FPV Drones and the Future Battlefield

Feanor

Super Moderator
Staff member
The war in Ukraine has done quite a number on armored vehicles. What's interesting is that the difference in generations and protection levels hasn't mattered all that much. A recent M1 Abrams lost there hit a land mine, was struck with a laser guided shell, and finished off with multiple FPV drone hits. Some of this is obviously due to the changing nature of the conflict. While landmine/IED threats have been present for some time, most wars don't feature minefields kilometers (tens of kilometers in some cases) deep, and hundreds of kms long. And generally while guided artillery shells have played a role here, the use of artillery in this war is not unprecedented in principle. But FPV drones, a cheaper version of loitering munitions, represent a fairly new element. Prior to the war loitering munitions were relatively expensive and complex. And while the Russian Lancet has become quite widespread, and is now showing at over 150 strikes per month consistently, this is nothing compared to the thousands of FPV drones used by both sides. Civilian UAS adapted for battlefield use are also in principle nothing new. ISIS used quadcopters to drop grenades, and Syrian rebels have used swarms of UAVs to try and overwhelm Russian defense at Khmeimeem before, but the FPV drone as it has emerged here is different. They offer the ability to hit different projections of armor on any vehicle. They're so cheap they can be purchased with donations and so simple they can be assembled like Legos with COTS components by almost anyone. They provide a PGM capability to the last, saddest, most forgotten batallion of mobilized personnel from either side. Initially I thought they were just an erzats for proper loitering munitions, but this is clearly not the case. Their variety and non-standard nature is actually a plus as it makes it harder to come up with a one-size fits all EW solution. Their low price means their expenditure is not significant. You can throw them away in whatever quantity you have them in. The sides involved in the war have adapted by building complex cage structures over all kinds of vehicles, and by putting up netting around artillery positions and over trenches, but this has only partially helped.

So what does the future hold? Roof cages have clearly become mainstream. We've seen Israel, China, and India, using them in peacetime. FPV drones have been spotted in use by the Syrians in actual combat, but no doubt many others stand ready to follow their example. So what does this mean for the future of warfare? Clearly they have a profound effect on the survivability of an armored vehicle. They're also being used to target infantry with airburst variants fielded by both sides in Ukraine. They can overcome EW with limited automated targeting capability (we've seen this first from Russian Lancet variants, then from Ukrainian FPV drones, no doubt Russian ones with that are just around the corner too). The technology is clearly simple enough that anyone with resources will follow suit. What does this mean for future armored vehicle design? An ELINT/EW combo on every vehicle, or every 3rd/5th/10th vehicle to detect both frequencies in use and jam them before the strike lands? Giant barns of sheet metal on top of vehicles leading assault? An end to mechanized and armored warfare as we know it? And where will FPV drones go in the ORBAT? What tactical level needs to use them? A section per company? A dedicated vehicle with a launcher?

Clearly EW has a role to play in countering them as does some sort of SHORAD, possible based on lasers, possibly based on HMGs with EO or radar guidance. Positions will need to protected by anti-UAS teams, we've seen Russia and Ukraine use two-man teams with anti-drone rifles, recently Russia has used a shotgun-based munition to do this (some anti-UAS pickets have been spotted with Vepr' semi-automatic shotguns, some have been spotted using anti-UAS munitions fired from the under-barrel grenade launcher). Their effectiveness is unclear. But so far no solution has emerged that completely overcomes the issue.

What are your thoughts? Where do FPV drones fit in the ORBAT? What does this mean for armored vehicle and MBT design? What happens when COTS FPV can give you a range of tens of kms, instead of the typical 4-5 we have now and they become an effective counter-battery weapon too?
 

Ananda

The Bunker Group

Couple years back I put this video from SCMP on drones swarm using their AI Algorithm to maneuver out of thick forests, by their own. No operator involve. When the AI already shown that capabilities, something that before only seen in sci-fi movie or novel, then the sky is limit.

Imagine sworn of those drones with Algorithm to recognize weak points on any armour vehicles, and capabilities to maneuver at will. Imagine their algorithm can recognize any uncovered spots on armour protections. This requires more actives EW protection and active smart munitions to recognize the drones maneuver. High/Medium energy laser can be part of defense, however also need sensors with fast algorithm to change direction on their defense. As the drones themselves also fast maneuvering.

Perhaps later on this is going to lead on to investment on magnetic field shields ? Too much Sci Fi ? Well the progress on AI Algorithm as the video shown, also already enter more what previously consider as Sci-fi area.
 

Big_Zucchini

Well-Known Member
I think that while people invested in Ukraine-Russia war have reason to be pessimistic about the sheer impact of FPV drones, this shouldn't be the case for other conflicts. Ukraine-Russia war has its own unique characteristics that allow this. For nations at the lower scale of technology, this democratization of strike capabilities should be seen as an opportunity and a threat, but for nations at the forefront of technology, they're really neither.

We've heard similar talk about MALE drones over Nagorno Karabakh as they were indeed democratized similarly to FPV drones, after decades of service with air forces at the higher end of the technological scale. The same hype was transferred to the Ukraine war in its early days when Bayraktars plucked Russian targets one by one. And it ended as quickly as it started.

Being low-tech, FPV drones can be modified - as quickly as they can be entirely countered. Their key advantage, as you said, is their price. A single modern, mil-std loitering munition can cost the same as a dozen FPV drones, and be manufactured at just a fraction of the scale. But once you pit an FPV drone against an adversary with truly modern capabilities and equipment, suddenly you need to modify it quite a lot to keep it viable - secure comms (civilian drone comms broadcast the operator's coordinates), jam-resistant comms, swarm capability (ad hoc networking), day and night sensors (thermals), and purpose-made warheads. Just the comms alone can multiply an FPV drone's cost several times.
All together these can make it about as expensive as a full fledged loitering munition. It is then that we realize that its survivability is comparatively lower, and that's where they gain more niche capabilities rather than a general purpose PGM.

Regarding Ukraine and tank generations:
Both Russia and Ukraine employ old tanks, with modifications being rather ad-hoc and not an organized, modern technology-driven effort. Even the "new" Abrams, Leopard, and Challenger tanks are not really new. They're quite old, all of them, and even the most modern among them, at the year of their manufacture it could be argued that their development was lacking in scope. They are only considered "new" and better because western tech and doctrine allowed for higher quality equipment with higher survivability and ergonomics. But when it comes to dealing with an evolving threat, they were clearly not adapted, as such adaptations have to occur in parallel to the evolution of the theat, if not even preempt them. In this race, you have 2 armed forces racing for offensive technology while utilizing defensive equipment built for the threats of yesterday.

If we look at Gaza right now, we see that like Ukraine and Russia, Hamas (as does Hezbollah in Lebanon) too has drones of several types. In such environment jammers are less effective due to disruption of LoS by buildings, and the larger concentration of communications equipment limits the utility of noise jamming techniques. Yet we don't see footage like we do in Ukraine. No tanks blowing up, no drones chasing desperate troops. Nothing. IDF statistics put the number of total loss heavy AFVs at 2, with a total of 45 vehicles being hit, of which 38 needed repairs afterward. These are very low numbers for such intense fighting over 6 months and over 13,000 dead combatants on Hamas's side.
We've actually seen far more footage of Hamas running up to tanks, sticking charges on them, and running away, than drones. And it's not because they couldn't get their hands on drones.
The IDF were simply ready for such a threat. Within just a couple weeks they kitted out what was then said to be a brigade with drone hunting equipment, including the training necessary.

Today a modern army has the means to not just create a drone-hunting capability, but make it multilayered.

Elbit here explain how they offer such a capability. They employ their sensors to detect a drone, upload its data to the BMS, alert the crew, slew its manually operated sensors and weaponry to the drone, and as a last resort can utilize the onboard APS to shoot it down.
You are being redirected...

This is something that neither Ukraine nor Russia are able to deploy at the moment, each for their own reasons.

So to summarize:
FPV and other drones are a threat now, and they may find some use in other conflicts in the future, but they don't seem to be headed toward becoming standard kit for every modern armed force, at least in the tank killing role. More relevant would be the room clearing role.
 

Feanor

Super Moderator
Staff member
  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #4
I think your examples are too specific to Israel. Let's talk about a few things.

First off geography. Israel is small, and the distances involved are short. How easy is it to effectively cover a few tens of sq kms vs thousands of sq kms of combat area? What would it look like to conduct another thunder run to Baghdad like the US did in '03 if the enemy has thousands of FPV drones? And thousands isn't even that large of a number. If they stockpiled in peacetime, it could be tens of thousands, of several hundred different model types operating on different frequencies. Consider the rather lackluster EW setup of many even modern western militaries' ground forces. How quickly could any of them saturate a front line of a size comparable to that of the war in Ukraine or the area of a country like Iraq?

Second off the question of fighting a modern adversary. A civilian drone broadcasts an operators position only if the enemy has some sort of radio-technical reconnaissance in the area ready to step in. Remember, Russia has considerable ground-based SIGINT/ELINT capability, and they can't provide it consistently across this front line. Could a country like Germany or France or even the US using present force organizations? How long does the drone spend in flight, and how much time does the operator spend in one spot? Is there anything preventing operators from being mobile? We've seen mobile set ups for Russian Lancets, how significant is it to know the location of the operator if the operator is in a moving vehicle, and once the drone hits, the location drops off?

On to the question of old tanks. First off I would question the claim that the Leo-2A6s and Strv-122s (Swedish modified Leo-2A5s) aren't modern tanks. Ditto for the T-90Ms Russia is using. They might not be cutting edge, but they are well on the newer side of what's rolling around the battlefields today. But realistically, how many countries are using exclusively tanks more modern then a T-80BVM, T-90M, or T72B3 mod'22? Last I checked even the US still operates some M1A1s. A few small European countries can afford a tiny but highly modern tank force, but for Israel, Merkava Mk. 2s have been spotted in combat. For most of the world a M1A1/A2, Leo-2A5 and newer, and post-Soviet upgraded T-72/80/90 variants are all generally modern tanks. All of these are on the Ukrainian battlefield. Second off, what exactly is the difference? What does a Merkava Mk4 offer in terms of protection from an FPV drone strike that a Merkava Mk2 doesn't? What would an M1A3 have that an M1A2 doesn't that specifically protects it from an FPV drone strike? A decent size warhead carefully aimed at the engine compartment, or rear of the hull, is likely to do some substantial damage on pretty much any tank current or future. If anything Russia's approach of rear-facing ERA screens might give the tank a chance, but a stock US M1A2 as it exists today would eat the hit straight to the rear. Now if the FPV drone has a surplus RPG-2 warhead zip-tied to it, it might simply not penetrate (or fail to explode). But some of this is the result of wartime desperation. In a more normal peacetime framework you can attach a much more effective munition. Now you might say the protection of tanks comes from the force organization and additional support assets rather then just more armor on the tanks. That's all good and well, but then it doesn't matter if it's an M1A9000 or a T-55.

And this brings me to my main issue with restricting analysis and discussion to what cutting edge first world militaries can do. This is simply not what most of the world looks like. Most wars being fought today and in the forseeable future won't be between a couple of peer adversaries with highly modern arsenals. In Syria a giant war was fought with mostly ~50 year old technology and methods with only limited innovations. Any first world country would have outperformed any of the sides in that war by a huge margin. But it didn't matter what some first world military somewhere could do in theory. What matterred was the reality of that battlefield. If FPV drones shape real wars to come, they matter. How well would India or Pakistan, Iran or Saudi Arabia, China or Taiwan deal with an FPV drone threat? Consider someone like Armenia, a state with some state-level capabilities, acquiring several thousand FPV drones over the next ~1-2 years to prepare for any possible Azeri offensive. Would someone like Azerbaijan be able to deal with this effectively? What would their response look like?

To talk about Gaza specifically. I'm not sold that Hamas had prepared the kind of drone arsenal that we're seeing in Ukraine. I haven't seen any evidence of it. We've seen some use of drones, but on a scale that's frankly pathetic. I suspect your analysis was spot on, in that Hamas hadn't really prepared for or expected a war. I don't know how well Israel would have done if Hamas had used thousands of FPV drones in the opening weeks of the fight.
 

John Fedup

The Bunker Group
Fair to say many tier 1 military analysts are evaluating future options for the battle space. Given the high costs of armoured vehicles, a better combination of tactics and anti-drone/SHORAD kit will be needed along with EW kit. EW and laser advances could render FPVs to the back burner, probably the most wished for solution. However the sheer volume of FPVs and their minimal costs, troubling.
 

Big_Zucchini

Well-Known Member
I think your examples are too specific to Israel. Let's talk about a few things.
As in easier or more difficult for a country like Israel?

First off geography. Israel is small, and the distances involved are short. How easy is it to effectively cover a few tens of sq kms vs thousands of sq kms of combat area? What would it look like to conduct another thunder run to Baghdad like the US did in '03 if the enemy has thousands of FPV drones? And thousands isn't even that large of a number. If they stockpiled in peacetime, it could be tens of thousands, of several hundred different model types operating on different frequencies. Consider the rather lackluster EW setup of many even modern western militaries' ground forces. How quickly could any of them saturate a front line of a size comparable to that of the war in Ukraine or the area of a country like Iraq?
EW may be difficult to set up properly along a vast area if you have equipment quantity issues. But over small areas it's not any easier. Sure, you got more concentrated equipment, but all this spectral noise will also interfere with a lot of the comms of any asset operating in the area.
So EW will probably never be at the forefront of the anti-drone defense. Sure, looking 5 years back, every manufacturer basically offered his own take on a soft kill system, but that was never the desirable solution they'd set on. Rather just an interim one. And quickly almost every manufacturer added some form of missile, drone killing drone, laser, high power microwave, airbursting ballistic weapons, and plain ballistic weapons.
Also worth mentioning that soft kill systems are actually really cheap, especially if they leech onto another platform's sensors, or are switched on 24/7. Simple noise jamming can be accomplished by cascading high power amplifiers which are dirt cheap and are very wide band. If you go for more sophisticated jamming, you're probably over-investing in the soft kill.

Regarding enemy capacity for drone operation:
What you describe - tens of thousands of drones. This is a major challenge. If they're launched in small numbers spread over a long period - are they really effective? If they're launched in large numbers over short periods - is their infrastructure really survivable?
For a modern armed force - emission hunting is a big focus. Communication between ground station and a pack of drones is protracted, along known and widely monitored frequencies, and they create an emission cluster themselves (lower power, sure, but as they get closer it's stronger). Regarding communication between moving assets, transmission has to be omnidirectional. Thus, if the operator can communicate with the drone, then at similar range an enemy with a receiver of similar capabilities will be able to spot it. An armed force that doesn't take action and lets itself get hit - will be hit. But an armed force that is serious about the threat, will have a serious defensive edge over an attacker, because it's more difficult to turn a small drone into a proper, all purpose threat, than to defend against one.

Second off the question of fighting a modern adversary. A civilian drone broadcasts an operators position only if the enemy has some sort of radio-technical reconnaissance in the area ready to step in. Remember, Russia has considerable ground-based SIGINT/ELINT capability, and they can't provide it consistently across this front line. Could a country like Germany or France or even the US using present force organizations? How long does the drone spend in flight, and how much time does the operator spend in one spot? Is there anything preventing operators from being mobile? We've seen mobile set ups for Russian Lancets, how significant is it to know the location of the operator if the operator is in a moving vehicle, and once the drone hits, the location drops off?
This begs 3 questions:
1. Is current Russian ELINT technically capable enough to deal with the drone threat?
2. Is Russia able to disperse sufficient units along the front?
3. Is Russia able to miniaturize such systems for force protection and point defense?

For countries like Germany, Fr*nce, or USA, I'd say - Don't create a front. If you create a front, you allow the enemy to adapt firing solutions and keep pounding you and you force yourself into an arms race. But if a front just happens, then even there we see various western manufacturers putting out excellent anti-drone systems, which Ukraine simply doesn't have access to because they're modern and we can see that Ukraine rarely ever gets proper modern weaponry. Some larger for point defense on static sites. Some small enough to be crew served but still kinetic and without special logistics, and some are just modifications to one's personal weapon.

Regarding moving operators - radiation seeking LMs. Ideally when operating not just an FPV but also any kind of S-UAS, the operator would be mobile. It often doesn't happen and they're just concealed, but mobility is something to strive for. But as long as you're emitting, your location is known.

On to the question of old tanks. First off I would question the claim that the Leo-2A6s and Strv-122s (Swedish modified Leo-2A5s) aren't modern tanks. Ditto for the T-90Ms Russia is using. They might not be cutting edge, but they are well on the newer side of what's rolling around the battlefields today.
New =/= modern. Even if a Leopard 2A7 is manufactured today, if it doesn't have an APS - it's simply less ready to deal with modern threats than a tank made in 2008 with an APS. Sorry but that's just reality. It may have faster computers and a better thermal sight, but it won't really help it against an RPG from behind.
Due to protracted peacetime, many armed forces built new weapons for the old threats. It's not rare to see programs dead on arrival simply because they're obsolete for the task, or the mission itself is irrelevant by that point.

But realistically, how many countries are using exclusively tanks more modern then a T-80BVM, T-90M, or T72B3 mod'22? Last I checked even the US still operates some M1A1s. A few small European countries can afford a tiny but highly modern tank force, but for Israel, Merkava Mk. 2s have been spotted in combat. For most of the world a M1A1/A2, Leo-2A5 and newer, and post-Soviet upgraded T-72/80/90 variants are all generally modern tanks. All of these are on the Ukrainian battlefield.
And they're all getting knocked out in Ukraine in large numbers. They're all new, but they're not built to handle the new threats.
Take the US Army's new M2A4E1 Bradley, or its new M1A2SEPv3 with Trophy, and these are going to be much more capable simply by having an APS.
During GWOT, even the newest most sophisticated AFV wouldn't cut it if it couldn't handle large mines, IEDs, and an RPG to the side.
All those "Best tank" competitions are really missing the point IMO. A tank or AFV is not as good as its specs are. It's as good as its program is - how it's developed over the long term, how it's developed short term to meet evolving threats, how it's made to be easier to maintain and operate, etc.

What does a Merkava Mk4 offer in terms of protection from an FPV drone strike that a Merkava Mk2 doesn't? What would an M1A3 have that an M1A2 doesn't that specifically protects it from an FPV drone strike?
An APS, roof armor, and better situational awareness.
 

Big_Zucchini

Well-Known Member
A decent size warhead carefully aimed at the engine compartment, or rear of the hull, is likely to do some substantial damage on pretty much any tank current or future. If anything Russia's approach of rear-facing ERA screens might give the tank a chance, but a stock US M1A2 as it exists today would eat the hit straight to the rear. Now if the FPV drone has a surplus RPG-2 warhead zip-tied to it, it might simply not penetrate (or fail to explode). But some of this is the result of wartime desperation. In a more normal peacetime framework you can attach a much more effective munition. Now you might say the protection of tanks comes from the force organization and additional support assets rather then just more armor on the tanks. That's all good and well, but then it doesn't matter if it's an M1A9000 or a T-55.
Program management. Before entering Ukraine, Russia forward deployed every modern AFV it wanted to commit, and pushed them in.
Before entering Gaza, the IDF deployed anti-drone countermeasures on tanks and anti-drone weapon sights to infantry, and provided training.
As soon as sticky HEAT charges were utilized, every AFV was layered with non-magnetic materials.
And over time as more, new equipment went into Gaza, it was fitted with standard, mass produced systems, not makeshift countermeasures. Seen below is an Eitan with jammer.

1715273530994.png

And this brings me to my main issue with restricting analysis and discussion to what cutting edge first world militaries can do. This is simply not what most of the world looks like. Most wars being fought today and in the forseeable future won't be between a couple of peer adversaries with highly modern arsenals. In Syria a giant war was fought with mostly ~50 year old technology and methods with only limited innovations. Any first world country would have outperformed any of the sides in that war by a huge margin. But it didn't matter what some first world military somewhere could do in theory. What matterred was the reality of that battlefield. If FPV drones shape real wars to come, they matter. How well would India or Pakistan, Iran or Saudi Arabia, China or Taiwan deal with an FPV drone threat? Consider someone like Armenia, a state with some state-level capabilities, acquiring several thousand FPV drones over the next ~1-2 years to prepare for any possible Azeri offensive. Would someone like Azerbaijan be able to deal with this effectively? What would their response look like?
Democratized weapons don't tend to stick very long.
As I mentioned above, MALE drones are now widespread and in use by even by poor nations. But the countermeasures to them are already in use by terrorist organizations. Iran's 358 drone is an example, used by Hezbollah to shoot down a Hermes 450 recently. It's a hybrid between a missile and a drone, flying fast enough to catch onto a drone, and slow enough to fly for a long time.
1715273548917.png

Drones are, too, very easy to counter. All you really need is a controllable tripod (easy to source), AI-ready computer (will be easy to source very soon), and a rifle, to create a system like this:

1715273576014.png

Alternatively, even your very old cannons like the abundant 40mm Bofors or the 30mm armed BMPs can be utilized with a simple improvement to their FCS. Look for example at a networked array of 40mm.

Here we see IAI showcasing their radar, but really instead of it you could have a cheap, non-emitting optical sensor, a computer doing basic ballistic calculations, and an old cannon with new motors. The components for these are abundant, and countries like China, Iran, and Russia can kit out poor customers with similar systems, I'd say with ease.
Perhaps one reason why we're not seeing countermeasures democratized as well is that poor nations typically build their forces to be relatively more attritable than would be acceptable in the west, which makes sense.
 
Last edited:

John Fedup

The Bunker Group
Attached is a link describing some analytical results of recent counterdrone efforts. For LSCO, like the Ukraine war, clearly more resources are needed to address the drone threat and some kind of low cost counter measure(s) will be critical.

 

Feanor

Super Moderator
Staff member
  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #9
Sorry for the slow response.

As in easier or more difficult for a country like Israel?
I think easier. Battlespace is smaller and easier to saturate with relevant systems. Israel also has a domestic defense industry that's well adapted to local needs, and highly adaptable in principle.

EW may be difficult to set up properly along a vast area if you have equipment quantity issues.
If? Is there a country today that doesn't have equipment quantity issues? Western Europe's quarter-century long disarmament has taken quite the toll. The US has a relatively poor assortment of the kind of ground-based EW that we're discussing here. Who doesn't have this issue?

But over small areas it's not any easier. Sure, you got more concentrated equipment, but all this spectral noise will also interfere with a lot of the comms of any asset operating in the area.
I submit that if you can't deconflict friendly comms from EW, the area doesn't matter. The EW needs to be where your friendly units are. Big theater or small, it will interfere if not done right.

So EW will probably never be at the forefront of the anti-drone defense. Sure, looking 5 years back, every manufacturer basically offered his own take on a soft kill system, but that was never the desirable solution they'd set on. Rather just an interim one. And quickly almost every manufacturer added some form of missile, drone killing drone, laser, high power microwave, airbursting ballistic weapons, and plain ballistic weapons.
I guess it depends on what you mean by forefront. Russian and Ukrainian sources report EW being put to good use, but not being a panacea. I think EW will be part of the solution for the forseeable future, just not the single solution. I don't think there is a simple single solution.

Regarding enemy capacity for drone operation:
What you describe - tens of thousands of drones. This is a major challenge. If they're launched in small numbers spread over a long period - are they really effective? If they're launched in large numbers over short periods - is their infrastructure really survivable?
When you say infrastructure, what do you mean? An FPV drone team can operate out of any hole in the ground, or piece of cover. The drones are disposable so spare batteries, charging station, maintenance, aren't really concerns. They're small so you don't need launch catapults. You just need a way to crate them close enough to the front line to hand them to the teams that will be using them. In that regard they are no more logistically challenging then any other type of munition.

For a modern armed force - emission hunting is a big focus. Communication between ground station and a pack of drones is protracted, along known and widely monitored frequencies, and they create an emission cluster themselves (lower power, sure, but as they get closer it's stronger). Regarding communication between moving assets, transmission has to be omnidirectional. Thus, if the operator can communicate with the drone, then at similar range an enemy with a receiver of similar capabilities will be able to spot it. An armed force that doesn't take action and lets itself get hit - will be hit. But an armed force that is serious about the threat, will have a serious defensive edge over an attacker, because it's more difficult to turn a small drone into a proper, all purpose threat, than to defend against one.
You have a fight on your hands now. It's great if you have the time to hunt down every emissions source, but what happens when you don't? What happens when the drones are autonomous until they reach a designated area and only then the operator switches on? What happens when you find the operator, but you have about 15 mins to hit them, and it's not 1 operator is 5-10 because they've got two teams in every company, and a separate btln section of them? How do you hit them? The emissions are coming from location X, but it's behind enemy trenches, in a covered position. Mortars and artillery aren't going to guarantee target destruction, and you can't just walk over there and put two to the chest one to the head. The problem is of course solvable in principle. The issue is that the problem doesn't exist in isolation. It's not just some Hamas nimrod sitting somewhere flying a drone. We're talking about opponents with relatively similar state level capabilities.

This begs 3 questions:
1. Is current Russian ELINT technically capable enough to deal with the drone threat?
2. Is Russia able to disperse sufficient units along the front?
3. Is Russia able to miniaturize such systems for force protection and point defense?
1. In principle yes. 2. Absolutely not. Is anyone given the scale of the conflict? Because this is part of my argument. 3. I don't think so, at least not that we've seen. This is where a more capable player might be able to do more. But I think they have to do more now, not when the fight starts. So considering that, it means changing the TO&E of practically every unit in your military.

For countries like Germany, Fr*nce, or USA, I'd say - Don't create a front. If you create a front, you allow the enemy to adapt firing solutions and keep pounding you and you force yourself into an arms race. But if a front just happens, then even there we see various western manufacturers putting out excellent anti-drone systems, which Ukraine simply doesn't have access to because they're modern and we can see that Ukraine rarely ever gets proper modern weaponry. Some larger for point defense on static sites. Some small enough to be crew served but still kinetic and without special logistics, and some are just modifications to one's personal weapon.
You think the existing anti-drone systems are enough to render FPV drones useless? Because FPV drones are just a cheapified loitering munition really. Consider the Teledyne Rogue 1 that the USMC is getting.

Regarding moving operators - radiation seeking LMs. Ideally when operating not just an FPV but also any kind of S-UAS, the operator would be mobile. It often doesn't happen and they're just concealed, but mobility is something to strive for. But as long as you're emitting, your location is known.
*Can be known.

New =/= modern. Even if a Leopard 2A7 is manufactured today, if it doesn't have an APS - it's simply less ready to deal with modern threats than a tank made in 2008 with an APS. Sorry but that's just reality. It may have faster computers and a better thermal sight, but it won't really help it against an RPG from behind.
Due to protracted peacetime, many armed forces built new weapons for the old threats. It's not rare to see programs dead on arrival simply because they're obsolete for the task, or the mission itself is irrelevant by that point.
We live in a real world, not a hypothetical one. So far only a handful of wealthy countries have inducted APS, and often only on a fraction of the fleets in question. There will be wars coming up where many MBTs without APS will be fielded.

And they're all getting knocked out in Ukraine in large numbers. They're all new, but they're not built to handle the new threats.
Take the US Army's new M2A4E1 Bradley, or its new M1A2SEPv3 with Trophy, and these are going to be much more capable simply by having an APS.
During GWOT, even the newest most sophisticated AFV wouldn't cut it if it couldn't handle large mines, IEDs, and an RPG to the side.
All those "Best tank" competitions are really missing the point IMO. A tank or AFV is not as good as its specs are. It's as good as its program is - how it's developed over the long term, how it's developed short term to meet evolving threats, how it's made to be easier to maintain and operate, etc.


An APS, roof armor, and better situational awareness.
I would argue that you have a peculiar definition of modern. I don't think APS are the solution to FPV drones you seem to imply. I think advanced APS will eventually be part of the solution, but how many munitions are in a Trophy system? The last M1 Abrams knocked out in Ukraine hit a land mine, ate a guided 152mm shell, and was then hit with 3 FPV drones. We've seen a Leo-2 take 5 FPV drones. And these numbers are not the limit, they are just what is sufficient at this point. We are heading for a future where trading 10-15-20 FPV drones for a single vehicle kill will be seen as a good deal.
 

Feanor

Super Moderator
Staff member
  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #10
Program management. Before entering Ukraine, Russia forward deployed every modern AFV it wanted to commit, and pushed them in.
Before entering Gaza, the IDF deployed anti-drone countermeasures on tanks and anti-drone weapon sights to infantry, and provided training.
As soon as sticky HEAT charges were utilized, every AFV was layered with non-magnetic materials.
And over time as more, new equipment went into Gaza, it was fitted with standard, mass produced systems, not makeshift countermeasures. Seen below is an Eitan with jammer.

View attachment 51331
Your point is well taken. However at the very least this program management needs to be done prior to the fight, and I think it's more complex with dealing with an experienced and robust drone threat rather then sticky charges.

Democratized weapons don't tend to stick very long.
As I mentioned above, MALE drones are now widespread and in use by even by poor nations. But the countermeasures to them are already in use by terrorist organizations. Iran's 358 drone is an example, used by Hezbollah to shoot down a Hermes 450 recently. It's a hybrid between a missile and a drone, flying fast enough to catch onto a drone, and slow enough to fly for a long time.
View attachment 51332

Drones are, too, very easy to counter. All you really need is a controllable tripod (easy to source), AI-ready computer (will be easy to source very soon), and a rifle, to create a system like this:

View attachment 51333
So at the very least you need to deploy sufficient quantities of these tools and adjust the CONOPS of mechanized and dismounted units to include these. But I don't think the solution is as simple as you think. I think FPV drones are just the latest evolution of the loitering munition concept, one that shows how cheap and accessible the technology has become. I think over time we are going to see even cheaper and more mass-produced options on larger and larger scales.

Alternatively, even your very old cannons like the abundant 40mm Bofors or the 30mm armed BMPs can be utilized with a simple improvement to their FCS. Look for example at a networked array of 40mm.

Here we see IAI showcasing their radar, but really instead of it you could have a cheap, non-emitting optical sensor, a computer doing basic ballistic calculations, and an old cannon with new motors. The components for these are abundant, and countries like China, Iran, and Russia can kit out poor customers with similar systems, I'd say with ease.
Perhaps one reason why we're not seeing countermeasures democratized as well is that poor nations typically build their forces to be relatively more attritable than would be acceptable in the west, which makes sense.
Now you're talking about reintroducing AAA SHORAD into formations, something that many western militaries have abandoned for decades. You're explaining how the problem can be mitigated. Which doesn't mean the problem goes away. At the very least FPV drones matter because they require even advanced militaries to invest in considerable new capabilities and change their approach. At the most, I suspect most advanced militaries currently stand unprepared for this threat.

EDIT: Case in point, here's a Hezbollah FPV drone striking an Israeli target. I can't make out what they hit, and it's plausible that it's a non-military target, but the threat is real.

 
Last edited:

Big_Zucchini

Well-Known Member
I guess it depends on what you mean by forefront. Russian and Ukrainian sources report EW being put to good use, but not being a panacea. I think EW will be part of the solution for the forseeable future, just not the single solution. I don't think there is a simple single solution.
Russia-Ukraine has exhausted the early-war viability of cheap COTS drones. Now you cannot fly a drone across a frontier unless you modify it somehow to cope with some EW. But then, when you begin modifying the drone, EW becomes exponentially more difficult as you need to target things other than the easily disruptible operator-drone link.
Hezbollah routinely manages to fly drones into Israeli airspace because their drones, provided by Iran, likely have more robust comms.
I think we're at a point where soft-kill is being exhausted generally except for niche, less conventional solutions. Not dissimilar to how ATGMs were once jammed, only to realize these expensive systems were constantly outmatched.

When you say infrastructure, what do you mean? An FPV drone team can operate out of any hole in the ground, or piece of cover. The drones are disposable so spare batteries, charging station, maintenance, aren't really concerns. They're small so you don't need launch catapults. You just need a way to crate them close enough to the front line to hand them to the teams that will be using them. In that regard they are no more logistically challenging then any other type of munition.
As your capabilities become more robust, they depend more on permanent infrastructure. This can mean storage facilities, production facilities, relays, secure underground comms for inter-sector coordination etc.
To use a very large number quickly is to imply use against a competent opponent, which in turn likely has some countermeasures. You wouldn't want to lose a solid chunk of your ammo in one go. And so you can't just pick them up as-is, from Ali Express.

You have a fight on your hands now. It's great if you have the time to hunt down every emissions source, but what happens when you don't? What happens when the drones are autonomous until they reach a designated area and only then the operator switches on? What happens when you find the operator, but you have about 15 mins to hit them, and it's not 1 operator is 5-10 because they've got two teams in every company, and a separate btln section of them? How do you hit them? The emissions are coming from location X, but it's behind enemy trenches, in a covered position. Mortars and artillery aren't going to guarantee target destruction, and you can't just walk over there and put two to the chest one to the head. The problem is of course solvable in principle. The issue is that the problem doesn't exist in isolation. It's not just some Hamas nimrod sitting somewhere flying a drone. We're talking about opponents with relatively similar state level capabilities.
If it's peers with asymmetric combat capabilities, like Russia-Ukraine - they'll need hard-kill or get hit.
If it's peers with balanced combat capabilities, and you're referring to encrypted comms - a mix of soft kill and hard kill will work, particularly mobile jammers. A remote controlled drone will have a hard time communicating with an operator when it has 50 Watts of electro-BS shoved down its receiver. Hard-kill is actually what's being developed at a more rapid rate from what I see.
APS is now becoming fairly standard for western vehicles, and its sensors are reusable for drone defense. Heck, some APS are outright drone defenses on their own. Common cannons like 25mm through 40mm are capable as hard-kill with a software update. Same goes for any RCWS on a tank and APC. So your average modern AFV brings its own anti-drone hard kill umbrella.
For site protection you can park an AFV in that site until you develop a more robust fixed solution.

Absolutely not. Is anyone given the scale of the conflict?
Hence me saying - avoid long fronts. Aside from drones, they add a lot of other complications.
But even then, Russia and Ukraine aren't fighting along a wide front. They're just securing it. They're fighting in select areas where at least one side has the initiative. Although Russia shows signs of desire for increased force protection, it is still incredibly wasteful. Can't comment on Ukrainian assaults yet.

3. I don't think so, at least not that we've seen. This is where a more capable player might be able to do more. But I think they have to do more now, not when the fight starts. So considering that, it means changing the TO&E of practically every unit in your military.
Unless you treat drones as you would any other munition.

You think the existing anti-drone systems are enough to render FPV drones useless? Because FPV drones are just a cheapified loitering munition really. Consider the Teledyne Rogue 1 that the USMC is getting.
If by existing you mean what manufacturers are offering and what may be bought in the near future then yes. For now.
For a modern armed force that considers a peer adversary, drones have a more niche role, particularly in dense urban, and subterranean environments.

We live in a real world, not a hypothetical one. So far only a handful of wealthy countries have inducted APS, and often only on a fraction of the fleets in question. There will be wars coming up where many MBTs without APS will be fielded.
Any armed force that doesn't consider the capabilities of his adversaries and/or doesn't prepare for them - will be smashed. Drones or not.

would argue that you have a peculiar definition of modern. I don't think APS are the solution to FPV drones you seem to imply. I think advanced APS will eventually be part of the solution, but how many munitions are in a Trophy system? The last M1 Abrams knocked out in Ukraine hit a land mine, ate a guided 152mm shell, and was then hit with 3 FPV drones. We've seen a Leo-2 take 5 FPV drones. And these numbers are not the limit, they are just what is sufficient at this point. We are heading for a future where trading 10-15-20 FPV drones for a single vehicle kill will be seen as a good deal
I didn't say they are a solution, but rather that a force with proper APS is likely sufficiently modern to field other solutions, and its baseline resilience in terms of taking a hit would be far greater.

Ukraine has asymmetric technological solutions. It has very old equipment filling some niches, and somewhat newer equipment filling others. Though I'd say it doesn't have truly modern technology anywhere (nearly). The west can open up access to drone defeating systems but it doesn't.

Technically, even 20 ATGMs are a good trade vs an MBT, if we look at prices only.
The trend is clearly more survivable combat forces and focus on saturation to counter that. Drones are what's used for both purposes. Those unable to develop both the defensive and offensive means - get smashed.

So at the very least you need to deploy sufficient quantities of these tools and adjust the CONOPS of mechanized and dismounted units to include these. But I don't think the solution is as simple as you think. I think FPV drones are just the latest evolution of the loitering munition concept, one that shows how cheap and accessible the technology has become. I think over time we are going to see even cheaper and more mass-produced options on larger and larger scales.
Dedicated M-SHORAD are necessary.
FPV drones are the poor man's loitering munition, indeed. It's the LM that we don't have a proper solution for.
M-SHORAD were unjustly removed from service. It was only time until the threat became vertical.
But now we can also turn every AFV into a mini -M-SHORAD asset, and give every dismount a drone fighting capability.
 

Big_Zucchini

Well-Known Member
Linked because it's highly relevant:

Urban combat remains an equalizer, making it highly attractive to disadvantaged forces. Drones are one thing that can be used to regain the technological advantage. Persistent challenges are clearing rooms, investigating suspicious objects, and observing and fighting over a corner.
With a swarm of simple drones, likely having communications boosted by an overhead relay, an IDF force managed to very quickly and precisely eliminate a squad of terrorists at very low expense and 0 harm to uninvolved.
 

Feanor

Super Moderator
Staff member
  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #13
Russia-Ukraine has exhausted the early-war viability of cheap COTS drones. Now you cannot fly a drone across a frontier unless you modify it somehow to cope with some EW. But then, when you begin modifying the drone, EW becomes exponentially more difficult as you need to target things other than the easily disruptible operator-drone link.
Hezbollah routinely manages to fly drones into Israeli airspace because their drones, provided by Iran, likely have more robust comms.
I think we're at a point where soft-kill is being exhausted generally except for niche, less conventional solutions. Not dissimilar to how ATGMs were once jammed, only to realize these expensive systems were constantly outmatched.
I think EW will remain a piece of the puzzle if only to deal with low-level drone threats.

As your capabilities become more robust, they depend more on permanent infrastructure. This can mean storage facilities, production facilities, relays, secure underground comms for inter-sector coordination etc.
To use a very large number quickly is to imply use against a competent opponent, which in turn likely has some countermeasures. You wouldn't want to lose a solid chunk of your ammo in one go. And so you can't just pick them up as-is, from Ali Express.
Maybe you can't pick up the drones from Ali Express, but you can get components easily, after which a group of workers with screw drivers can put them together like legos. Production facilities are in the rear like any other military production. There is nothing inherently more vulnerable about drone production then there is about say artillery shell production. If we're fighting a rapid war with mainly pre-war stocks, then production is irrelevant, and if we're fighting a longer industrial war where output matters, then protection of drone production would be part of the general airdefense plan for the country. Again for storage, we're not talking about anything all that different from other munitions. Armies regularly store, transport, deploy, and utilize, tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of munitions, many more complex by far then an FPV drone.

If it's peers with asymmetric combat capabilities, like Russia-Ukraine - they'll need hard-kill or get hit.
If it's peers with balanced combat capabilities, and you're referring to encrypted comms - a mix of soft kill and hard kill will work, particularly mobile jammers. A remote controlled drone will have a hard time communicating with an operator when it has 50 Watts of electro-BS shoved down its receiver. Hard-kill is actually what's being developed at a more rapid rate from what I see.
You don't think automatic target tracking will overcome this? I.e. lock on target from a certain distance, too far for self-defense EW, then engage, and loss of comms won't matter? That's how Ukraine brought down the Russian EW tank.

APS is now becoming fairly standard for western vehicles, and its sensors are reusable for drone defense. Heck, some APS are outright drone defenses on their own. Common cannons like 25mm through 40mm are capable as hard-kill with a software update. Same goes for any RCWS on a tank and APC. So your average modern AFV brings its own anti-drone hard kill umbrella.
For site protection you can park an AFV in that site until you develop a more robust fixed solution.
So we're talking about autocannons on vehicles becoming more of a universal weapon with improvements to sensors and comms. That makes sense.

Hence me saying - avoid long fronts. Aside from drones, they add a lot of other complications.
But even then, Russia and Ukraine aren't fighting along a wide front. They're just securing it. They're fighting in select areas where at least one side has the initiative. Although Russia shows signs of desire for increased force protection, it is still incredibly wasteful. Can't comment on Ukrainian assaults yet.
Ukraine had the same issues last summer. We even saw one of Ukraine's columns get disassembled using an FPV drone swarm early in the offensive. They haven't done much in the way of larger scale attacks since then, but we regularly see drones hitting vehicles and artillery.

The question of avoiding fronts is not just what one side can do, but what both sides can do. If the enemy can set up a long front, create sufficient troop densities, and subsequently advance anywhere where they aren't challenged, what are you going to do? Not create a front to check their advances? Russia tried relying on artillery and UAS instead of troop densities in 2022. We saw how that ended in Kharkov region.

Unless you treat drones as you would any other munition.
This seems at odds with your statement below about needing SHORAD. You either need to adjust your organization or you don't. I think you do, and I think your statement below is correct. Western militaries, and afterwards everyone else, will slowly but surely invest in mechanized SHORAD to support forces on the move.

Any armed force that doesn't consider the capabilities of his adversaries and/or doesn't prepare for them - will be smashed. Drones or not.
Well then again, FPV drones matter. An enemy capability that forces you to adapt is one that has significance.

I didn't say they are a solution, but rather that a force with proper APS is likely sufficiently modern to field other solutions, and its baseline resilience in terms of taking a hit would be far greater.

Ukraine has asymmetric technological solutions. It has very old equipment filling some niches, and somewhat newer equipment filling others. Though I'd say it doesn't have truly modern technology anywhere (nearly). The west can open up access to drone defeating systems but it doesn't.

Technically, even 20 ATGMs are a good trade vs an MBT, if we look at prices only.
The trend is clearly more survivable combat forces and focus on saturation to counter that. Drones are what's used for both purposes. Those unable to develop both the defensive and offensive means - get smashed.
I think it's not matter of opening up access but a matter of costs and quantities available in terms of anti-UAS for Ukraine. In terms of 20 ATGMs for a tank, the issue goes beyond dollar value. 20 ATGMs might be cheaper then a tank, but can you produce that many? Ukraine started the war with Javelins and NLAWs galore, but they are now a far more scarce asset. It would not be a good deal for Ukraine to trade 20 Javelins for a knocked out T-62M mod'22 today. Not so for FPV drones. Part of what makes them effective is the quantities that can produced and the low price. They can be potentially more deadly then a Javelin, while costing less.

Dedicated M-SHORAD are necessary.
FPV drones are the poor man's loitering munition, indeed. It's the LM that we don't have a proper solution for.
M-SHORAD were unjustly removed from service. It was only time until the threat became vertical.
But now we can also turn every AFV into a mini -M-SHORAD asset, and give every dismount a drone fighting capability.
Bringing us back around to the question of saturation and swarm attacks.
 
Top