This is an abbreviated version of the 2,462 word Aviation Week & Space Technology Article titled: Relatively Simple UAS Are Enabling Increasingly Sophisticated Attacks​. 

The Middle East has seen rapid growth in the use of small armed unmanned aircraft, often modified from consumer drones or locally assembled from commercial hardware. Their use has extended far beyond the tactical grenade-dropping multicopters first fielded by the Islamic State group to now encompass long-range attacks on strategic targets.

Small and improvised UAVs present particular challenges to defenders, as air defense systems have struggled to cope with small, slow-flying targets that register more like birds than strike aircraft or cruise missiles. In addition, many unmanned aircraft are difficult or impossible to attribute to a definite source, making them a destabilizing factor in an already unstable region.

More details on the attacks, claims, government responses and defense systems in place can be found in the full article here. 




Recent actions are likely to energize builders of small drones, having shown how much they can achieve for minimal cost. Autonomous, and therefore jam-proof, drones with object recognition and obstacle avoidance are becoming commercially available. Swarming software is also developing fast. Complex attacks by coordinated groups of maneuvering UAVs can be expected in the near future.

Similarly, defensive efforts are being be stepped up. These will include more elaborate layered defenses around high-value targets and the deployment of innovative systems. In September, the U.S. Air Force purchased Raytheon’s Phaser high-power microwave counter-UAV weapon and is sending it overseas for evaluation “against unmanned aerial systems threats.” Phaser works at the speed of light, and its ammunition is effectively free and unlimited. Saudi Arabia may be the ideal proving ground to test Phaser against real threats.

Similarly, the U.S. Marine Corps’ ground-based air defense system, fielded in 2018, in addition to other measures can deploy Raytheon Coyote tube-launched drones as UAV interceptors. The U.S. military is also reported to have acquired Anduril interceptor drones. These may provide a solution with lower cost and greater flexibility than missiles against small UAVs.

The technology on both sides is developing rapidly. The Middle East will continue be a testing ground, and even an incubator, for both offensive and defensive small drone warfare.

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