Sunday, September 22, 2019

Drone Swarms: Saudi Oil Fields Attack Shows Their Destructive Power

Dozens of cheap drones were deployed against Abqaiq and Khurais oil fields to cut Saudi Aramco's production by half, according to multiple media reports. Saudi and US officials have blamed Iran for the destructive hit. This is the first time that cheap drone swarms loaded with explosives have dodged sophisticated air defense systems to hit critical infrastructure targets in the history of warfare.  And it is not likely to be the last time as more nations and non-state terror groups are inspired by it to develop and contemplate using such tactics.  Some are close to home for Pakistanis. For example, in a clear warning to Pakistan, an Indian NDTV headline on July 12, 2019 blared: "Swarms Of Indian Drones Being Designed To Take Out Targets Like Balakot (Pakistan)".   Will Pakistan develop drone swarm capability, especially after India's expected deployment of Russia's S-400 air defense system?

Drones Swarm
Attack on Saudi Aramco:

Saudi sources have revealed through the media that 25 drones and missiles were used to hit two sites — the Abqaiq and Khurais oil facilities which produced 5.7 million barrels of oil per day. Saudi Arabia has accused Iran of carrying out the attack. Iran has denied. Houthi rebels in Yemen have claimed responsibility for the attack.

The incoming low-flying small drones and missiles successfully evaded US-supplied sophisticated air defense system. Multi-billion dollar cutting edge American military hardware mainly designed to deter high altitude attacks has proved no match for low-cost drones and cruise missiles used in a strike that crippled its giant oil industry.

Drone Swarms in Syria:

Israeli claimed earlier this year that its fighter jets hit targets in Syria where Iran was preparing to attack Israel using explosive-laden “killer drones,” according to New York Times. “The drone itself is like a missile,” said Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman.

Last year, Russian military reported that a swarm of low-tech armed drones attacked a Russian military base in Syria. The swarm was made up of 13 small drones packed with explosives.

Russia said it shot down seven drones using anti-aircraft missiles while the other six were taken under control and landed by its military. Three of the drones survived the landing.

The Russian government accused the Syrian rebels of launching the attack.

India's Drone Swarm Plans:

A team of engineers and software experts at India's state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd  (HAL) and NewSpace Research and Technologies, a Bengaluru based start-up looking at next-generation aviation technologies, is working furiously to fly the first Indian swarm drone prototypes in two years, according to NDTV. The Indian drone initiative is called SWARM or ALFA-S or Air-Launched Flexible Asset, says NDTV.

The NDTV story described India's SWARM as follows: "Each swarm could have dozens of individual drones. If detected, some of the drones would be shot down, but the sheer numbers of the swarm would overwhelm enemy defences such as surface-to-air missile units to ensure a high probability of mission success".

China Drones Swarm:

At the conclusion of the Global Fortune Forum in Guangzhou, China last year, the event's hosts set a world record for the largest drone swarm ever deployed. For 9 minutes, 1,180 drones danced and blinked out an aerial show. It was cool. It was also an interesting look into the potential future of aviation, according to a report in Popular Science.

Earlier in 2019, China's Global Times reported that country had built helicopter drones capable of intelligent swarm attacks. The drones in the swarm can be a combination of different types, including those that can drop proximity explosive mortar shells, while others can carry grenade launchers, or make suicide attacks, Liu Liyuan, a spokesperson of the company, told the Global Times.

American and British Drone Swarms:

Earlier this year, British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson told attendees at an event hosted by a London think tank that UK will fund the development of “swarm squadrons of network-enabled drones capable of confusing and overwhelming enemy air defenses,” to complement the British fleet of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.

Los Angeles Times recently reported that the U.S. military has been exploring different iterations and uses of the drone swarm concept for more than a decade, using research programs bearing names such as Cicada, Gremlins and Valkyrie.

Pakistani Drone Swarms:

So far there has been very little reported about Pakistan working on drone swarms technology. However, the need for Pakistan to have such technology has become much more pressing after India's decision to purchase Russian S-400 air defense system. The S-400 is reportedly very effective against even the most modern fighter jets like the F-35.

Pakistan does have low-flying terrain-hugging cruise missile Babar but it is far more expensive and problematic to use in conventional war. Drone swarms offer a cheaper, better and less problematic alternative to cruise missiles.

Summary:

Recent attack on Saudi oil facilities has ensured that swarming attack drones will soon be real weapons for militaries around the world. Reports suggest that some rebels in Syria have also used drone swarms to attack Russian military bases. Among the nations reportedly pursuing this technology are China, US, UK and India. It is also very likely that Pakistan will also pursue development and deployment of drones swarms with the expected deployment of Russian made S-400 missile defense system by India.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

South Asia Investor Review

Pakistan-China Defense Industry Collaboration Irks West

Pakistan's Cyber Attack and Defense Capability

Is India a Paper Elephant?

Pakistan's Aircraft Exports

Pakistan Navy Modernization

IDEAS 2014 Arms Show

Pakistan Defense Industry

Silicon Valley Book Launch of "Eating Grass"

Pakistan's Human Capital

Pakistan Economy Nears Trillion Dollars

Pakistan's Sea-Based Second Strike Capability

Riaz Haq Youtube Channel

VPOS Youtube Channel

5 comments:

Shams N. said...

There is a Pakistani drone-maker Raja Sabri Khan of MIT in Karachi who confirmed to me about 7 years ago that Pakistan military was then planning swarm droning Indian radars not as bomb-carriers, but as radar disrupters. The goal was to hide the actual showdown weaponry such as a cruise missile. Raja is still selling to the Army.

However, there is no concrete truth in stating that the Houtis actually carried out the attack in KSA. More than likely, it is a connivance between Israel, USA, and KSA, to create a context for attacking Iran. The scheme did not fly, since Europeans have balked, claiming they have proof Houthis DID NOT do it. They did not say who did it, but they apparently know well.

Riaz Haq said...

Shams: "More than likely, it is a connivance between Israel, USA, and KSA, to create a context for attacking Iran."

I strongly suspect the Israeli intelligence orchestrated the attack on Saudi installations.

The CIA knows it and has briefed Trump on it. And Trump has told the Saudis.

That’s the key reason why Trump does not want to order strikes against Iran. Trump just does not want to be forced into another protracted MidEast war...at least not until the 2020 elections.

All bets are off if Trump gets re-elected in 2020

Riaz Haq said...

#Indian cities are within #Pakistan’s #Raad 2 #ALCM range of 600 km of Pakistani airspace: #Delhi, #Agra, #Ahmedabad, #Jaipur, #Indore. Some of these cities were nominally in range of the #Babur #GLCM, but easier to get an ALCM closer than a GLCM TEL.

Pakistan on Tuesday carried out a successful test of its latest Ra’ad-II air-launched cruise missile, with a new range of 600 kilometers.

According to the military’s ISPR media branch, the homegrown Ra’ad-II “significantly enhances air delivered strategic standoff capability on land and at sea." The weapon features enhanced guidance and navigation systems, “ensuring engagement of targets with high precision.”

When first unveiled as a mock-up in 2017 during an annual parade in Pakistan, the Ra’ad-II had a stated range of 550 kilometers. Slight changes to the intake design led to speculation that the extra range has been achieved due to a more advanced engine than that used in the Ra’ad-I, which has a range of 350 kilometers.

That speculation may have been correct. Though the footage from Tuesday’s test was deliberately low resolution, the rear of the Ra’ad-II appears to have been entirely redesigned with a new intake and control surfaces.

The Ra’ad-I had what may be described a large “twin tail,” whereas the Ra’ad-II appears to have adopted a more compact "X" configuration layout common with similar missiles in service elsewhere. That change should aid in its carriage on a wider range of platforms, perhaps even internally if Pakistan’s fifth-generation fighter program, Project Azm, bears fruit and features an internal weapons bay.

To date, the Ra’ad missiles have only been seen carried by Mirage III strike fighters, which have a wide-track undercarriage.

The range increase would allow the missile to launch well within Pakistan’s territory while being able to hit critical targets within India — New Delhi is roughly 430 kilometers from Lahore, for instance. That need has taken on a greater importance due to India’s air defense modernization efforts through the acquisition of systems such as the Russian S-400.

Washington also recently cleared the Integrated Air Defense System for sale to India.

Mansoor Ahmed, a senior fellow at the Center for International Strategic Studies in Islamabad who specializes in Pakistan’s nuclear program and its delivery platforms, believes the Ra’ad-II is “Pakistan’s answer to India’s development of the Nirbhay cruise missile.”

He believes Ra’ad-II “will significantly enhance the operational and targeting flexibility of the air leg of Pakistan's strategic forces.”

“It gives enhanced capability for precision strikes against critical military targets on land and at sea from safer standoff ranges. With its extended range, hitherto invulnerable sites, forces and assets can now be taken out with greater precision that were previously only covered by Pakistan’s ballistic missiles," he said.

Riaz Haq said...

China Tests Massive Suicide #Drone Swarm Launched From A Box On A Truck. #China test demonstrated its ability to rapidly launch 48 weaponized drones from the back of a truck, as well as from helicopters. CH-901 has pop-out wings and folding v-tail. https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/37062/china-conducts-test-of-massive-suicide-drone-swarm-launched-from-a-box-on-a-truck?xid=twittershare

China recently conducted a test involving a swarm of loitering munitions, also often referred to as suicide drones, deployed from a box-like array of tubular launchers on a light tactical vehicle and from helicopters. This underscores how the drone swarm threat, broadly, is becoming ever-more real and will present increasingly serious challenges for military forces around the world in future conflicts.

The China Academy of Electronics and Information Technology (CAEIT) reportedly carried out the test in September. CAEIT is a subsidiary of the state-owned China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC), which carried out a record-breaking drone swarm experiment in June 2017, involving nearly 120 small fixed-wing unmanned aircraft. Four months later, CAEIT conducted its own larger experiment with 200 fixed-wing drones. Chinese companies have also demonstrated impressive swarms using quad-copter-type drones for large public displays.


We don't know the name or designation of the drones CAEIT used in its September test, or that of the complete system being employed. However, video footage, seen below, shows that the unmanned aircraft are very similar in form and function to more recent models of China Poly Defense's CH-901 loitering munition.


When the tube-launched CH-901 first emerged in 2016, it featured a pair of pop-out wings, as well as a folding v-tail. More recently, that design has evolved and replaced the v-tail with another set of pop-out wings and folding twin-tail arrangement, similar to the drones we see in the CAEIT test video.

Of course, designs featuring two pairs of folding wings are very common for tube-launched drones and loitering munitions, including the Switchblade suicide drone from U.S. manufacturer AeroVironment. The unmanned aircraft CAEIT employed in its experiment is also reminiscent of American defense contractor Raytheon's Coyote.

The Coyote comparison also extends to launch options CAEIT demonstrated in its recent test. The 48-tube ground-based launcher, which is mounted on a modified 6x6 version of the Dongfeng Mengshi light tactical vehicle, is similar in some respects to multi-tube trail-mounted launchers that the U.S. Navy's Office of Naval Research used to launch Coyotes as part of its Low-Cost UAV Swarming Technology (LOCUST) effort, as seen in the video below. Poly Defense has also shown at least a mock-up of an array of tubular launchers for the CH-901.


It's worth noting that any of these box-like launchers could also be installed on ships, as well as deployed in a static position on the ground.

CAEIT's test also involved at least one drone launched from a tube mounted on a Bell 206L helicopter, as well as one that popped out of a tube dropped from a what appears to be a Robinson R-series helicopter. A portion of the 206L's tail boom was blurred out in the video footage for unclear reasons. Coyote is notably capable of being air-launched, as well. The U.S. Navy has also experimented with dropping swarms of Perdix drones, which also feature two pairs of folding wings, but are much smaller, from F/A-18E/F Super Hornets.

Riaz Haq said...

U.S. Army’s New Drone Swarm May Be A Weapon Of Mass Destruction


https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidhambling/2020/06/01/why-new-us-armys-tank-killing-drone-swarm-may-be-a-weapon-of-mass-destruction/#33b06b44ece8

‘Weapon of Mass Destruction’ is a term used in arms-control circles signifying something capable of damage on a large scale and subject to international treaties. Analyst Zak Kallenborn argues in a recent study for the U.S. Air Force Center for Strategic Deterrence Studies that some types of drone swarm would count as WMD. The argument might seem like the theoretical arms control equivalent of angels dancing on the head of a pin — except that the U.S. Army is working on a lethal swarm which fits Kallenborn’s description.

Current drones like the MQ-9 Reaper are controlled remotely, with a pilot flying the aircraft and a payload operator aiming and launching missiles. A battery of other personnel, including military lawyers and image analysts, look over their shoulders and argue what is or is not a valid target. (The movie Eye in the Sky brilliantly captured the military-political-legal wrangling during drone operations). Future drones may have more autonomy, flying and fighting with much less human supervision, in particular when many of them work together as a swarm.

Kallenborn, an expert in unmanned systems and WMD, describes one type of swarm that he calls an Armed, Fully-Autonomous Drone Swarm, or AFADS. Once unleashed an AFADS will locate, identify, and attack targets without human intervention. Kallenborn argues that an AFADS-type swarm is a genuine Weapon of Mass Destruction because of the amount of harm it can do and because of its inability to distinguish civilians from military targets. This is the type of swarm in the fictional 2017 viral video Slaughterbots released as a warning against autonomous weapons.

Like Terminators, such drones may look like science fiction. But the U.S. Army has been working on a Cluster UAS Smart Munition for Missile Deployment which looks like a real-world embodiment of AFADS.

The Cluster Swarm project is developing a missile warhead to dispense a swarm of small drones that fan out to locate and destroy vehicles with explosively formed penetrators or EFPs. (An EFP spits a high-speed slug of armor-piercing metal some tens or hundreds of meters). This is similar in concept to the existing CBU-105 bomb, a 1000-pound munition which scatters forty ‘Skeet’ submunitions each over the target area, each of which parachutes down, scanning the ground with a seeker until it finds a tank and fires an EFP at it; the picture above shows one test. CBU-105’s dropped by B-52 bombers successfully knocked out entire Iraqi tank columns in 2003, leading them to be termed ‘Cans of whup-ass.’ The Cluster Swarm would be vastly more powerful.



The Cluster Swarm involved drones packed into the Army’s existing GMLRS rockets, which carry a 180-pound payload and have a range of over 70 kilometers, or ATACMS missiles that carry a 350-pound payload over 270 kilometers. The original idea was that the missile payload would be quadcopter drones encased in an aerodynamic shell that would disperse them over the target area. However, the challenges of unfolding quadcopters mid-air may have been too great, as the Phase II development, recently completed, went to AVID LLC, who have a slightly different approach.



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Would such a swarm constitute a WMD?

“The weapon could plausibly be classified as a weapon of mass destruction,” Kallenborn said. “However, it would depend on the number and payload of armed UAVs [Unmanned Aerial Vehicles] within the swarm.”

Kallenborn says that as a rough rule of thumb, a swarm with munitions equivalent to a thousand M67 hand grenades would likely be in the WMD class. If it meets this threshold, then according to his new paper the swarm could be subject to international arms control law.

“Certainly off-course drones would have potential for considerable damage if they identified civilian vehicles as military ones,” says Kallenborn.