IS is working on a drone force


"“Some of the bad guys are fiddling around, trying to improve the performance,” she said. “It may be a very basic, ‘actually take off’ kind of improvement, but it says that there is some level of active work in the drone area. It’s probably not super-sophisticated yet, but they’re working on them.”

Out-of-the-box, tactically viable drones can be purchased on Amazon for under $100, but face major operational limitations due to their short range, slow flight speed and minimal battery life. ISIS has used commercial drones to capture propaganda footage of battlefields and suicide attacks since at least December 2014, but improvising solutions to their limitations would raise the ante — and potential lethality.

Weaponized payloads, while difficult for ISIS to pull off, are not too far a stretch. “If it was me, I would be asking ‘How can I extend the battery life, how can I extend the operational range, how can I stick a payload on here that I can actually use? How can I really get that to work?’” Grant said."   Marine Corps Times


Having given drones (UAV) some thought, I have reached the conclusion that the introduction of UAVs to the kind of wars that I deal with will have a profound effect.

There has been a great deal of attention given to the use of very sophisticated UAVs by the US.  The armed Predator has become the very symbol of the GWOT and it is not by any means the most fearsome UAV possessed by the US.  Reconnaissance and armed UAVs are an interesting auxiliary capability for a state that possesses an air force.

OTOH, the possession of UAVs will be a game changer for those combatant parties that do not possess a traditional air capability.  The ability to conduct reconnaissance and surveillance over extended distances will lead inevitably to armed systems.

The toy helicopter drones now being experimented with by IS are just the beginning.  Fixed wing drones with actual engines are easy to make.  The technology is familiar to model airplane enthusiasts who seem to exist in every country in the world.  The process of scaling up sizes to pilotless aircraft with a wing span of ten feet or more is just a matter of experimentation and incremental improvement.  Guidance systems over extended ranges will be more of a problem but some sort of GPS system and  airborne relays of signals from the drone to its controllers can overcome that.

We are now glimpsing the shape of insurgent warfare to come.  pl

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45 Responses to IS is working on a drone force

  1. cynic says:

    Presumably their sponsors can supply anything they require.
    What about very small ones like insects for spying or giving a poisonous sting? Maybe the Russians will produce an anti-bug spray!

  2. Degringolade says:

    Couldn’t agree more. Even the baby commercial drones can provide huge tactical reconnaissance ability.
    Seriously: Take a look at the Technical Specifications for this drone
    Think about the capability that this would give a commander.

  3. john says:

    similar to the jump from no traditional phone service to satellite or cell in many areas – a great leap ahead

  4. Degringolade says:

    The drone I mentioned goes for 35K complete with thermal and GPS mapping
    I think that this is well within the budget for some not-to-be-named middle eastern countries

  5. Tigermoth says:

    They are being used in the Ukraine war and have a reasonable range probably Russian made. The biggest problem was to shoot them down; anti aircraft weapons are too big, but I now see, as anticipated, that “drone interceptor” drones are coming out. The video I saw was of one accurately firing a net onto another drone which then crashes to the ground. Soon there will be drone dogfights over the front like WWI in miniature.
    Some company here in SA has developed and “armed” drone designed to be used in riots etc. It has paintball guns to mark people and in addition to surveillance, can do other things also. So they will go from toy to weapon as part of the normal evolution of technology.
    Regarding use for artillery spotting, Iraq, in the first Iraqi war, had the SA developed G5 canon which had a much farther range than anything the US had. The US military was concerned. The problem was that Iraq didn’t have the trained SpecOps front line spotters to correct fire, so being able to fire a shell somewhere around 39 kilometers was pretty useless. Drones may have made a difference then.
    The Russian Armata tank formations are also to be equipped with drones.

  6. Dubhaltach says:

    According to normally reliable friends in Lebanon this is a capacity the Hizballah already have and are actively seeking to expand their capabilties.
    Given their record I have say that I believe it.

  7. says:

    I a complete ignoramance on this subject, but can’t radio signals, GPS signals and cellular signals be jammed? I guess that would only leave wire guided drones which would have a relatively shorter range.

  8. Poul says:

    Short range drones (2-4 km) able to carry 155 mm shell would be similar to Hellfire missiles. If the price is low enough a whole new precision will be available to artillery support or as airborne IEDs.

  9. says:

    Do comments get displayed immediately or do they go through some type of moderation first?

  10. Harry says:

    Actually I guess a smart phone would meet the requirements for guidance and remote control. Or a raspberry pi perhaps.?

  11. turcopolier says:
    Get an easier handle. We moderate all comments before they are posted. pl

  12. turcopolier says:
    It’s like everything else in warfare. You can if you can. A theoretical ability to jam something us not the same as being able to do it regularly or dependably. pl

  13. Tigermoth says:

    In action already
    The Syrian Arab Army’s 104th Airborne Brigade of the Republican Guard shot down another reconnaissance drone that belonged to the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) in the Deir Ezzor Governorate. According to a source at the Deir Ezzor Military Airport, the 104th Brigade shot down the drone over the Industrial District (Hayy Al-Sina’a) after it was seen circling their positions on Thursday morning. | Al-Masdar News

  14. bth says:

    UAVs as spotters for indirect fire like artillery and mortars are working quite effectively. All major players and even minor ones in the ME are using this combination to some degree.
    I submit it is having such an impact, the element of surprise on land is going away just like the use of scout planes plus artillery in early WWI brought mobile warfare to a crawl in the early years. Fighter planes were of course built to shoot down the scouts.
    In 2011 Iran, probably in conjunction with Russia and certainly Russian equipment, jammed then GPS spoofed a US drone over Iran into thinking it had flown home to Kabul but instead landed in Iran. This has led to a five year drone and counter drone scenario playing out quietly in the background.
    A state on state drone/counter drone scenario showed up again in Crimea and Ukraine when Russians started bringing down western drones with dedicated electronic warfare units. This was one of the indications that Russians were/are directly involved in eastern Ukraine.
    Increasingly we are seeing offensives bog down (Ukraine, Iraq, Syria) and the increased use of artillery to set battle lines (Turkish border with Syria, US marine artillery encirclement of Mosul, and all players in eastern Ukraine). Artillery plus spotter drones is setting boundaries on land.
    We will next probably see drones revolutionizing naval warfare in the air, below the surface and so on. Look for the Chinese manmade islands to be recon drone bases. Look to Iran to use drones and speed boats to defeat the stealth of littoral ships we have spent billions developing.
    Also what happens when the MLRS systems with great range are combined with drone spotters that can look directly into Mosul and target specific buildings from miles and miles away all day, every day?

  15. Tel says:

    If a camera drone can convert small, portable artillery (mortars and small rockets) into something highly accurate, to be used against patrol vehicles, or possibly for assassination purposes … that would be significant for insurgent groups.
    The other obvious application would be when a bomb has already been placed on or near a road and the camera drone makes it easier to correctly trigger that device from a hidden location. This makes it very difficult for legitimate security forces to operate, and doubly difficult to round up the troublemakers (who are one step removed from the action).
    These two concepts might be combined: suppose an abandoned building exists near a major road, the insurgent might have hours to setup a rocket, get it all neatly lined up, and then trigger it remotely some time later from a safe hiding place.
    None of this requires a large drone, and small batteries would be sufficient.
    Airborne signal relays sounds too sophisticated to be practical (perhaps I’m a bit dismissive) but I’m guessing that a ground based signal relay would be portable and easy to install quickly. If you look at the sort of attacks that were happening in Iraq and Afghanistan, highly guerilla type stuff, there would be plenty of opportunities for local insurgents to hide small relay masts with perhaps 24 to 48 hour battery life… something along those lines. There would also be ways for the security forces to scan for those relay masts, but you find a few and they hide some more.

  16. turcopolier says:

    There is a line of sight problem in the frequencies needed by a lot of drone commo/control systems. pl

  17. C Webb says:

    Here is the youtube channel of
    (From their videos one can appreciate the difficulties in operating these devices in a war zone.)
    They recorded this footage over the battle field
    They seem to use a DJI (Chinese) drone w/ 4k camera.

  18. Degringolade says:

    I realize that this will mark me off as “odd” in the current crowd, but my two staple reads are this fine publication and “The Archdruid Report”.
    Anyway, John Michael wrote a fiction series (In Advance, not his best work) a while back with a post on a “Drone Shoot”.
    Not truly a military-style analysis, but food for thought.

  19. different clue says:

    I have to assume that anything I could think of has already been thought of by the forces of disorder, and my thinking would be offered just in case the keepers of order have not thought of it yet. So the keepers of order could think of a countermeasure.
    So hopefully the keepers of order are thinking about how to defeat tiny little “suicide” drone-bombs.
    And how to tell the difference between real hawks and vultures as against drones made up to look like hawks and vultures from below.

  20. ISL says:

    Dear Colonel,
    I think a soon to arrive drone technology of importance will be when solar panels (new flexible, lightweight) can power a drone. Then daytime distance and time limitations disappear. its easy enough to record it all on a pen drive or telemeter it back.
    Also, setting up an aerial and surface web network is very easy. The units we use weigh a few ounces and cost a few kilobucks for half a dozen that can cover 15 kilometers square – line of sight between nodes is important. but it would be easy to have redundancy in drone aerial nodes. Setup is straightforward (almost automatic if you are not trying to be fancy) and they are transparent – type the IP number of whichever camera on the net you want to watch in your browser and done.

  21. scott s. says:

    I think the bigger problem is autonomous systems. If these are simply sensor platforms that might not achieve much, but if they have kinetic or other effects then that can be a game-changer. Then if multiple autonomous systems are able to have some inter-communication capability so they can be self-organized nets that would be a multiplier. We shouldn’t assume that these capabilities are limited to only massively-funded militaries.

  22. Fred says:

    “We are now glimpsing the shape of insurgent warfare to come.’
    This also poses a problem for commercial aviation if folks like those most recently active in Paris decide a plane landing at CDG would be easier to target than a group of people at Stade de France or the Bataclan.

  23. Akira says:
    “The shocking footage of the improvised fighter jet rocket demonstrated the ISIS instructors advanced understanding of every part of the missile’s highly intricate array of components.
    Terrifyingly, those components: the seeker unit, infra-red homing radar, and all the other complex avionics that control the missile and its deadly explosive payload, had all been modified to turn the obsolete munition into a deadly remote controlled surface to air missile that could be fired against a range of aircraft such as helicopters, low flying jets and unmanned aerial vehicles.
    The ability to reverse engineer and modify advanced weapons of this type, is something no terrorist group has ever achieved.”

  24. different clue says:

    scott s.
    What if these inter-communicating self-organizing nets of multiply autonomous system-bots attain self-awareness, discover who they are and who we are, decide they don’t like us and go HAL 9000 on us?

  25. different clue says:

    With flocks of engine-seeking bird-bots . . .

  26. Should drone soldiers be a separate service?

  27. JJackson says:

    As a means of shooting them down would a simple shotgun type system for small low drones work or for the bigger higher value targets a HE or EMP payload with a simple altitude or proximity trigger? Nothing I have seen would be very resistant to even minor damage. Just asking.

  28. Thomas says:

    “As a means of shooting them down would a simple shotgun type system for small low drones work..?”
    A 10 gauge Goose Gun appears to be a potential source for this function, or at least knocking out your nosey neighbor’s private drone.

  29. John Minnerath says:

    The generic term “drone”, now applied to any model airplanes is a real sore spot with many old timers in the hobby.
    Since the FAA has decided they have authority to control model aircraft they’ve all been labeled “drones”. Or more specifically sUAV, small unmanned aerial vehicles.
    What were originally called drones by the modeling community was the multi-rotored devices with a camera. They took the hobby by storm for a number of reasons. A couple being that they were cheap and took virtually no practice or experience to fly them.
    The more common ones sold for a couple 100 bucks don’t offer much. Very short flight times and minimal weight carrying ability.
    The big professional versions are another story, but can run in the thousands.
    There has been endless hype lately about various dangers of these things. To date there has never been an actual incident involving one.
    And don’t grab your 10 gauge to blast that one hovering around your backyard. Since the FAA now considers them to be an “aircraft”, it’s against Federal law to shoot at one.

  30. Herb says:

    Alexander Cockburn’s recent book “Kill Chain” is an eye-opening reportage on the rise of drone warfare in policy and the military industrial congressional complex. It is also a critical view of the ineffectiveness of drones and targeted killing.

  31. SAC Brat says:

    ‘Drone’ hits British Airways plane approaching Heathrow Airport 17 April 2016
    “The low cost of unmanned aerial vehicles in the 2000s revived legal questions of what activities were permissible at low altitude. The FAA reestablished that public, or navigable, airspace is the space above 500 feet.”

  32. John Minnerath says:

    SAC Brat,
    Before you repost such news articles you should do a little follow up.
    In this particular instance, after lengthy investigation of the aircraft and approaches nothing as found. It was opined it may have been a plastic shopping bag, many of which are seen blasting around in the wind near Heathrow.
    Before the FAA went for another power grab about a year ago established Federal law forbade them from establishing any rules or regulations for model aircraft used non commercially.
    The aparatchick of the FAA has long wanted total and absolute control of what they call the NAS. (National Air Space)
    They’re getting close. As an aside, commercial enterprises are working closely with them to lock in valuable rights to certain areas of airspace.
    Hobby, commercial, and military uses of “drones” are all very different things.
    The current regulations, covering toy and hobby model flying, are now wrapped up in about 300 pages of impossible to understand fed speak.
    It amounts to basically EVERYTHING in the air over a half pound in weight is considered an AIRCRAFT and EVERYONE flying has to have their identity on a Federal list.

  33. SAC Brat says:

    Having done many bird strike inspections on airliners, often nothing more than a smudge of blood is found to show contact. The only time I remember a carcass being found that otherwise did not penetrate a radome, engine or leading edge was a bird hit on take-off and the remains were found on the runway.
    The private drone operators brought this on themselves. When they flew in the wrong airspace and got upset when people brought down their drones, this was going to happen. If you claim that people can’t shoot at your drone when it is in their airspace because it’s an airplane, well, airplanes have registration numbers and all the fun that goes with that. I am sympathetic to the RC model group’s concerns as they were generally a responsible group.

  34. John Minnerath says:

    First off, what’s a drone? There’s no official definition. Per FAA, any device over a half pound and under 55 pounds that can operate in the NAS is a sUAV.
    Old line fliers consider a drone to be one of those devices with multi-rotors and with no other purpose than as a camera carrying platform.
    They’ve been generally disliked because so many users of those devices have refused to operate under the long established guidelines of safe operation.
    As far as a registration number, yes, an FAA issued number is required.
    IMO it’s nuts to call something like a little model made out of styrofoam and aircraft, but they are.
    Everyone here at SST knows that when a Federal agency draws up a set of regulations things soon get into the bizarre.
    At present a wild sideshow is developing because the FAA states only they can regulate this stuff while various local jurisdictions try to outdo the Feds with further outrageous rules.
    You want another oddity?, ultralight aircraft, those machines which can actually carry a human are 100% exempt from all these regulations.
    I choose to ignore all this BS and fly my various fixed wing models and limited number of conventional design helicopters as before.

  35. John Minnerath,
    I share your frustration with the absurd way that radio controlled model aircraft have been sucked into the FAA’s drone obsession. When I was young, I could only afford rubber powered free flight and control line model airplanes. I would marvel at the 3 channel radio controlled model airplanes in “Model Airplane News” and other magazines. Alas, my newspaper route was not lucrative enough to afford those. Balsa wood and tissue paper forever!

  36. Thomas says:

    “And don’t grab your 10 gauge to blast that one hovering around your backyard. Since the FAA now considers them to be an “aircraft”, it’s against Federal law to shoot at one.”
    Damn. I was looking forward to it too.
    Oh well, thanks for the warning and it looks like I will have to purchase my own drone if I want to take out the nosey neighbor’s one.

  37. John Minnerath says:

    Me too 🙂
    I still remember the first radio control model I saw, it was about 1956, Had 2 channels and took a pick-up to haul the transmitter.
    Crowds of people oohed and ahhed over that marvel.

  38. Mick says:

    wwhat i don’t understand clearly its why IS don’t use a lot of sarin gas. They don’t have any reputation to defend and for them to act brutally its a sort of a pride….considering that on the public opinion what happen to (the evil) Assad’s soldier it’s not something to care so much

  39. Thomas says:

    …why IS don’t use a lot of sarin gas…
    Because the Islamic Staters are merciless, cruel and ruthless, not strategically stupid. To do such an act would bring about global condemnation and force a military intervention to annihilate them once and for all. Their Peninsular Patrons could not protect them in the PR world since it would bring about their own downfall if they tried.

  40. bth says:

    The world largest unmanned systems show will occur next week in New Orleans. So we can expect an enormous number of articles on this topic shortly.

  41. BBC report on use of a patriot missile to bring down a drone.
    (General Perkins speaking at Association of the United States Army’s Global Force Symposium in Alabama.)

  42. mike says:

    And for the mini quadcopters that Daesh are using the Air Force is ordering 12 Gauge Skynet MI-5 shells.
    The five tethered weights spin out into a five foot diameter capture net to take down low flying mini drones used for surveillance or that are illegally intruding into NFZs. Shotguns need to use a choke with rifling to create the spin.

  43. turcopolier says:

    Fixed wing UAVs are mush more effective and will appear in numbers soon. pl

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