• May 11, 2018
  • Categories: Counter Drone News, Liteye in the News

During my time in Mosul as a member of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division, a remarkably accessible and affordable device arrived on the battlefield. As my battalion helped Iraqi forces retake the city, we encountered some of the first small drones employed in modern conflict. Despite its clear military and technological superiority, the coalition to defeat ISIL in Iraq faltered in the face of devices that a 20-year-old with no formal military experience could easily obtain on Amazon. These cheap and easy-to-use devices, previously little more than toys, herald a democratization of technology on the battlefield that will change the way nations contend with adversaries.

Iraqi officers had previously reported observing drones, or unmanned aerial systems, overhead, but there was no apparent purpose for the aircrafts’ flights, and the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service didn’t feel urgency to address the potential threat. Two events abruptly altered the way Iraq’s most elite ground unit perceived these devices. The first was after the Counter-Terrorism Service escorted advisors from the 82nd Airborne Division to a meeting with an Iraqi Army unit in Mosul proper. During the return to their outpost, the convoy spotted an unidentified quad-copter overhead. Soon after, they faced inaccurate mortar fire from the city. Though the attack was ineffective, ISIL’s intentions were clear: to use small drones to supplement and coordinate its attacks.

The second event was more jarring. A few days after the attack on the convoy, Counter-Terrorism Service soldiers reported three rotary-wing drones hovering over a command vehicle. As the staff reported the initial information, the drones dropped munitions from altitude, killing and injuring several Iraqis. No longer could the Counter-Terrorism Service or its advisors ignore the threat posed by unmanned aerial systems.

Offering a mix between the methods of traditional insurgencies and the developments of the 21st century, drones will soon be ubiquitous in the world’s conflict zones, and they will not be solely in the hands of nation-states. The value of these devices, repurposed into weapons of war, far outweighs the price paid by the insurgent and extremist organizations that wage war against state governments. The fight to liberate Mosul from ISIL presented several illustrations of drones’ proliferation on the battlefield. Previously irrelevant to conventional air superiority paradigms, the strip of sky between ground forces and high-end air assets has become highly coveted terrain. Conventional air supremacy does little good against the capabilities of modified off-the-shelf drones, which now contest airspace under 2,000 feet. My unit’s success in Mosul offers lessons for the still-nascent counter-drone fight. As the U.S. military continues to develop several methods to control that airspace, ground combat units – increasingly the target of this technology – must incorporate counter-drone measures into their targeting methodology and small unit tactics. These units must also employ small drones as effective and efficient battlefield tools.

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