Monday, November 28, 2016

Drones at War: Lessons from Ukraine

Russian forces seem to have integrated both Electronic Counter-Measures (ECM) and real-time artillery targeting into drone warfare. To a technologist, this seems quite easy and predictable -- the main challenges are training and organization. Nevertheless, opposing militaries such as NATO might be unprepared for these new tactics.
Land Warfare in Europe: Lessons and Recommendations from the War in Ukraine: Shortly before dawn on the morning of July 11, 2014, elements of Ukraine’s 24th Mechanized Brigade met a catastrophic end near the Ukrainian border town of Zelenopillya. After a mass rocket artillery barrage lasting just three minutes, the combat power of two battalions of the 24th Mechanized Brigade was gone. What remained was a devastated landscape, burning vehicles and equipment, 30 dead and 90 wounded. According to multiple accounts, the Ukrainians were on the receiving end of a new and dangerous Russian weapon: the 122-mm Tornado Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS). Capable of covering a wide fire area with a deadly combination of Dual-Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions (DPICMs), scatter mines and thermobaric warheads, the attack had not only destroyed the combat power of the Ukrainian forces, it offered a glimpse into the changing nature of Land Warfare in Europe. The battlefield was becoming deadlier.

... NATO armies should prepare to fight an ECM battle to keep their drones aloft in addition to the Anti-Access/Area Denial fight for the skies.
Phillip A. Karber, Lessons Learned from the Russo-Ukrainian War (Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory & U.S. Army Capabilities Center (ARCIC)):
The surprising thing about the Russian use of drones is not in the mix of vehicles themselves or their unique characteristics, but rather in their ability to combine multiple sensing platforms into a real-time targeting system for massed, not precision, fire strikes. There are three critical components to the Russian method: the sensor platforms which are often used at multiple altitudes over the same target with complimentary imaging; a command-and-control system, which nets their input and delivers a strike order; and, an on-call ground-based delivery system which can produce strikes within short order.

... The author personally witnessed a fire-strike east of Mariupol in September 2014 in which an overflying drone identified a Ukrainian position, and destroyed it with a “GRAD” BM-21 MLRS [ range: 20-30 km ] within 15 minutes of the initial over-flight and then returned shortly after to do an immediate bomb-damage assessment. Last month when hit by a “GRAD” fragment in a similar strike, there were two UAVs over us – a quad-copter at 800ft and small fixed wing drone at about 2,500ft.

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