Iraqi forces succeeded in shooting down three airborne drones used by the Islamic State militants for launching deadly attacks with explosive payloads
In an attempt to hold off advances by the coalition forces charged with retaking Mosul, the Islamic State forces are said to have been making increased use of both homemade and modified-off the shelf drones for carrying out attacks in the embattled city.
Armed with grenades and other improvised explosives, the Daesh-operated drones are seeing increased use since the beginning of the month. DefenseOne reports that soldiers are encountering at least one of these low level UAVs per day. Based on photos available through social media posts, the drones range from primitive fixed wing devices to the more expensive quadcopters that are now dominating the consumer market.
— Julián Mateos. (@MarquesdCaceres) January 15, 2017
In October 2016, Geektime wrote about a report issued by the Conflict Armament Research organization that detailed the growth of workshops that were churning out these drones. The report shows that the militants are making use of munitions and missiles to arm the drones. While many of them are quite basic, made from wood or styrofoam, the evidence of more store-bought aircraft is disturbing.
While it stands to reason that light arms, unexploded tank shells, and even low level anti-aircraft weaponry would be readily accessible in Iraq and Syria, it is unclear how ISIS seems to be getting their hands on a steady stream of new commercially available drones.
Beyond their usefulness for attacking troops and terrorizing civilians, ISIS appears to be using the drones for added production value of their propaganda. In this clip below, an ISIS suicide bomber (SVBIED) is seen driving through the city, purportedly targeting Iranian troops. From their eye in the sky, Daesh militants are able to capture the attack on film for use in their recruitment videos or other material.
devastating effect of VBIED (vehicle-borne improvised explosive device) filmed from terrorist drones in Mosul – Iraq pic.twitter.com/9bSYz6GrHn
— Jonapras (@jnessey_) January 5, 2017
While this specific video appears to highlight ISIS’s love of putting on a good show rather than a real jump in operational capabilities, the fact that the militants have the capacity for airborne surveillance is unsettling. The thought of danger from above is likely far scarier than the actual threat. So far there has only been one report of deaths related to an ISIS drone against coalition fighters. Back in October, two Kurdish Peshmerga died while inspecting drone that had crash landed nearby. But the risk that more may die is rising as civilians in the city are said to have already been injured in the attacks.
I met civilians in Mosul who were injured by grenades dropped from ISIS drones which are causing panic over Mosul https://t.co/Mfj4XnUNmw
— Campbell MacDiarmid (@CampbellMacD) January 15, 2017
This desire to gain the advantage in safely observing the movements of advancing coalition troops has been growing in recent years as the technology gets increasingly cheaper. Hezbollah is reported to have similar capabilities, using Iranian supplied drones on the battlefield against rebel groups in Syria, including instances of kamikaze attacks on targets.
For its part, Israel has also been increasing its use of small troop-portable drones for field surveillance. At the same time, there is increased work by companies like Roboteam in developing ground-based drones for clearing tunnels and other dangerous jobs like bomb disposal.
As concerns over the potential for misuse of drones has risen in recent years, more thought is being given on how to counter them. In the US, armed drones are thankfully not an issue yet, with most folks more worried about them buzzing their way into restricted space, either out of concern for privacy or safety. This can be airports or other places where drones could get in the way.
The Australian-American company Drone Shield has developed an electronic rifle called the DroneGun that basically jams the drone from ranges of up to 2km, bringing it down to the ground unharmed. Interestingly, it can also help the user to locate the drone’s pilot, thus providing the coordinates for a well-placed mortar strike.
Still awaiting FCC approval, we will probably have a while to wait until we see it come into use. In the meantime, Iraqi soldiers seem to be handling the drones just fine, shooting them down the old fashioned way. Hardly built as military hardware meant for the dangers of the battlefield, the ISIS drones fly relatively slow and low, making them ideal targets for the soldiers.
Unfortunately, all this shooting in the air can lead to other problems (see gravity mixed with heavy metals). However, until a better solution can be found or ISIS runs out of drones, the coalition forces will have to make do with this old fashioned method.
And if we are being honest, the thought of shooting someone else’s drone out of the air sounds like quite a lot of fun.