Solve for the (drone) equilibrium

by on March 17, 2017 at 3:17 am in Current Affairs, Economics, Science, Uncategorized | Permalink

A Patriot missile – usually priced at about $3m (£2.5m) – was used to shoot down a small quadcopter drone, according to a US general.

The strike was made by a US ally, Gen David Perkins told a military symposium.

“That quadcopter that cost 200 bucks from did not stand a chance against a Patriot,” he said.

Patriots are radar-targeted weapons more commonly used to shoot down enemy aircraft and ballistic missiles.

“Now, that worked, they got it, OK, and we love Patriot missiles,” the general said.

Here is more, via Ray Lopez.

Addendum: The Chinese are experimenting with a radio wave gun to bring down drones.

1 jon March 17, 2017 at 3:42 am

that it can hit such a small target is just amazing

2 S. Johnson March 17, 2017 at 5:26 am

I believe that, as it approaches a target it deems hostile, the Patriot missile it explodes violently, potentially inflicting damage to both friend and foe alike. So it’s really quite appropriately named.

3 Alistair March 17, 2017 at 7:20 am

Nearly all Surface to Air missiles are proximity fused rather than count on a direct hit. Their warhead throws out a large number of high speed fragments at closest approach, at least some of which should hit the target and inflict fatal damage.

The fragments are small, inert, and decelerate rapidly within a second of detonation. They are extremely unlikely to damage anything but the missiles’ main target, even if it was close to the ground.

4 Lord Action March 17, 2017 at 9:13 am

For Patriot, it depends on which version you’re talking about.

With some caveats, traditional proximity fusing isn’t much use in ballistic missile defense because the explosion is too slow.

5 JC March 17, 2017 at 4:31 am

They need to build low-cost patriots for low-cost targets.

6 yo March 17, 2017 at 5:51 am

Pitch that to Raytheon. “Low-Cost?” They presumably have enough generals on their payroll to prevent that from happening. Or see it as a business opportunity “Small targets need expensive targeting!”. It’s not the explosives that are expensive. It’s the advanced radar equipment you’re blowing up at the tip of every missile.

7 Anonymous March 17, 2017 at 9:43 am

It occurs to me that the Amazon drone could have been a less-expensive practice target.

In that case it was a net cost savings.

8 Enrique March 17, 2017 at 4:37 pm

Two words: public choice

9 chuck martel March 17, 2017 at 5:51 am

It’s the way the US military works. A group of armed illiterate tribesmen with an attitude driving around their own neighborhood in a rusty Toyota pickup requires the intervention of a trillion dollar US navy carrier group with a squadron of jet fighters and a fleet of support ships directed by an intelligence-gathering cast of thousands.

10 Careless March 17, 2017 at 10:12 am

It’s the way the US military works.

He wrote, in a post about how a different military works.

11 Peldrigal March 17, 2017 at 7:02 am

I remember seeing a Tiger panzer user manual. It warned to never use the main gun against a target that could be engaged with machine guns. It reminded the soldiers of the taxes that his father paid to pay for the shell, and the hours it took to his mother in the factory to produce it.

12 Willitts March 17, 2017 at 11:12 am

I don’t know about other countries, but in the US Army this would be considered a Rule of Engagement. As you suggest, it is for resource allocation purposes. The caveat though is that you use the weapon you have. If the main gun is your only weapon, you use it. But when you have multiple guns, you use the most cost effective.

Contrary to common belief, it was never a violation of the Law of War to use 50 cal machineguns on enemy personnel. This was an ROE to conserve ammunition for high value targets. There could be a proportionality argument in certain circumstances, but they would have to be unusual.

13 Peldrigal March 17, 2017 at 7:05 am

I predict a strong resurgence of the AA machine gun or light cannon.
The problem will not be a drone. The problem will be drone swarms.

14 Careless March 17, 2017 at 10:16 am

Load a phalanx with shotgun shells?

15 Jay March 17, 2017 at 1:14 pm

Don’t most AA guns have an area of effect, I’m thinking of old WW2 flak cannons, which would be effective and cheap against swarms?

16 Careless March 17, 2017 at 10:05 pm

AA guns meant to shoot down planes made lots of shrapnel to tear lots of holes in planes and hopefully hit something/someone important and cause catastrophe. The Phalanx uses armor piercing shells because the warhead on a missile meant to penetrate the armor of a ship is going to be hard, like armor. The US doesn’t use flak guns anymore, AFAIK

Looking it up, apparently there is a land version of the Phalanx that, not being meant to defend against the heavy armor piercing missiles the sea version is designed for, has HE rounds that would have at least a small AOE

17 Andrew M March 17, 2017 at 7:12 am

“In fact, if I’m the enemy, I’m thinking, ‘Hey, I’m just gonna get on eBay and buy as many of these $300 quadcopters as I can and expend all the Patriot missiles out there’.”

It’s called “asymmetric warfare”. Drones just represent a new tactic; the principle remains unchanged.

18 Thiago Ribeiro March 17, 2017 at 7:17 am

“That quadcopter that cost 200 bucks from did not stand a chance against a Patriot”
Does it mean Amazon couldn’t defeat the USA if they were at war? Does it matter? Amazon won’t made a hasty movement that could spoil its peaceful rise.

19 dan1111 March 17, 2017 at 7:52 am

Anyway, all they would have to do is stop delivery, and the American economy would collapse.

20 Thiago Ribeiro March 17, 2017 at 8:15 am

Do you mean that America and Amazon’s economies are intertwined? But what if the American government create a tax on Amazon products and services and label Amazon as a currency manipulator? Would it help?

21 Ray Lopez March 17, 2017 at 8:56 am

The quadcopter would never stand a chance against a crack team of Amazonians: the women of Brazil!

22 Thiago Ribeiro March 17, 2017 at 10:45 am

As a matter of fact, the forest and the Brazilian state got the name from the legendary female warriors. Spanish explorers said they saw the Amazon warriors in the region. Also, Brazilian women’s courage is well-known. Outlaw Lampião fought to death federal troops with his mate, Maria Bonita (Pretty Mary). Brazilian Ana Néri voluntered to serve as nurse during the our bitter fight against the Paraguayan aggressor, she treated both Brazilian wounded and the enemy wounded. Maria Quitéria pretended to be a man to fight for Brazil’s independence against the Portuguese agressor. Maria Ortiz, from my home city, led the civilians against the savage Dutch aggressor until the profissional troops could free the city from the Dutch yoke. Communist Olga Benário refused to leave her lover, Communist leader Prestes, when he was caught after a failed revolution – otherwise he probably would have be shot at sight (the fascists who tried to overthrow the government in 1938 were not so luck: they were shot with no trial at the presidential palace garden). Benário, a Communist Jew, was sent to Nazi German and exterminated.

23 Bill March 17, 2017 at 7:32 am


We need more trained eagles to attack drones.

The military says they will only cost $500,000 each.

24 Alistair March 17, 2017 at 7:50 am

How many patriot missiles can each eagle carry?

25 Bill March 17, 2017 at 7:55 am

Put that question out as a request for proposal and I’ll tell you the answer.

26 Thiago Ribeiro March 17, 2017 at 8:18 am

I bet on pigeons: They can carry high-yield explosives and strike fear in the enemy’s heart.

27 Bill March 17, 2017 at 11:26 am



That’s a great idea.

Not only can they attack drones, but they have an unerring ability to drop birdshot or bird shit on the enemy.

You are a patriot.

28 Thiago Ribeiro March 17, 2017 at 11:44 am

I am. Pigeons also can act like like pigeons and help to find the enemy. One of the greatest problems Brazil faced fighting at the Paraguayan jungles was spotting the enemy. Many shots missed and Paraguayan newspapers called Brazil’s artillery “monkey business”. Only by drowing the invader with human vawes it wasmpossibke to crush it – it cost six years and thousands upon thousands of lives. Air dominance early on the game would have changed everything.

29 Shane M March 17, 2017 at 10:55 am

Chimpanzee’s with sticks

30 Bill March 17, 2017 at 11:29 am

I don’t know. We might mistake the chimpanzees for one of our own, unless they wear a special uniform. And, did you ever see the movie Planet of the Apes? Can’t be too careful.

31 john March 17, 2017 at 3:32 pm

just silly. Simply genetically reengineer them for a preference for the taste of plastics and a visual trigger matching the shape. Then just let them breed. Might be a high up front cost but the marginal costs are 0

32 BReynolds March 17, 2017 at 7:38 am

Think of how many of those drones you could buy for the price of just one Toyota pickup.

33 Axa March 17, 2017 at 7:41 am

Guerilla warfare is getting more efficient by the day. A drone is even cheaper that the average suicide combatant.

34 Thiago Ribeiro March 17, 2017 at 7:44 am

So a suicide combatent will lose his livehood for a machine. Bring back the terrorism jobs. Make terrorism great again.

35 Joe in Morgantown March 17, 2017 at 9:05 am

Give a a man a drone-bomb and he bombs for a day. Teach a man to be a bomb and he bombs for a lifetime.

36 Viking March 17, 2017 at 11:21 am

What a crude comment. I concur.

37 Thiago Ribeiro March 17, 2017 at 11:45 am


38 Axa March 17, 2017 at 7:51 am

On the other hand, people that have a long experience with this missiles has a different perspective on the cost-benefit assessment.

Reports about the Patriot’s success, Pedatzur added, citing Ben-Nun, “should be viewed within the realm of psychological warfare.”

39 Ray Lopez March 17, 2017 at 8:58 am

Since chimpanzees have person rights, I suspect it’s wrong to use guerillas in such a way for war (Guerra).

40 Axa March 17, 2017 at 9:53 am

haha, damned typo.

41 Anonymous March 17, 2017 at 8:08 am

It was probably fun for all involved, but ridiculous. Unless Patriots have a “best by” date on the side, and that one said 2005.

42 Willitts March 17, 2017 at 10:07 am

Missiles do, in fact, have expiration dates.

When Bill Clinton famously launched a couple of dozen missiles at an abandoned Al Qaeda camp in the desert, all those missiles had expired. Perhaps an ill considered target and ineffective response, but a commendable use of resources.

43 prior_test2 March 17, 2017 at 8:15 am

The funny thing is, a slightly clever opponent, instead of trying to make their drone less visible to targetting systems, will attempt to make a drone look like a credible threat, A slow moving cruise missile is likely to do a lot of damage, and always has to be respected as a target for anti-air defenses, while a high profile drone resembling a cruise missile is just a decoy.

And really, we all remember decoys, right? And how many times decoys work in such situations? You know, such as all the times that an expensive heat tracking missile was pulled off its intended target by a cheap flare?

44 Willitts March 17, 2017 at 10:09 am

I know that stealth technology reduces radar signature. Chaff projects a false radar image. I don’t know if a drone could be made to look like a jet aircraft. If so, your suggestion is both plausible and likely.

45 Careless March 17, 2017 at 10:28 am

A drone of the sort we’re talking about couldn’t fly fast enough to look like a jet aircraft.

46 Willitts March 17, 2017 at 10:55 am

Great point.

47 Dan Lavatan-Jeltz March 17, 2017 at 2:15 pm

It can still be done by swarm. The first drone increases and then decreases its signature just as the next drone in series is increasing its signature based on the radar system refresh rate.

48 prior_test2 March 17, 2017 at 10:47 am

Strange – I said slow cruise missile, not jet aircraft (yes, cruise missiles use turbofans, so technically they are ‘jet aircraft’), but I did leave off the term ‘loiter.’ For anyone interested in seeking information about where their American tax dollars are going –

49 Willitts March 17, 2017 at 10:03 am

No one said they knew it was a drone at the time they fired the missile. Stealth aircraft, by design, have a radar signature the size of a drone.

Drones can carry up to 6.6 lbs. A block of C4 that size could kill a lot of people. This is precisely the same amount of explosive in a Stinger missile and more than four times the explosive in a Claymore mine.

In the cost benefit analysis, you DO NOT compare the cost of the missile to the cost of the enemy aircraft. You compare the cost of the missile to the amount of damage that that aircraft can inflict. Even ONE death could justify the cost of the missile. Additional deaths and property damage easily push benefits beyond costs. And then there is the unquantifiable benefit of proving to yourselves, policy makers, and your enemies that you CAN identify, target, and destroy a drone with a Patriot missile.

The general’s speech is a perfect example of something that sounds plausible and intelligent but really isn’t. But giving the general due respect, the point of his speech was to sell the idea that we need to invest in new, cost-effective countermeasures to defeat new threats. In that respect his example furthered that goal. Unfortunately he also invited the snide and ill considered responses seen here.

50 Thiago Ribeiro March 17, 2017 at 10:50 am

“And then there is the unquantifiable benefit of proving to yourselves, policy makers, and your enemies that you CAN identify, target, and destroy a drone with a Patriot missile.”

The point is, can you prove to rhe enemy that you can identify, target, and destroy 1000 drones with 1000 Patriot missiles? 100000 missiles with 100000 Patriot missiles? If I owned shares of hightech missiles companies, I would be salivating.

51 Willitts March 17, 2017 at 11:03 am

Was the hypothesis of a drone swarm something the general considered or something this website has considered?

A swarm of 10,000 drones, or any significant size, seems implausible to me. Each drone would need a human controller unless they have pre-programmed courses. Such programming is conceivable, but I’ve seen none at the level of sophistication of the combatants we are talking about.

I correctly said that the benefit analysis depends on preventing the cost of the potential damage, not the cost of the drone,. But on the cost side one must consider alternative countermeasures. You DO want to use something cheaper than a Patriot on drones, which is why we want counter- and anti-drone techniques and equipment.

52 Thiago Ribeiro March 17, 2017 at 11:47 am

I am just saying the obvious: the writtimg is on the screen now. The enemy knows now fighting the drones is antieconomical.

53 Jacques René Giguère March 17, 2017 at 3:00 pm

The charge on a single heavy missile like a Patriot can blast away a lot of small drones.
And it still doesn’t change the basic problem that what count is not the value of the missile against the drones but the value of the missile against the value of the target protected.

54 Axa March 17, 2017 at 12:33 pm

I quoted above people from Israel talking about Patriot missiles. They say expensive missile defense may not be economically optimal but war has also a psychological side.

55 Boonton March 17, 2017 at 4:32 pm

‘Real’ war still exists as a possibility. A slugfest between, say, Israel and Syria, would involve troops, tanks, planes and missiles…..quadcopters carrying small explosives may be part of that but if you want to destroy city blocks you would do better with bigger weapons. That means a system like the Patriot would be sensible for Israel to have. If it happens to be useful against a drone then so much the better.

56 Thomas March 17, 2017 at 10:10 am

Violation of the foreign, non-citizen pilit’s first amendment right to film in public. Thanks, Hawaii.

57 Boonton March 17, 2017 at 11:09 am

It means it is almost impossible to increase US defense spending in the long run. Yes it’s nice the very expensive Patriot missile can be used against a drone if needed. Reality is the US military is buying more drones and it’s probably certain that anti-drone drones are already being developed and will be a lot more effective and cheaper than a Patriot. But the reality is that costs are probably going to collapse. Even a huge military expansion will probably still result in a smaller actual spend over the long run. Over the short run you can always increase the defense budget by building a new battleship or aircraft carrier as I’m sure our Orange King will want.

58 Thiago Ribeiro March 17, 2017 at 11:49 am

Buy the way, who was the last blong/red-haired/orange-haired president?

59 Thiago Ribeiro March 17, 2017 at 11:49 am

* blond

60 Hazel Meade March 17, 2017 at 11:17 am

Waste of a Patriot missile.
A $200 quadcopter should be a lot easier to take down than that.
How hard would it be to build $200 quadcopters that fly up to other $200 quadcopters and blow themselves up? Or just spray them with glue?

61 Thiago Ribeiro March 17, 2017 at 11:52 am

Then the enemy would build/buy $200 qudcopters that fly up to quadcopters that fly up to other $200 quadcopters and blow themselves up and vlow themselves up.

62 Hazel Meade March 17, 2017 at 4:15 pm

What if the first quadcopter blows itself up FIRST?

63 Daniel Weber March 17, 2017 at 3:38 pm

Using a net gets you disqualified in robot fights. We need drone rules of warfare.

64 Boonton March 17, 2017 at 4:27 pm

Why do we want to destroy the quadcopter? Is it approaching a sensitive area either to spy on or drop a small bomb? Then wouldn’t a simple bullet be able to take it out?

Or are we talking about an urban warfare environment. Enemies are holed up in a building, they don’t know how many troops are outside so they send up a quadcopter to get a quick peek is one example I can think of. In that case it seems we have to change close quarters combat styles slightly but not necessarily dramatically?

65 March 17, 2017 at 10:43 pm

a 2012 paper by Loc Pham, “UAV Swarm Attack” is open and makes uncomfortable reading.

The paper posits a simple scenario: a Navy destroyer is attacked by
five to ten drones simultaneously from all directions in conditions of
good visibility. The drones are assumed to be made of off-the-shelf
hobbyist components, controlled covertly from a nearby fishing vessel.
Some of them are visually guided, others resemble the Israeli “Harpy”
loitering drone which has radar guidance.

The defenders look well-prepared. The Aegis air defense system is one
of the best in the world, with an integrated suite of sensors and
weapons including jammers, decoys, Standard surface-to-air missiles, a
five-inch gun and two Phalanx weapon systems, each with a
multi-barreled 20mm canon spitting out seventy-five rounds a second.
Aegis was assumed to be supplemented with six heavy machine guns on the

The reason for the extra machine guns is that Aegis is not well suited
to dealing with the threat. The small drones have a tiny radar
signature, and by the time they are spotted they are too close to be
engaged by missiles or the five-inch gun. The Aegis jammers are not
designed to affect the drones’ control system and cannot affect them.Â
All the work has to be done by the Phalanx and the machine guns at
close range. With the drones coming it at 155 mph, the defenders have
just fifteen seconds between detection (at less than a mile) and
impact. It is vital that defenders pick a different target each,
otherwise some drones take fire from several weapons while others slip
through unscathed.

The team ran several hundred simulations, and found that on average 2.8
out of eight attackers got through
. Even when the defenses were
substantially upgraded — better sensors and more machine guns and
Phalanx — at least one drone gets through every time. And that’s just
with eight drones incoming. With a larger number — ten, twenty, fifty —
the defenders would still only get the first seven or so.

66 carlospln March 18, 2017 at 3:30 am

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: