Thursday, March 16, 2017

Talk about overkill: $3 million Patriot Missile used to shoot down $200 drone.

Patriot Missile battery. BBC/AFP. 

A US general has revealed that a $3 million Patriot Missile was used to shoot down a $200 quadcopter drone. BBC. Army General David Perkins said that an ally used the advanced missile system to destroy a "$200 drone from Amazon". The Patriot was effective but obvious overkill. Small drones have been used recently, most notably in the battle of Mosul, to deliver small explosives as a terror weapon and air support. It is unclear which US ally used the Patriot Missile but Perkins pointed out how economically nonviable continued use could be. 

My Comment:
Though this story is somewhat humorous, it does speak to a larger problem. What do we do about drones? ISIS has been using them as a makeshift airforce in Mosul and though these strikes weren't all that effective they did have an effect on morale and did hurt some people. And these drones obviously have a terror threat and can be used to spy on people. 

I am surprised that a Patriot Battery was able to target and destroy a drone. You would think that their radar wouldn't be that effective but remember, the Patriots weren't just made as a missile defense system. They also can be used against aircraft. Such a small aircraft is certainly unusual though. My guess is that the missile didn't even slow down when it hit the quadcopter. 

It's unclear which US ally had this engagement. I can think of two very obvious suspects. The first is Israel. Not only does Israel border Syria, which is filled with dozens of factions that might wish to cause Israel harm, including ISIS and Hezbollah. They have also had some border raids as well and have used the Patriots to shoot down other things. 

The other main suspect is Saudi Arabia. They have the same problem as the Israelis in that they have a major war across their border, in this case Yemen. Houthi rebels may have used these drones for recon or perhaps in the same way that ISIS has used them. It is also possible that the operator was ISIS or al-Qaeda themselves. 

Either way, I am guessing the reason that Perkins didn't reveal who fired the missile is because it was fairly embarrassing. Though I think you can easily justify using a missile on a drone, especially when lives are at stake, the economics of the situation does look horrible. 

Obviously Patriot Missiles are extreme overkill, but what else can be done to shoot down drones? From what I understand the United States has neglected air defense because our doctrine is to destroy enemy air forces before they are a threat. That doesn't work when the air forces are made up with tiny drones. 

So what other weapons can be used against drones? Well MANPADS are a possibility. These small shoulder mounted launchers can easily shoot down drones but again, there is a massive cost differential. Our FIM-92 Stingers are $38,000 a pop. Russian models are a bit cheaper but not by much. Obviously using our own planes to destroy drones is a massive overkill as well. 

I think the best defense against drones in terms of costs would be flak guns. These are reasonably cheap and can easily shoot down drones, especially if they have good radar backing them up. In some cases guys with rifles and machine guns on the ground could shoot down drones as well.  

No matter what though, I think that the use of small drones in combat is going to be a tough nut to crack. Whatever we are going to use against them it's never going to be cost effective. That's nothing new, we already use multi million dollar drone strikes to kill single terrorists, but it's never a good thing. 

Though I am loath to suggest a ban, I wonder if one isn't coming. Small drones are already being used in combat and I think it's only a matter of time they are used in a terror attack, either as a weapon or as a propaganda tool. I think that after that happens, and it will, there might be a ban or further restrictions on who gets to buy a drone. If I had any investments in companies that primary make drones I would be shorting them now... 

No comments:

Post a Comment