Kamikaze drones are a threat that could bankrupt Western militaries

One year since the start of the war in Sudan. There, Iranian-made drones that have been fielded for the past few months are turning things around for the army against the Rapid Reaction Force militias. Drones are also being used extensively by Tehran's proxies, the Houthis, in Yemen, attacking ships in international waters in the Red Sea.

In Ukraine, Shahid drones have been used in thousands of strikes by Putin's forces, particularly to destroy civilian population centers and critical infrastructure.

Many people were killed and huge damage was done to Ukraine's food and energy sectors by attacks on grain silos and power plants.

In 2019, drones were used by Iran or one of its proxies to attack Saudi oil installations. They have also been used in multiple attacks against US forces in Iraq and Syria.

Combat drones have been with us for several years, but the remarkable increase in Iranian production and exports over the past two years is changing the impact of asymmetric warfare by giving far more power than previously imagined to a much wider range of state and non-state actors.

They are highly flexible and can be launched from a wide variety of platforms, including trucks, shipping containers and vessels.

They can be easily disassembled and reassembled and easily transported and hidden.

As the Russians often did in Ukraine, drones can be deployed in swarms to overwhelm air defenses.

The most dramatic Iranian drone strike to date came, of course, this past weekend.

Repelling that bombing is estimated to have cost up to $1,5 billion, of which a significant amount must have been spent on shooting down the drones.

This illustrates one of the most pressing problems facing our national defense today.

Both attack and reconnaissance drones, which also threaten deployed forces, as demonstrated in Sudan, can be very cheap, even at $2.000.

SHAHED DRONE. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

Even the Shahid drones used extensively in Ukraine and in the attack against Israel can deliver large explosive charges with high accuracy at a range of over 3.000 kilometers, at a cost of only $20.000-$50.000.

Some of the missiles used to intercept these drones can cost over a million dollars a shot, and sometimes much more.

In general, the earlier in the flight path they can be ejected from the sky, the better the chances of preventing them from hitting the target.

Iran's production and export of drones, as well as Russia's use of drones and other missiles in Ukraine, provided a long-overdue wake-up call to Western countries that are now applying greater focus and resources to anti-drone technology as well as missile defense.

Israel, under the most immediate threat, has been leading that path for a long time. It expects to field the Iron Beam, a laser interceptor for drones and missiles, in the near future.

It is the first weapon of its kind anywhere in the world. It will change the game, which will reduce the cost of interception.

Britain is also developing a laser interceptor called DragonFire, which is expected to enter service in five to ten years.

The USA, Russia, China and India are also working on such systems.

However, despite the promise of lasers, they currently cannot fully replace kinetic air defense missiles. They are only short range, probably not much more than 15 km, and degraded by atmospheric conditions such as rain and fog.

Until technology can be developed to dramatically reduce the disproportionate cost of neutralizing drones, air defense systems can still only be seen as a partial answer.

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