Drones have been a staple of modern warfare over the past two decades. When people think of drones in combat, they likely picture heavily armed American MQ-9 Reapers or Turkish TB-2 UCAVs carrying out airstrikes on targets miles away. Drone warfare, however, is not as complex as one would assume, as commercially available platforms have shaped the modern battlefield in recent years and allowed for essentially any armed group to gain unique advantages in both conventional and non-conventional warfare settings.
VIDEO: ISIS affiliated group 'Jund al-Aqsa' use a drone to drop explosives on government forces in Hama, Syria. pic.twitter.com/oKSACsoxc4
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While not the first to utilize this technique, the Islamic State set a major precedent by showcasing how effective commercially available drones are when used in a combat setting to drop munitions. At the time (around 2014), there was little awareness of the threat small UAVs could have on the battlefield or ways to counter them, which ISIS exploited greatly. For the terror group, obtaining drones, such as the DJI Phantom or other similar models, was relatively cheap and could greatly expand their ability to attack targets at larger distances without putting fighters at risk.
ISIS propelled the popularity of weaponizing drones, which was quickly adopted by armed groups around the world, such as cartels in Mexico, Kurdish fighters in Iraq and Syria, anti-junta rebels in Myanmar, and various other Jihadist groups across the Middle East and north Africa. We also saw drones being used during the outbreak of the Ukraine Civil War in Donbas, which has carried on to today with the ongoing Russian invasion. Since 2014, commercial drone technology has rapidly advanced, allowing for more readily available, cheaper, and better performing models. With that, these drones have ushered in a new era of unmanned combat and quickly planted themselves as a commonplace tactic globally.
As for what types of drones that are used, you will typically see DJI models due to their price point, quality, and reliability. One such model that has skyrocketed in popularity is the DJI Mavic, which is preferred due to its size that allows it to be put in a backpack, making it very manportable. Depending on the model, you can see max flight times ranging from 30 minutes to an hour, with max flight distances also ranging from 16 to 30 kilometers. An important factor is also its max takeoff weight, which can easily lift varying types of munitions. These drones are also completely modular as well, as aftermarket parts such as motors can increase speed and max take off weight, propellers can dampen noise, and open source coding can “jail break” height restrictions and geofencing.
Dropping munitions is also a fairly easy task, as devices are readily available online, such as Amazon. While designed to drop “ balloons, flowers, confetti, candies, and party favors,” these droppers can drop.. Well… anything really as long as the drone can lift the weight. Devices like the one linked and shown above operate by using a light sensor triggered by the auxiliary light on the drone. This allows for the device to operate as far away as the drone has signal and does not rely on any external frequencies. They are also very light, usually being made of plastic that is clipped onto the drone itself. So for example, one could theoretically attach a “party favor” to the dropper, fly out over a target, and press the auxiliary light button, which would activate the dropper and release whatever you have.
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What party favors are often dropped? Well it’s usually 30mm VOG-17 grenades with an impact fuze. A standard VOG-17 weighs about 0.35kg, which is well under the max takeoff weight of a DJI Mavic. Depending on the type of VOG grenade, explosive payloads vary, but are often ideal for anti-personnel use or causing damage to light vehicles. Dropping grenades can also vary in accuracy depending on a lot of external factors, such as height and wind, so fins are often attached. While having historically been achieved by the tops of water bottles, badminton birdies, or plastic, munition fins have increasingly been 3D printed to maximize aerodynamics.
The is goes without saying that this is purely for educational reasons and is meant to show how simple these tactics are in an age of warfare that is becoming increasingly complex.