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A US ally shot down a $200 drone with a $3 million Patriot missile

A US ally shot down a $200 drone with a $3 million Patriot missileEarlier this week, General David Perkins, the commander of the US Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) spoke at the Association of the US Army’s Global Force symposium, where he discussed the threats that the US military would begin to face in the coming years. One notable example is how a US ally recently shot down a $200 consumer drone with a Patriot Missile.

Perkins’ talk during the symposium focused on the complexity of a military organization in the field, and how the interconnected nature of air, ground, and sea forces can lead to a fragmented response to a threat between the commanders who are in charge of specific areas. He specifically spoke about the necessity for commanders to address threats holistically. He used one specific example of how this occurs on the battlefield: hostile, civilian Unmanned Ariel Systems (UASs). “The gut instinct was,” he explains, “that’s an air defense problem, because they’re in the air.”

“In fact,” he went on to say, “we have a very close ally of ours that was dealing with a adversary using small quadcopter UASs, and they shot it down with a Patriot missile.” The problem, he said, wasn’t effectiveness: the tiny drone didn’t stand a chance — the issue is economics. The situation showed: whoever was flying the drone now knows that they can easily undermine this unnamed ally with the missiles. All they need to do is buy more cheap drones and fly them, running up the operational costs of that military.

As Perkins notes, using a $3.4 million missile to destroy a civilian drone is enormous overkill. The solution to avoiding this in the future is for a commander to recognize the nature of the issue from the onset. Rather than defining the problem as a threat to one’s airspace, for which a missile is usually an appropriate response, looking for solutions across the larger military organization might present a new, more appropriate response. It’s like recognizing that while a fly buzzing around is a nuisance, a fly swatter is a better solution than a shotgun.

Recognizing this approach is going to be crucial for the US military (and allies) moving forward. While militaries around the world have invested billions of dollars in drones in the last decade, the low cost and increased availability of drones aimed for a civilian consumer marketplace have made the aircraft a real threat on the battlefield. We’ve already seen them show up: last October, ISIS fighters rigged up such a drone with explosives and used it to kill a pair of Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq. The group has also used these drones to observe enemy positions during the Syrian civil war. When they do show up, the military will need to realize that the best solution will be for commanders to identify the scale of the problem, and figure out the most appropriate solution based on all resources they have at their disposal. Otherwise, the advantages that the US can bring to the battlefield will be severely undermined, making the fight all the more difficult.
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