Lessons from Mosul on Evolving Tactics

Small Drones in Urban Combat

In the prolonged battle for coalition forces to retake Mosul from the Islamic State, Iraqi forces and US Special Forces operatives are encountering evolving tactics that include drones customized for reconnaissance, situational awareness, and small-scale explosive attacks. According to CBS News,  the consumer-grade flying machines have been raining down explosives on Iraqi forces and directing car bomb delivery. The drones offer ISIS better location intelligence and explosive delivery capabilities they did not have prior to rigging these largely off-the-shelf drones with cameras, grenades and other explosives. in the crowded streets of Western Mosul, these innovations make the urban battlefield an even more dangerous place.

Several years ago (pre-ISIS), we published articles on the growth of the small drone market and potential security risks, not knowing that the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan would drag on long enough for these new weapons to be added to the VBIED category of attacks in the current conflict. At the time our concern was based mostly on domestic security and the new capabilities these drones offer in potential biological and chemical weapon delivery above large crowds.

The Larger Threat is Chemical / Biological

With the recent murder of Kim Jong Nam using VX Nerve Gas, it is pretty obvious (though not proven as of publishing) that the Pyongyang regime has easy access to, or stockpiles of, banned chemical weapons they would not hesitate to use. And we know they are available and have been widely used by Bashir Al-Assad in Syria.

In terms of the drones themselves, the genie is out of the bottle; according to some market research estimates, the enthusiast segment of the industry is expected to grow at a 24% CAGR between 2016 and 2020, a rate reminiscent of the early PC market that quickly grew from hundreds of thousands to tens of millions of units in a relatively short period of time. The challenge is to identify and prevent weaponization by rogue actors and set strong examples when state actors ignore international law.

The Immediate Future of Microdrone Warfare

Not to diminish the threat and potential of these asymmetric tactics, the state of the art is to use coordinated autonomous networks of micro drones that swarm and attack targets like this US Air Force video shows.