We’ve talked about swarm drones on past episodes of iSDaily. The use of swarm drones creates a significant tactical advantage for small-scale associations against large scale associations attempting to hold territory where small-scale associations don’t want them.
They significantly raise the cost of coercion for large scale associations. What happened in Syria recently highlights this new reality of tech.
Swarm drones – one of most significant emerging technologies of conflict – have already left a mark on the year 2018. While state actors have yet to deploy this technology in operational theatres, violent non-state actors have demonstrated more than a mere interest. As the recent attack on Russian military in Syria has shown, they have indeed acquired the necessary capabilities to carry out a synchronized attack on two different bases.
On 5 January, two Russian military bases in Syria – the air base in Hmeymin and a logistic and supply base in Tartus – were allegedly attacked by a swarm of 13 GPS-guided drones armed with improvised explosives. Russian forces repelled the attack reporting no casualties. Reportedly, seven drones were blown up with anti-aircraft missile systems, while the other six were hacked by a cyberwarfare unit. Of those six, three of them exploded upon landing, whereas Russian forces retrieved the remaining three intact. As experts commented, despite being the attack itself not necessarily being spectacular by terrorist standards, this event heralds a near future where technologies like swarm drones will be increasingly employed by violent non-state actors and terrorist organizations.
The drones involved in this attack were homemade and quite rudimentary. As the pictures released by the Russian military seemingly show, the swarm was comprised of primitive-looking drones powered by a single propeller with no landing wheels. Also, the drones displayed few metal parts, being probably made mostly of wood and plastic components. However, the improvised explosives and rockets appear to be of advanced manufacture. What also made the swarm sophisticated was the GPS guidance system. Having decoded the data contained in the three retrieved drones, Russian experts were able to locate the launching site in an area controlled by rebels and approximately 50 km distant from the attacked bases. Moreover, it would appear as if the drones had an attack range of up to 100 km. As most homemade and commercial off-the-shelf drones have limited range amounting to few kilometres, these developments constitute a considerable leap from previous instances of non-state actors’ use of UAVs.