright lights down on it, perhaps to facilitate video imagery of the system.

  10. Keith Harbaugh says:

    A legal development re drones in the U.S.:

    Proponents of the bill cite national security concerns,
    alleging DJI drones are providing data on critical infrastructure in the United States to the Chinese Communist Party.

    • TTG says:

      Keith Harbaugh,

      Makes perfect sense to me. DJI whines that this would stifle innovation, but that’s horseshit. It would force us to develop our own drone industries. That’s an industry we should be developing with or without this bill.

    • leith says:

      Ukraine has used a great many DJI drones. Have the Chinese been collecting flight logs and other data to pass to the Kremlin? Let’s hope the Ukraine military was/is smart enough to defeat that.

      • TTG says:


        Ukrainian operators have modified the DJI firmware to prevent tracking by Aeroscope. I suppose we can do the same, but developing our own is still the better idea.

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