Department of Uh-Oh, a continuing series, the drone wars have begun

by on February 22, 2017 at 1:57 pm in Current Affairs, Web/Tech | Permalink

Late last month, a pair of Islamic State fighters in desert camouflage climbed to the top of a river bluff in northern Iraq to demonstrate an important new weapon: a small drone, about six feet wide with swept wings and a small bomb tucked in its fuselage.

The two men launched the slender machine and took videos from a second, smaller drone that shadowed its movements. The aircraft glided over the besieged city of Mosul, swooped close to an Iraqi army outpost and dropped its bomb, scattering Iraqi troops with a small blast that left one figure sprawled on the ground, apparently dead or wounded.

The incident was among dozens in recent weeks in a rapidly accelerating campaign of armed drone strikes by the Islamic State in northern Iraq.

The terrorist group last month formally announced the establishment of a new “Unmanned Aircraft of the Mujahideen” unit, a fleet of ­modified drones equipped with bombs, and claimed that its drones had killed or wounded 39 Iraqi soldiers in a single week.

Here is the full story by Joby Warrick.

1 Turkey Vulture February 22, 2017 at 2:12 pm

We will live in interesting times.

2 Ray Lopez February 22, 2017 at 2:28 pm

Yawn, no news story. A raptor anti-drone, either silicon-based or carbon-based, will neutralize such drones in the future… drone on!

3 JWatts February 22, 2017 at 2:50 pm

I agree with Ray. This is a non-story. When ISIS manages to launch a long range drone attack against a Western target Or we see the advent of drone vs drone counter measures, that will be the indication that “the drone wars have begun”.

4 JWatts February 22, 2017 at 2:52 pm

Here’s a much more interesting story:

“Suicide Strike on Saudi Frigate Was the First Carried Out by Drone Boat”

There’s actual video of the Drone boat hitting the frigate.

5 dearieme February 22, 2017 at 3:00 pm

Some day modern weapons are going to sink one of your big carriers. Suddenly they’ll seems as obsolete as the battleships at Pearl Harbour. Submarines are what the US should be building, if she should be doing naval building at all. Ditto UK, France, …..

6 Ray Lopez February 22, 2017 at 3:01 pm

Drone boat reminds me of the ‘fire boats’ that the Greeks used against the Turks in the 1820s GR war of independence, except the idea was for the human operator to jump ship before the collision. The Arabs are good fighters but not really known for creativity. For example a while ago, like around 2002, it was reported that the Palestinians had developed a home-made ‘cruise missile’ that was being used against the Israelis. That really caught me by surprise but it was in fact later revealed to be simply conventional rockets that had been bought in by Hamas from Iran. Nothing special. I am amazed how non-creative terrorists are: they simply round up a bunch of suicidal people (present in any population, and in fact a paper showed that once these people are used up, the terrorists have to wait a while before the next group of such people can be found) and ask them to become disposable bombs. Boring. Why not instead infect them with smallpox and put them on a plane full of people going to NYC? Now that would be creative!…oops, hope no smart terrorist is reading this.

7 JWatts February 22, 2017 at 5:14 pm

“Some day modern weapons are going to sink one of your big carriers. Suddenly they’ll seems as obsolete as the battleships at Pearl Harbour.”

Maybe. But on the other hand, the modern Carrier was being declared obsolete in the late 1970’s due to the threat from the drones of the day (ie air to ship missiles, Exocet, etc). Yet, air defense has kept Carrier’s viable, at least in a limited threat environment. And they’ve been highly useful most of the time.

8 William Newman February 23, 2017 at 2:09 am

“Submarines are what the US should be building, if she should be doing naval building at all.”

It’s probably a fairly complicated tradeoff. A lot of submarines’ protection comes from concealment, and cheap sensors and fast DSPs and fast communications are a very serious headwind for concealment, and we have sensors that are cheap and DSPs and communications that are very fast and very cheap. Electronics also give some advantages for concealment — like active noise cancelling on each sub, and clever stealth analyses back at Sub Design Center — but it would be surprising to me (software geek, quantum chemistry simulations Ph. D., interested amateur knowledge of tech history and military history, no classified knowledge) if those come anywhere near cancelling the detection advantages given by the last few decades of technology. It’s especially hard to estimate from first principles and unclassified knowledge how cost-effective active sonar emitters and wide-ranging detection comm networks turn out to be against countermeasures, or even what the best countermeasures might be. (Antiradiation torpedoes? Active jamming?) But a reasonable guess IMHO is that for two comparable opponents, the sub-deploying side won’t have the capability to shut down an overwhelming fraction of the active sonar emissions (not from big ol’ enemy submarines, but from lotso cheaper devices) in most circumstances, and a battle area with (at least) hundreds of active sonar emitters playing clever modern coding modulation games with (at least) tens of thousands of sensors quietly listening does not sound to me like a submariner’s happy time, it sounds to me more like a late-in-the-Battle-of-the-Atlantic-level bad actuarial risk.

For two non-comparable opponents, it’s sort of a moot point. Even with the weaknesses of big carriers, there aren’t that many countries in the world that can plan to decisively attack a carrier group, at least without nukes. It requires a big fast missile to threaten a carrier, or more realistically, lots of big fast missiles, and the carrier can stand off quite a ways and still ruin your whole day, so it requires (a) big fast missile(s) travelling a long way. That requirement means you start running into issues of modern advances not only making the carrier easy to target, but making the big fast missile(s) easy to target. The missiles do look more cost-effective despite that, but not so much cheaper that it is truly cheap to maintain the capacity to wipe out a major nation’s navy.

So I don’t think the US Navy’s procurement is particularly optimal or even all that rational, but I don’t think the switch to submarines is as obvious a win as you suggest, either. I rather expect that optimal solutions involve pushing the smaller-escort and dispersion-of-forces themes a lot further than we have today. I would be somewhat surprised if they turned out to include a qualitatively larger proportion of submarine forces than we have today.

9 JWatts February 23, 2017 at 11:00 am

“it sounds to me more like a late-in-the-Battle-of-the-Atlantic-level bad actuarial risk.”

Kreigsmarine U-Boats were just the German version of kamikazes by that point.

10 Turkey Vulture February 22, 2017 at 3:15 pm

I think even confined to a local battlefield this is potentially a big change to asymmetric warfare. Something like a mobile, partially-reusable IED, which never requires control of the ground it is eventually used on to be effective.

And their relative cheapness and increasing commonness means ever more people who might want to try more dramatic attacks get access to and experience with them.

Perhaps I am underestimating ISIS, but I take this story as an indication that we have reached the cost/commonness level at which basically any insurgent or organized terrorist group will have access to these as weapons.

11 The Anti-Gnostic February 22, 2017 at 4:07 pm

They don’t need a “long range drone.” They only need to get their operatives into the West. This is why it’s prudent to ban travel with countries in the middle of civil wars with Islamic militant groups.

12 Thiago Ribeiro February 22, 2017 at 4:12 pm

Yet allowing the 9/11 terrorists to enter. A famous religious said so ething about strainimg at a gnat and swalling a camel. I guess it was Muhammad because he talked about camels.

13 Thiago Ribeiro February 22, 2017 at 4:13 pm

* said something about straining at

14 The Anti-Gnostic February 22, 2017 at 4:17 pm

I agree. We need a longer list.

15 Thiago Ribeiro February 22, 2017 at 5:16 pm

Including the Saudis? I foresee an oily situation. Also, not that Amwricans care about it, but there is the moral issue. It would be unfair with your allies. I mean, will you ban Brazilians too? You are much more friendlier to the Arab tyrants than you have ever been to Brazil. Bnning them now would be backstabbing to say the least. Specially after decades claiming Irans the Palestines were basically the only troublemakers in the Middle East.

16 Dick the Butcher February 22, 2017 at 6:21 pm

ISIS’s go-to weapons are tens of thousands of live-ware drones they deployed the world over. These simply are waiting for the whistle to blow.

Anyhow, have the geniuses devised means of jamming enemy drones’ guidance and command/control telecom systems?

17 Donald Pretari February 22, 2017 at 6:26 pm

Underestimating ISIS is not wise.

18 Mark Bahner February 22, 2017 at 9:59 pm

I don’t see drone versus drone counter-measures. Ground-based lasers will knock out drones by the hundreds. And the cost of an individual laser shot is orders of magnitude less than a drone.

19 Luke February 22, 2017 at 3:04 pm

Hi-tech air power is totally decisive in war. USAF/USN massive air power has completely and decisively wiped out the enemy in Iraq long ago.
Our drones are so good that the bad guys never come out to fight or cause trouble anywhere in world or Chicago.

Technology is always the key to war winning. Anybody remember the Vietnam War?

20 Ray Lopez February 22, 2017 at 3:47 pm

The Vietnam War, as well as other wars involving guerillas, achieved a 30:1 kill ratio. That’s pretty good. The problem is the Vietcong (which was wiped out) and the North Vietnamese were willing to take those odds and keep coming. Not much you can do if the enemy decides that.

21 brentwood February 22, 2017 at 4:33 pm

?? even a fiercely determined enemy eventually runs out of soldiers, with that kind of kill ratio — did the U.S. run out of bullets?

would drones and better technology have avoided the U.S. defeat?

22 JWatts February 22, 2017 at 4:53 pm

“?? even a fiercely determined enemy eventually runs out of soldiers, with that kind of kill ratio — did the U.S. run out of bullets?”

No, after 58,000 American killed we decided that we had killed enough Vietnamese (951,000) and went home. The kill ratio was more like 16:1. The North Vietnamese were willing to endure a 16:1 ratio.

23 Art Deco February 22, 2017 at 5:45 pm

No, after 58,000 American killed we decided that we had killed enough Vietnamese (951,000) and went home. The kill ratio was more like 16:1. The North Vietnamese were willing to endure a 16:1 ratio.

South VietNam succumed to a conventional land invasion two years after the American withdrawal. Congress cut off aid to the South Vietnam government and let it happen. Because that’s how liberals roll.

24 Dick the Butcher February 22, 2017 at 6:52 pm

Art Deco has it correct. While the SEA commies were willing to hugely suffer. They weren’t adequately motivated to be bombed into the stone age.

Evidently, the USSR wasn’t willing to wage (hot) war against the US. So, during the Vietnam War the USSR spent $1 billion in the US to affect the outcome. Many of your teachers and professors were “educated” in treasonous (we actually were at war with the NVA/USSR) activities.

North Vietnam finally was brought to its knees with the devastating, December 1972 (B-52 conventional weapons) bombing campaign. The US lost a tragic number of bombers and crews. And, after a few days, the reds’ AAA were destroyed. The Bombers were about to deservedly do to the NV cities what the Brits, US and USSR did to Nazi Germany’s cities in the 1940’s. To stop the US from destroying their “world,” they sued for peace. The results were the March 1973 Paris Peace Accords.

Earlier, in April 1972, the NVA launched a massive, conventional warfare (tanks and artillery) offensive against South Vietnam. Massive US air power wrecked the offensive. By that time, most US combat power had left due to Vietnamization.

The self-inflicted Watergate coup d’état removed Nixon from the White House. In 1974 and 1975, the US Congress refused to enforce the March 1973 Paris Peace Accords, and cut off military supplies to the ARVN. In May 1975, Saigon fell.

Everything you youngsters think you know about the Vietnam War you got from Soviet stooges – your professors/teachers. It is 68% bullshit. I was there.

25 Ray Lopez February 22, 2017 at 8:01 pm

@JWatts – not to pull a Robert S. McNamara on you (the “S.” stands for Strange), but the kill ratio is closer to what I said than what you said: it’s 24:1. Just do the math: (Google) “North Vietnam claimed 1.1 million soldiers and noncombatants died during the war due to American actions, while 58,220 Americans and about 313,000 South Vietnamese combatants died in the conflict. The official US Department of Defense figure was 950,765 communist forces killed in Vietnam from 1965 to 1974.”

26 Cliff February 22, 2017 at 9:45 pm

You do the math, Ray.

27 Gabe Harris February 22, 2017 at 3:54 pm

All that Saudi, CIA money and Mossad ingenuity has to be put to use somehow. Good job Pentagram

28 In deed February 23, 2017 at 6:48 am


29 steveslr February 23, 2017 at 5:13 am

What’s the difference between a drone and a model airplane?

30 Ricardo February 23, 2017 at 12:13 pm

I think it is a matter of degree. “Drones” can carry a payload (such as a camera or weapon of some sort), fly long distances, and operate somewhat autonomously.

31 dearieme February 22, 2017 at 2:56 pm

Why “uh-oh”? How about “Much predicted thing happens; nobody surprised”

32 Ray Lopez February 22, 2017 at 3:03 pm

Uh-huh. Y am eye knot surprised! by your comment?

33 anon February 22, 2017 at 3:14 pm

On this I agree. I think I remember some old, really old, arguments that “drones are too hard for terrorists,” but those fell away as everyone saw a 10 year old running one. Maybe a 16 year old building a complicated one.

34 H982 FKL February 22, 2017 at 3:35 pm

“Much predicted” and “uh-oh” aren’t contradictory. It’s both, really.

35 RC February 22, 2017 at 3:02 pm

A recent Frontline showed the use of drones in Mosul, including grenade-carrying drones to take out specific targets and others for surveillance/recon.

36 brentwood February 22, 2017 at 4:23 pm

… U.S. already has small portable “Drone-Zappers”

37 Art Deco February 22, 2017 at 3:05 pm

Given all the violence in the region over nearly 40 years, just why is this of particular interest?

38 Luke February 22, 2017 at 3:18 pm

because drones are similar to driverless cars and robots (favorite topics in US media)

39 Jeff R February 22, 2017 at 3:43 pm

It’ll get even worse now?

40 The Anti-Gnostic February 22, 2017 at 4:23 pm

It means terrorists can attack remotely without having to strap on a bomb vest or get shot by police, which I assume even terrorists would prefer, given the choice.

It also shows a degree of sophistication which I would prefer an insane death cult not have.

41 Art Deco February 22, 2017 at 5:42 pm

Did you catch the story out of a Louisville exurb of the dispute between neighbors when one man took out the other’s drone with a shotgun?

42 Ricardo February 22, 2017 at 11:22 pm

Yes. If the bomb on the drone is set to explode on impact after being dropped, blasting a drone out of the sky using a shotgun in a crowded city may not be the best defense. Israel has its system to intercept Hamas rockets so something like that adapted to automatically detect and destroy drones before they reach populated areas would be best.

43 Mark Thorson February 22, 2017 at 3:21 pm

Why swept wing? Unless you’re moving above about 500 mph, it doesn’t buy you anything. They aren’t moving anywhere near that fast, are they?

44 H982 FKL February 22, 2017 at 3:32 pm

Department of “what took them so long?”

45 The Other Jim February 22, 2017 at 6:38 pm

Well, to be fair, many have them have spent a lot time trying to figure out how to get refugee status for immigration to the USA.

46 Steven M February 22, 2017 at 7:37 pm

Their free student subscription to Amazon Prime expired last year. Just not the same anymore.

47 Mark Bahner February 22, 2017 at 10:05 pm

It takes longer when people don’t make anything themselves.

48 Nicholas Marsh February 22, 2017 at 4:24 pm

As weapons the existing Daesh drones are pretty insignificant. They are machines made of components that can be purchased off the shelf, or the whole drone was shop bought, and fitted with a device that’ll drop a grenade. That’s a tiny addition to the ordnance deployed on the battlefield in Syria.

But the video feed used to film the drone strikes makes a huge difference. Daesh, and other groups in Syria, now have real time aerial reconnaissance of the battlefield. It used to be that only government armed forces had that. In Syria and Ukraine drones have been used for artillery spotting, and preparing devence and attacks. Daesh have even used them to give directions to suicide bombers driving toward their target.

49 albatross February 22, 2017 at 11:05 pm

The critical think to realize here is that ISIS et al are getting a whole lot of generations of evolution toward better tactics and technology by fighting in the Syrian civil war and fighting against the Iraqi, Kurdish, and Turkish forces in Iraq.

50 Dzhaughn February 22, 2017 at 6:11 pm

Ah, I remember the good old days when breathless reporters would tell of thousands of 12 year olds used as shields in a heroic if suicidal rush at the enemy in the Iran-Iraq war. In those days, you had to check your Pepsi for syringes before drinking it. Tell that to kids today, they won’t believe you.

51 Adrian Turcu February 22, 2017 at 6:27 pm

The Russian forces involved in Syria have such experience with drones that they are flying them in pairs so if one gets shot down the other can have a chance to pin point the shooters. For every military advancement there is a counter measure. Mortars killed an huge proportion of all soldiers killed in combat in ww2 so now modern armies have mortar fire finding radar. Drones in a combat scenario open up a new warfare dimension but they are not a war winner, nothing is. Drones present far more of a challenge in a peacefully country where they can be used, for example, to drive down an airliner by simply piloting the drone optically into the the pathway of landing planes. Even then though they have to have it ingested into the engines lest it be brushed away like fowl. I am excluding explosive carrying drones as that again is another dimension in logistical difficulty.

52 Bill February 22, 2017 at 7:48 pm

Don’t worry.

We are building a new $3.5 million drone that will have all the bells and whistles and will defeat all countermeasures except common sense.

It is part of a program that is over budget and behind schedule by two years, but the good news is that it employs a large number of engineers and lobbyist and is safely located in a red state.

53 chuck martel February 22, 2017 at 8:10 pm

“The terrorist group last month formally announced the establishment ….”

Does this terrorist group, or any terrorist group, engage in only terrorist activities, whatever those might be, or do they sometimes just shoot it out with their opponents like normal? How would an individual terrorist be described? If he or she performed only one terrorist act and then moved on to more conventional violence would they still be a terrorist, maybe forever?

54 Mark Bahner February 22, 2017 at 10:16 pm

Are they wearing uniforms that clearly identify them? Do they obey the Geneva Conventions?

55 A B February 22, 2017 at 9:02 pm

How do you deal with 25,000 AI-controlled weaponized drones coming at you?

56 Cliff February 22, 2017 at 9:48 pm

Shoot them down? Jamming signal? EMP?

57 A B February 22, 2017 at 10:04 pm

EMP yes.
In all the movies, the robots are controlled by a central master AI. But in this proposed scenario, each drone has its own AI, so jamming is not as effective.
Shoot down 25,000?

58 Mark Bahner February 22, 2017 at 10:34 pm

A couple hundred ground-mounted AI-controlled laser cannons should do it. They’ll fire until their internals are glowing red-hot. In no time flat, $250 million in drones are eliminated for under $250 of energy cost.

59 JWatts February 23, 2017 at 11:06 am

Well you have to count more than just the energy cost. That being said, the advent of cheap, high powered lasers will bring about the era of “It flies, it dies”. I imagine there will still be nap of the Earth, missile/drone attacks, but large aircraft flying in a combat environment will become obsolete.

60 Turkey Vulture February 22, 2017 at 10:37 pm

Lots and lots of birds.

61 Troll me February 22, 2017 at 10:59 pm

Maybe put up a million dollar prize for the person with the best answer?

Having a flock of 10,000 or more trained vultures might actually not be that dumb. But how do you make sure you can get them roughly where they need to be in time?

62 Turkey Vulture February 23, 2017 at 10:26 am

Come on, not vultures, that is ridiculous. They are needed to clean up the aftermath. There are plenty of pigeons and seagulls around. Or geese.

63 Troll me February 23, 2017 at 5:51 pm

Did you see the thing about the Dutch-trained eagle for taking down drones?

64 Turkey Vulture February 23, 2017 at 6:13 pm

Pretty cool, but I am also partial to eagles. I don’t want them doing that with an explosives-laden drone. We need to train our less-awesome birds to perform these tasks.

65 woke February 24, 2017 at 5:24 am

A year ago, when it was news.

66 Troll me February 24, 2017 at 11:20 pm

Indeed, I should feel ashamed for referring to things which were in the news one year ago.

I have a question though. How am I supposed to talk about things which were reported in the news one year ago without … referring to them being in the news one year ago?

If you know of a better ane more relevant or exciting example of birds (less awesome than eagles, as Turkey Vulture suggests) being trained for anti-drone purposes, then by all means, please share.

67 Sam The Sham February 23, 2017 at 6:43 am

Teach the AI the meaning of Love?

68 Sam The Sham February 23, 2017 at 6:43 am

Tell the AI “This statement is false.”

69 albatross February 22, 2017 at 11:02 pm

I don’t think anyone currently knows what a world with lots of drones run by different people (police, criminals, spies, terrorists, journalists, private snoops, companies collecting various kinds of data) will look like, or how it will interact with a world full of drones doing routine but useful stuff (deliveries, say).

70 Mark Thorson February 23, 2017 at 9:23 pm

I know one thing about this new world — it won’t have over-the-air free television. All those drones will be constantly breaking up the signal.

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