Sunday, November 01, 2020

The Second And Third Drone Ages Are The End Of Both Infantry And Nocturnal Urban Crime...,

sicsempertyrannis  |  Back in early 1981, I did a few “odd jobs” between graduating from the Infantry Officer Advanced Course and starting the SF Officers Course. One of these jobs was as an ARTEP evaluator for a mech infantry company on Fort Benning. While I had plenty of book learning about tank-mech infantry teams, I was much more comfortable following a dismounted night attack through a cold January swamp. There was no Moon and a stiff, steady breeze so I felt we were making a stealthy approach. Although the attack was well executed, I learned something disconcerting during the after action review. Our night approach through the swamp was monitored by a high flying AC-130 gunship from 1st SOW. The gunship caught the heat signature of each approaching soldier as they silently slid through that moonless swamp. The lesson I took was that the idea of remaining undetected in uninhabited forests and mountains was a myth. Combine that with the Fort Benning aphorism, “If you can be seen, you can be killed” and I quickly became enamored with the concept of urban guerrilla warfare once I reached 10th Group. We would survive behind the Iron Curtain only by hiding among those we were to liberate from oppression.

So what does this stroll down memory lane have to do with the new drone wars? A lot, actually. It’s the same principle. Armies can be seen and killed from above by a wide range of drones in 2020 just as we could be seen and killed by the AC-130 back in 1980. The difference lies in the proliferation of these drones and the fact that they are less expensive than manned aircraft. They also don’t expose pilots or operators to death or capture. 

First there were our Predators and Reapers hunting down jihadis and the occasional wedding party. We have well over 500 of these heavy drones. We have even more smaller drones down to man packed, hand launched tactical varieties. But we are not alone anymore. China is producing them like gangbusters. Turkey has emerged as a major leader in the development and employment of drones. One of these, the Bayratkar T2B, has had success in Syria, Libya and Azerbaijan. Erdogan has also deployed the T2B against the PKK within Turkey and northern Iraq. 

The T2B is a medium altitude tactical drone. It has a range of more than 150 km and can fly at a maximum altitude of 22,500 feet. It has a maximum speed of 120 knots, a cruise speed of 70 knots and endurance of more than 24 hours. The T2B is powered with a 100 horsepower Rotax civil engine, an engine common to ultralight and homebuilt aircraft. The unit cost of the aircraft itself is less than 100 thousand dollars. Its electro-optical reconnaissance, surveillance and targeting system is now produced by Aselan in Turkey at a cost of 400 thousand dollars per unit. Although it does use GPS, it is not satellite controlled. Ground stations control the T2B by line-of-sight radio signal. The munitions, also produced in Turkey by Roketsan, are laser-guided, precision, long range and light weight. They include thermobaric and tandem warheads effective against reactive armor. Overall, the T2B is an impressive piece of kit.