“It’s the same all the way through history. I am weak and they are strong. How do I make it balance?”
It falls into a long tradition of guerillas making do with cheap weapons, explains Col. Paul Taillon, who teaches at the Royal Military College in Kingston and served three tours in Afghanistan. He says that Canadian troops didn’t face Taliban drones in the high-intensity phase of the Afghan war, up to about 2010, because they weren’t as available then. But given the Taliban’s control of the drug trade, they can easily afford them now
“If there are drones on the market, and you have money, you purchase them. They are very astute about their use of technology.”
So if Canada ends up being involved in a guerrilla war like the one that raged for 13 years in Afghanistan, it’s reasonable to expect big, expensive drones to be used on one side, and small, cheap ones to be used on the other.
Small drones have been used by all sides in the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine. Mostly they have been used for intelligence-gathering, but there have been instances in Syria of quadcopters dropping grenade-sized explosives.
German police have investigated cases both of Islamic terrorists planning to use drones in attacks and also extreme right-wing groups planning to use drones to attack Muslims. There are numerous cases of drones being used to fly drugs across the U.S.-Mexican border.
A U.S. Army manual published in July looked more broadly at the threat posed by small drones.
Small drones are cheap, hard to see and hard to destroy, it warns. They are “available to financially limited, rogue or failing states or non-state actors” and “generally very small, making them hard to hit with direct fire weapons.”
Given their low cost, a swarm of drones could be sacrificed to attack a helicopter, most likely by flying into its blades, a scenario the manual called “perhaps the most dangerous course of action”.
“Swarming is a very valuable tactic against a valuable target,” Taillon explains. “Your target acquisition systems are inundated, and you just can’t destroy them all. You’re overrun.”
“Something is going to hit. Quantity has its own beauty.”
I have deep roots in military aerospace and I guess I haven’t outgrown it. But clearly there is a fast emerging new category to be covered here – toys go to war or such. The potential of a swarm of drones to down an expensive helicopter or wreak other havoc is very real. Our forces are testing similar strategies with as many as 50 drones at a time. No reason to line DJI’s pockets, just print as many as you need and launch when ready.
Unfortunately, as this information becomes more broadly available, it will contribute to public concern about the drones in our midst. And grow the anti-drone