The New Drone Wars – TTG

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Back in early 1981, I did a few “odd jobs” between graduating from the Infantry Officer Advanced Course and starting the SF Officers Course. One of these jobs was as an ARTEP evaluator for a mech infantry company on Fort Benning. While I had plenty of book learning about tank-mech infantry teams, I was much more comfortable following a dismounted night attack through a cold January swamp. There was no Moon and a stiff, steady breeze so I felt we were making a stealthy approach. Although the attack was well executed, I learned something disconcerting during the after action review. Our night approach through the swamp was monitored by a high flying AC-130 gunship from 1st SOW. The gunship caught the heat signature of each approaching soldier as they silently slid through that moonless swamp. The lesson I took was that the idea of remaining undetected in uninhabited forests and mountains was a myth. Combine that with the Fort Benning aphorism, “If you can be seen, you can be killed” and I quickly became enamored with the concept of urban guerrilla warfare once I reached 10th Group. We would survive behind the Iron Curtain only by hiding among those we were to liberate from oppression.

So what does this stroll down memory lane have to do with the new drone wars? A lot, actually. It’s the same principle. Armies can be seen and killed from above by a wide range of drones in 2020 just as we could be seen and killed by the AC-130 back in 1980. The difference lies in the proliferation of these drones and the fact that they are less expensive than manned aircraft. They also don’t expose pilots or operators to death or capture. 

First there were our Predators and Reapers hunting down jihadis and the occasional wedding party. We have well over 500 of these heavy drones. We have even more smaller drones down to man packed, hand launched tactical varieties. But we are not alone anymore. China is producing them like gangbusters. Turkey has emerged as a major leader in the development and employment of drones. One of these, the Bayratkar T2B, has had success in Syria, Libya and Azerbaijan. Erdogan has also deployed the T2B against the PKK within Turkey and northern Iraq. 

The T2B is a medium altitude tactical drone. It has a range of more than 150 km and can fly at a maximum altitude of 22,500 feet. It has a maximum speed of 120 knots, a cruise speed of 70 knots and endurance of more than 24 hours. The T2B is powered with a 100 horsepower Rotax civil engine, an engine common to ultralight and homebuilt aircraft. The unit cost of the aircraft itself is less than 100 thousand dollars. Its electro-optical reconnaissance, surveillance and targeting system is now produced by Aselan in Turkey at a cost of 400 thousand dollars per unit. Although it does use GPS, it is not satellite controlled. Ground stations control the T2B by line-of-sight radio signal. The munitions, also produced in Turkey by Roketsan, are laser-guided, precision, long range and light weight. They include thermobaric and tandem warheads effective against reactive armor. Overall, the T2B is an impressive piece of kit. 

As I mentioned, the PKK were the first to feel the wrath of the T2B. Those fighters hiding in the hills and mountains of eastern Turkey and northern Iraq have been getting clobbered since the droness were employed against them. I’m sure they learned the same lesson I learned forty years ago in that Fort Benning swamp. The difference is that my lesson was academic, the PKK’s lesson was catastrophically lethal. Erdogan also used the T2B and other drones against the YPG/SDF over the last few years.

The first time the T2B gained notoriety in the West was when they were used as part of Turkey’s Spring 2020 counterattack against the very successful R+5 Idlib Dawn offensive. A large number of T2Bs, along with a smaller number of the larger, satellite-controlled Anka medium drones were deployed from 1 to 5 March. At a loss of six drones, Turkey claimed it destroyed over a hundred SAA armored vehicles, dozens of artillery systems and hundreds of SAA troops. Take that claim with a grain of salt, but Russia and the SAA agreed to a ceasefire immediately after that.

Turkish drones also played a significant role, along with the imported Syrian jihadis, in stopping Haftar’s LNA from taking Tripoli in early 2020. Until that time Haftar was using Chinese made Wing Loong drones to great effect. The GNA compensated for the shorter range of the newly arrived T2Bs by establishing radio relay sites to extend their operational range. The T2Bs used a Turkish EW suite to jam the Russian made Pantsir-1 units and took them out systematically. They then played havoc among Haftar's forces deployed in the flatness of northern Libya. Haftar and the Wagner Group were forced to withdraw from the outskirts of Tripoli.

The newest deployment of the T2B is in the current Armenian-Azerbijani war. The Azeri and Armenian forces are generally similar in equipment, manpower and training. However, the Azeri’s employment of R2B drones has been devastating to the Armenian armor and artillery in Nagorno-Karabakh. The Azeris are advancing with the help of those R2B drones. There is a constant stream of drone kill porn on the internet. This time it is Armenian targets being snuffed rather than footage of Predators snuffing jihadis.

The proliferation of attack drones, especially Turkish drones, is changing ground warfare. In Syria, Russia rushed additional air defense capabilities to SAA front line units to blunt the threat of Turkish drones. Movement, dispersion and concealment methods required modification. A hull down position for an AFV is nothing to a drone. After the March 2020 drone attacks in Idlib, the Russians sent wreckage of those Turkish drones back to Moscow to develop an effective countermeasure. They have now rushed the KRET Krasukha electronic jamming system to their base in Armenia where the system reportedly caused nine drones to loose connection with their control stations and crash. The Krashukha also blocks GPS signals to prevent drones from automatically returning to base. The T2B doesn’t appear to have that feature, but many drones do. In my opinion, this is the most promising countermeasure to the widespread use of drones. The Russian military, due to their massive investment in radio-electronic combat (REC) is in the best position to pursue this countermeasure. We could someday soon see serious deployment of REC at the company and battalion level. Sure we can change our TTPs (tactics, techniques and procedures) to reduce our vulnerabilities to the threat of constant areal surveillance and attack, but that would be debilitating to normal operations. We best get to stepping in developing and widely deploying an effective EW capability. China is right up there with Turkey and the US in the development of drone warfare.

TTG     

https://theintercept.com/2019/05/14/turkey-second-drone-age/

https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/turkeys-drone-war-syria-red-team-view

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/5/28/largest-drone-war-in-the-world-how-airpower-saved-tripoli

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HiSTvlBYx14 (fresh drone porn)

https://asiatimes.com/2020/10/russia-knocking-turkish-drones-from-armenian-skies/

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42 Responses to The New Drone Wars – TTG

  1. Avatar Fred says:

    TTG,
    “caught the heat signature of each approaching soldier”
    How do you distinguish the soldier as an individual from a deer or buffalo or whatever? In regards to the “jihadis and the occasional wedding party”, how do you tell them appart? If you’re in close (enough) combat, how to tell friend from foe?

  2. Fred,
    A soldier walks upright and carries a weapon. A deer walks on four thin legs and eats grass. A buffalo is just one big son of a bitch. All that was easily discernible 40 years ago. The images are even clearer today. Clearly you’ve never seen IR imagery. Either that or you have a serious cognitive perception problem. Don’t go volunteering for one of those Montreal cognitive tests, my friend. The lion, rhino and camel will leave you “buffaloed.”

  3. Avatar Keith Harbaugh says:

    EW might be effective as a counter-measure, but there is another possibility: drones killing drones, i.e. unmanned air-to-air combat.
    That surely eill come; any idea on its status?

  4. Avatar Jimmy_W says:

    Glint detection systems would work, too. Since these are all line of sight sensors.

  5. Keith Harbaugh,
    The concept has definitely been explored. In 2018 a Reaper drone armed with AA missiles successfully shot down a drone. Unmanned fighters are moving along in development. I imagine quite a few medium and heavy drones can carry AA missiles, but then it becomes a matter of priorities. Do you use your drones to hunt other drones or hit the ground targets?

  6. Avatar Ishmael Zechariah says:

    Fred,
    In case you are interested in some demos:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UCiy3iHG14E
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AntsLHnrFXM
    “stealth” on the field has a whole new meaning these days.
    Ishmael Zechariah

  7. Jimmy_W
    How does that work with drones? I searched and only found references to human pupil glint detection.

  8. Avatar walrus says:

    Austria has allegedly stopped Rotax from supplying any more 912 and 915 fuel injected engines to Turkey. I always wondered why my engine is controlled through a pair of connectors the way it is, I guessed that this was to provide an easy plug and play interface for drones. I’ve also been told that the new 915 (turbocharged, injected) engine was developed with U.S. defence department money.

  9. Avatar Keith Harbaugh says:

    On the drone-versus-drone thing,
    I can see the day when infantry units carry along their own CAP of defensive drones, along with their offensive ones.
    Then too, there is a wide variety of SAMs which can be employed against drones

  10. Avatar Keith Harbaugh says:

    BTW, another issue is whether the resolution from satellites is good enough to pick up drones, but that is probably classified.
    At least such things used to be.

  11. Walrus,
    I’d bet Turkey is already working on their own drone engines. It’s not that difficult an engineering problem. Turkey replaced the targeting camera system last year with their own design after Canada cut off the supply. Turkey has a robust arms industry.

  12. Keith,
    I remember having designated aircraft spotters during platoon movements and in convoys. We also practiced shooting target “bats” out of the sky with only infantry platoon weapons. I can definitely see drone defense becoming an integral part of combat arms training. I can see dedicated drone detection and defense vehicles at the company and battalion level. Maybe even at the platoon level. We often trained with a M-113 mounted Vulcan gun and a Redeye team attached to our light infantry company.

  13. I remember with the “Hammer’s Slammers” science fiction series that the tanks that the Slammers use would have an automated anti-aircraft automatic weapon mounted on top of them. I wonder if that might be the way of the future, some sort of gun based SHORAD on valuable armored vehicles? If done right it could double as an APS that could target things like incoming ICM shells before they release their bomblets.

  14. Avatar Leith says:

    The Turks used those Bayratkar T2B (aka TB2) attack drones in Libya also for their GNA allies. But the LNA claimed that they shot down 17 of them. Wonder if the Krasukha jammer you mention was shipped there?
    The T2B/TB2 and its predecessors were designed by a young Turkish whiz kid and MIT graduate. He is now the CTO of the company that makes them, which is owned or co-owned by Erdogan’s son-in-law.
    Stopping shipment of components by the west won’t bring production to a halt. They have already had time to reverse engineer the Austrian made engines, the UK weapon racks, and Canadian EO.
    A bigger problem than the TB2 will be the new Batraktar Akinci, that can carry 1350 kg and has a ceiling of 40K feet. Its first flight test was last December. The other Turkish aerospace companies are not neglecting the UAV business either. TUSAS is working on a supersonic drone supposedly capable of deceiving threat air defense systems. Vestel is also working on drones but so far they haven’t come close to anything that Baykar and TUSAS is doing.

  15. Avatar ked says:

    In the late ‘90s I became peripherally involved in RF links & sensor technology for US military UAV / UAS applications. The concepts of operation were way ahead of the physical hw & sw. Innovation in those concepts were the use of space-based systems & the serious consideration of small unit (volume production) / spl forces (mission-specific) applications & product development. Folk might be surprised that unmanned drones launched (can’t help a pun) at the beginning of flight Itself – a confluence of automated flight control, real-time remote controls & airborne training targets. Field development, testing & even use of drone technology for combat took place in WWII (how Joe Kennedy Jr. was KIA over the English Channel) & in VN.
    TTG makes two critical points;
    – Drones (& ground-based robotics) have taken Spectrum Wars to a whole new level.
    – Urban Operations already complicated, are even further complicated. Unfortunately, expect even more fratricide (proportionally) than in the past, and non-combatant losses (aka collateral damage or women, children & aged). Such is the march of technology in warfare.

  16. Avatar kodlu says:

    There are lots of verified and mostly unverified claims by LNA as well as by Armenian forces of how many drones they actually shot down or made to land. Do not forget that Iran managed to interact with and land a US drone a few years back. So this is a technical area that is fast changing. There is no reason to arrogantly assume that “non-western” upstart actors such as Turkey and Iran can be stopped by arms Embargoes.
    Turkey will be able to replace the engine and the optics pod that seem to have now been banned by Canada and its Austrian Subsidiary, in the medium term, the embargo will be an incentive. I also found out that some of these items are easily obtainable through alternate means, being dual use technology.
    Finally, the US arms embargo, post the 1974 Cyprus operation by Turkey was the prime driver in the development of the Turkish arms industry. So sanctioning and banning can only go so far.

  17. Avatar Serge says:

    In its last two years(2017-2018), ISIS deployed DIY attack drones on all fronts, these would drop standardized shrapnel munitions that would cause severe wounds in a wide radius. More than any actual personnel/materiel loss, these would take a terrible psychological toll on whoever IS was fighting. There are a couple hundred POV video clips from that period of these drones being used, most of these attacks are against bunched up groups of Iraqi/SAA/SDF personnel but there are notable exceptions that stick out in my mind: a direct hit against a moving Iraqi humvee filled with munition, which caused it to immediately explode. An attack against a massive SAA munitions dump in the deir ezzor stadium. Boats ferrying the SDF across the euphrates being targeted midriver. I don’t think we have seen the last of this. Also, you may laugh now, but I believe that jetpacks, maybe more so than drones, have the potential to revolutionize asymmetrical warfare.

  18. Avatar Fred says:

    TTG,
    ” Either that or you have a serious cognitive perception problem. Don’t go volunteering for one of those Montreal cognitive tests, my friend. ”
    Thanks for the very unnecessary personal attack. Why on earth would a submariner ever see IR signatures? Asking a basic a question was really just too much?

  19. Avatar Peter in Toronto says:

    It’s really quite tragic to see the Armenians have looked on for 12 years of conflict in Syria, seen Turkey’s acquisition of Israeli drones and then fielding their own remote controlled armed drones extensively in Syria, and done absolutely NOTHING in the way of countermeasures, new weapon systems purchases etc.
    Their command is criminally liable for sending thousands of young to some unofficial region to be killed under uncontested airspace by what are literally a step above remote controlled hobby aircraft, but with FLIR cameras and laser glide munitions.
    It’s been nearly a month now and it seems the Armenian side is either blind, in denial or delusional, but someone higher up must have noticed they are losing hundreds of tanks and thousands of young men to these things by now.
    If I were Armenian, I would be pondering the sacking or assassinations of the military and political leaders responsible right about now.

  20. Fred,
    Yes, I was having a little fun at your expense. Sorry I offended you so much. I’m surprised you’ve never seen IR imagery. It’s all over the internet and TV news. It’s been in movies since at least “Predator” in 1987. I hope Ishmael’s examples of the pig hunt enlightened you.

  21. Avatar Eric Newhill says:

    Peter in Toronto,
    I think you’re getting a little carried away.
    The Armenians rely on the Russians quite a bit. The Russians maintain, minimally, an air wing and a combat brigade in Armenia – and have for many years. The Russian military advises and assists the Armenian military. I’m sure the Russians were not too happy about this latest little war flaring up, but, otoh, it is a good opportunity to try out some new capabilities, like the belladonna anti-drone system; which appears to work rather well.
    The drones will be effectively countered in short order, IMO. The Armenians have drones too that have utilized to good effect on the Azeri/Turks

  22. Avatar Fred says:

    TTG,
    “I was having a little fun at your expense.”
    Your inner Trump is coming out.
    If memory serves the IDF was able to identify tanks two or three miles away back in ’73, however they shot up a bunch of their own because they couldn’t tell friend form foe. Regarding Ismael’s pig hunt (beside being illegal to hunt after sunset just about everywhere) I am reminded of the hunter in Maine who shot his neighbor’s wife in her back yard claiming her white gloves looked like a deer’s tail. “Trigger discipline” as the guy in Black Hawk Down put it.
    https://newengland.com/today/living/new-england-history/karenwood/
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vb5quj6ZhJM
    I agree with you that infantry tactics have to change. Peter in Toronto is also right in asking just what we’ve done about countermeasures in the past decade. The Obama administration sure made it safe for LGBTQetc but dropped the ball on a lot of stuff. The now scrapped LCS program being a prime example.

  23. Avatar JerseyJeffersonian says:

    Another coming threat is the rapid development of drone swarm tactics. Here is a recent account of a project in China:
    https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/37062/china-conducts-test-of-massive-suicide-drone-swarm-launched-from-a-box-on-a-truck

  24. Avatar JerseyJeffersonian says:

    Oh, and wars always come home, for good or for ill:
    https://www.ajc.com/news/if-you-call-911-in-brookhaven-a-drone-might-respond-soon/DAA5KFEAHVCZRNVQJTPNEWVQIY/
    My first response is that it’s a good strategy to not send police into unduly ambiguous situations where they or others may be adversely effected. Reconaissance is your friend.

  25. Avatar Peter in Toronto says:

    @Eric Newhill
    I’ve seen no evidence of the Russians deploying any of this equipment in the disputed warzone, perhaps in Armenia proper, but that does nothing for the Armenians getting pounded in the trenches in NK. We would have seen quite a bit of wreckage by now as these things would be downed over Armenian lines.
    What we have even seen are quite a few videos of these remote controlled aircraft dismantling Armenia’s dated air defense network, including their Soviet-era S-300 tactical systems which seem to struggle with small, slow-moving targets like these drones.

  26. Avatar james says:

    i think canada has stopped supplying important parts to the TB2, or T2B you refer to that turkey is using… this was based on them being used in the armenia – azerbajain conflict…
    https://english.iswnews.com/15868/latest-updates-on-karabakh-clashes-20-october-2020/

  27. Avatar Leith says:

    James – Turkey did not depend only on Canada for the TB2 electro-optics. Germany’s Hensoldt corporation is supplying them also.

  28. Avatar Eric Newhill says:

    Peter in Toronto,
    Maybe. Russia says it has caused over 100 Turko/Zionist drones to crash. I suspect a lot of what TTG writes about is the usual Turkish propaganda/braggadocio/threat making; though it should not be taken too lightly because it is the future of asymmetrical warfare. This conflict is a good opportunity to learn about counter measures development. The Russians and Armenians will turn this initial setback, such that it may be, around in short order.
    One counter measure would be to get the Zionist Ferengi to stop supplying the tech. Of course that will never happen. I hope it comes back and bites them in the ass some day.

  29. Avatar walrus says:

    I don’t think Turkey is going to reverse engineer the Rotax 912 IS injected engine any time soon. It is an extremely sophisticated box of tricks and the ECU is made by Collins Avionics in America. It is designed to spend its entire working life at 5500 rpm, producing about 90 hp and weighs just 140 pounds installed.
    The information on just how that engine does what it does is extremely closely held and getting technical design information out of Rotax is like trying to get blood out of a stone. I am a member of the engine (civilian) user group and I have noticed the odd attempt at someone trawling for technical details which generally fails. All Rotax gives you is installation, maintenance and overhaul information and they charge $1000 for the dongle that allows you to talk to the ECU. They don’t tell you why or how this thing works, they just give you very terse germanic instructions on how to run it.
    This is a very smart motor. It’s systems are fault tolerant and self diagnosing. Everything is redundant. It looks like a little old toy but it ain’t. The Chinese are now trying to reverse engineer the carbureted version which is about fifty years old.

  30. Avatar Jimmy_W says:

    Armenia is poor; infantry modernization was low on its priorities.
    TTG,
    Previous glint research was on snipers and small arm optics detection. Nobody was pointing the detector up. Given that UAVs have small radar signatures, glint detection offers a nearly guaranteed metric. (It might be slower than radar.)
    Fred,
    Russian submariners used to worry about their IR signatures. Guess the Americans didn’t.

  31. Avatar Leith says:

    @Walrus: “I don’t think Turkey is going to reverse engineer the Rotax 912 IS injected engine any time soon.”
    They may not need to. The improved TB2, the Bayraktar Akinci uses an engine from Ukraine’s Ivchenko-Progress.

  32. Avatar Ishmael Zechariah says:

    Fred,
    Boar or feral hog hunting at night is permitted in Turkey: https://www.anatoliasafari.com/en/wild-boar-hunting-in-turkey
    They do damage crops and are considered vermin by most of the population.
    It is also permitted in many states in the USA, sometimes w/ a special permit:
    https://www.hogmanoutdoors.com/regulations
    These links, as were the previous ones, are only for your information. No intimations.
    Ishmael Zechariah

  33. Avatar Fred says:

    Ishmael,
    Thanks for the info and links. There’s an over abundance of feral hogs in Florida too, with a year round season.
    https://www.miamiherald.com/news/state/florida/article243923712.html

  34. Fred and Ishmael,
    Feral hogs are a growing destructive problem over wide sections of the US. I know allows hunting all day, all night, all year with damned near any weapon imaginable. They also allow baiting. It’s a good use for those ugly, soulless black plastic guns with high capacity magazines. Their perfect for hunting packs of wild hogs.
    Hog hunting in Hawaii is a totally different affair. Most of the pig hunters I knew didn’t use firearms, just a pack of dogs and knives… big freakin, knives and big cast iron balls. On the Big Island, one of my Samoan soldiers baited the hogs with left over C-rations. In the morning light, I watched him creep up on a hog, tackle it and slit its throat. It went to the mess tent and fed the company that evening. I got a pig for a Recondo School luau by slinging my hammock above a guava tree and sleeping there with a Colt 45. In the early morning, when the hogs came for a guava breakfast, I got a clean shot from three feet away. It took two of us to haul that bastard out of the jungle, but it cooked up nice.

  35. Avatar james says:

    @ Leith .. apparently they were making the cameras and a few other things too… in this pic it shows austria was involved, but apparently they are a subsidiary of bombardier and not allowed to sell anymore to the turks..
    https://www.moonofalabama.org/11i/tur2-s.jpg

  36. Leith and Walrus,
    I don’t think the Turks will be reverse engineering the Rotax 912 either. There are several Turkish manufacturers of engines for drones already. There’s the TEI-PD170 turbo diesel aviation engine developed for the ANKA drone. There are several other turbojet engine and turbo prop engines suitable for drones although I haven’t seen a direct replacement for the Rotax 912. I did find an interesting video of alternatives to the Rotax 912 for the homebuilt aircraft market. Most are based on small automotive engines. I especially like the Australian built Rotec rotary engines. Looks perfect for a Fokker Dreidecker replica.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mN48LdqOC_w
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GW3jbNhatw4

  37. Avatar SomeGuy says:

    I think the two key game changers coming down the pipe are going to be AI-augmented imagery analysis and ubiquitous SATCOM (potentially with the AI on the bird). The recent past dynamic where top tier capability was something a bit over 100 simultaneous orbits is going, in the fullness of time, to seem quaint. Makes me wonder how many clever people are working on hiding streams in commercial traffic.

  38. Avatar walrus says:

    TTG, stay clear of Rotec Their reputation for customer service is not good.

  39. Avatar Keith Harbaugh says:

    TTG, I totally agree with you on the need for effective U.S. EW.
    I suggest also the need for sensors (radar? other?) to detect when drones are launched, determine their flight path, rapidly alert units which are at risk, and, in an ultimate system, even direct appropriate kinetic/laser neutralization measures against the drone.
    Another idea is to locate where the signal controlling the drone is coming from, and rapidly launch a strike on that location. The same idea as counterbattery fire.

  40. Avatar Gabriel A Uriarte says:

    Fantastic discussion, and the first one I’ve seen that incorporates some very fine pieces to come out of the Libya war (I wish those red team guys would write more). May I add, given the angst visible in some English-language media about drones being the (latest) weapon spelling doom to the tank, a recent analysis co-written by the brilliant Michael Kofman.
    https://warontherocks.com/2020/10/the-second-nagorno-karabakh-war-two-weeks-in/
    ‘ There is a thirst for drawing lessons from contemporary conflicts that feature modern weapon systems. However, the result is often generalizing from a few cases, and at times, learning things that are not true. What can be discerned from this war is hardly revelatory. Remotely operated systems offer the utility of tactical aviation, close air support, and precision guided weapons to small nations, and to even relatively poor countries, for a cheap price. They saturate the battlefield with disposable sensors, shooters, and sensor-shooter packages in the form of loitering munitions. Notably, they enable precision artillery and strike systems to engage fixed positions, as has been seen across modern conflicts from Ukraine to Syria. Furthermore, tanks are vulnerable to counters, as they always have been, but it is unclear what other vehicles offer a better combination of firepower, protection, and maneuverability on the battlefield.
    The war illustrates that in an offensive, or counter-offensive, the only thing worse than being in a heavily armored vehicle is being outside of one. If anything, the tank appears to be the most survivable vehicle, given the small warheads on drone carried munitions. These munitions often disable or mission kill the vehicle, but the crew can still survive anything other than a direct hit. Much of the hand-wringing in Western circles that comes from watching these conflicts stems from the epiphany that there is no way to avoid casualties on the modern battlefield, especially among an expensive force, replete with boutique capabilities that cannot be lost in large quantities. Furthermore, the ratios of support to maneuver units are important. Compared to forces like the Russian military, Western ground units feature poor availability of air defense and electronic warfare, and the expectations that existing air defenses or tactical aviation may be easily adapted to counter unmanned systems are probably unfounded. Armenia’s performance illustrates this problem. Drones are relatively cheap, and this military technology is diffusing much faster than cost-effective air defense or electronic warfare suitable to countering them.
    That said, Azerbaijan’s unmanned air force has been operating against an opponent with incredibly dated short-range air defenses which are neither suitable nor effectively employed to defend against drones. Armenia does not have layered air defense, effective electronic warfare, or a large amount of tactical aviation. It has situated its air defense systems in relatively exposed fixed positions, in a mountainous region where air defense is even more difficult by virtue of the terrain. In truth, both sides are demonstrating tactical deficiency in their offensive and defensive tactics. While attaining some kills using optical sights, Armenia’s modernized Soviet systems (essentially technology that dates back to the early 1970s) were never meant to engage combinations of small drones, loitering munitions, precision artillery, or unmanned combat aerial vehicle systems. More advanced air defense capabilities like Tor-M2s are few, and have been intentionally held in reserve, although Azerbaijan has been reticent to use its fixed wing or rotary aviation. Armenia’s older S-300PS systems appear to have had no role in the conflict, and some launchers may have been destroyed early on, having never even been deployed.
    The lessons from this conflict are consistent with those of other wars in the latter 20th century: It is much better to have a smaller ground force that is well defended from the air, than a vast armored force that is completely exposed to sensors and airpower from above. Well prepared defenses, if insufficiently protected or camouflaged from the air — which is increasingly difficult — are naturally vulnerable. The diffusion of remotely operated systems will outpace that of air defenses or specialized counter-drone systems, rendering older generations of air defense largely obsolete. Drones and loitering munitions will be, for some time, cheaper to acquire than the requisite defenses. And one can distribute forces, but they should be concentrated for assaults. There is no way getting around canalizing terrain, at least not until the battlefield features hover tanks. That tanks are vulnerable to anti-tank weapons should come as no surprise, but other vehicles, which trade survivability for maneuverability, seem to fare no better against anti-tank guided missiles. Vulnerable or not, it is unclear what other vehicle can achieve the tank’s mission on the battlefield.
    Finally, fetishizing combat video feeds plays to a Western intellectual preference for the tactical, and system on system evaluations, while ignoring the basic fact that Azerbaijan has not been able to attain a significant operational success. This perhaps is the most important lesson of the conflict: Tactical successes, which may appear impressive, can fail to add up to an operational breakthrough. In such cases, military strategy turns to the old familiar: a battle of attrition. ‘

  41. Avatar JamesT says:

    Thanks for writing about this TTG – I was really hoping someone at SST would.
    If Radio Electronic Combat is going to be the best way of combating the drones, I am going to bet on the drones. Once you have your drones equipped with trained up AI models such that they don’t need much instruction from home, I think that spread spectrum radio communications should solve the rest of the problems. The AI should also make it difficult to effectively ‘bring down drones by jamming their GPS’. Drones + AI == a-very-big-deal … but then we already knew that.
    I think that drones are doing for SAM complexes what the ATGM did for the tank.

  42. Avatar J says:

    The Mysterious Drone Photographed Over California
    Mysterious Aircraft Thought to be RQ-180 or “Polecat” Drone Derivative Posted on Social Media – Then Disappears.
    https://theaviationist.com/2020/11/02/lets-talk-about-the-mysterious-drone-photographed-over-california/

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