This makes great sense

Drones that could be used by the military for suicide missions are being developed with the backing of the Ministry of Defence, the Telegraph can reveal.

The development of “drone swarm” units for UK military service, announced by Gavin Williamson last year before he was sacked as Defence Secretary, could now take to the skies within six months.

The MoD hopes to deploy multiple small Uninhabited Air Vehicles (UAV), better known as drones, to overload enemy air defences, conduct cyber attacks and provide live images to control centres that could be located thousands of miles away.

Some aircraft could even be modified to carry weapons or act as ‘suicide drones’ to loiter over a battlefield and attack targets that break cover.

You could even argue that there should be hundreds and thousands – it’s possible to make cheap enough drones these days after all, £100 for something really simple – that flood an area.

We’re going to get back to that point about the bomber always getting through of course. Even if that’s true, without effective countermeasures, you still needs boots on the ground to actually occupy a place.

But you can imagine how, given current civilian drones, you could stick a few hundred grammes of HE, a few ball bearings, to something really cheap and directable to make any area of ground uninhabitable. A few hundred of those directed from an armchair in Wiltshire could make any area of the Hindu Kush controllable.

Don’t say it’s the full solution – see boots – but it’s certainly doable with current tech.

42 thoughts on “This makes great sense”

  1. Yeah, but how do you spend millions on R&D on something you can order off Amazon?

    (Uninhabited? We’re realing trying very hard not to say unmanned, aren’t we?)

  2. And then automated systems like overgrown shotguns capable of detecting and destroying saiid drones without human assistance other than to work the ON switch. Then drone systems which take those out. And counter-drone drones. And id for drones to tell ours from their..and so on as warfare has always been.

  3. Surely one has to ask why one’s putting boots on the ground? If it’s to deny an area to the enemy, drones could do it just as effectively at far less cost & risk.
    I would imagine it’s possible to design a drone with solar cells to keep it’s batteries charged. Make it well camouflaged, fly it in, perch it somewhere high & inaccessible. It sits there sending the view from its cameras. Build in a motion detector so it’s inert unless there’s something worth seeing. Couple that with some flying or crawling munitions that also hide themselves. Maybe you put a long endurance drone aloft loitering above to give you an overview or even a shoot-down capability. Now anyone in the area doing something you don’t like’s in for a world of grief.

  4. Hindu Kush be blowed. They will be used to enforce lockdowns and to fire vaccine darts at transgressors.

  5. “Drones that could be used by the military for suicide missions”

    Nothing new….see the rather bonkers Consolidated BQ-8 drone that did for Joseph Kennedy Jr in WWII.

  6. The Azerbaijanis used these recently, supplied by Israel and Turkey, in Nagorno-Karabakh. They were extremely effective as conventional AA defences couldn’t deal with them.

  7. Problem is, the military has far too much invested in boots go on ground. All the pretty uniforms & regimental badges, officers messes & saluting. Very difficult to turn that lot into a bunch of technicians at consols.

  8. RlJ: I think the R&D is to get the ‘swarm’ bit to work without a lot of fratricide. There has been work done on this – I’ve seen YT videos of a few operating in concert, but this application would look more like a murmuration of starlings if not quite so closely spaced.

    I wonder about endurance, even with solar cells, weight of which subtracts from munition capacity. The long-period overlook has been shown to work but they are necessarily very fragile because they can’t expend much weight on the structure. Not a problem in the stratosphere but you have to get up there first through the weather.

  9. (Uninhabited? We’re realing trying very hard not to say unmanned, aren’t we?)

    “Unpersonned” sounds a lot more sinister !

    I suppose one place not to be on a battlefield these days is inside a tank, if it isn’t depleted uranium shells, it’s an A10 or some guy with a really powerful RPG.

    I guess payload is the problem with drones, how much explosive can they carry to an enemy and still be a viable machine ? Chemical warfare seems to be the obvious use of these critters. It’d be just too funny if all this expensive technology was buggered by some balloons carrying large nets.

  10. I wonder about endurance, even with solar cells, weight of which subtracts from munition capacity.
    There’s a thin film photovoltaic some Israelis came up with, a couple years back, looks interesting for this sort of application. Basically, printed on a plastic film substrate.

  11. So Much For Subtlety

    bloke in spain November 22, 2020 at 10:18 am – “Problem is, the military has far too much invested in boots go on ground. All the pretty uniforms & regimental badges, officers messes & saluting. Very difficult to turn that lot into a bunch of technicians at consols.”

    If only. The British Army has a great deal of everything – except boots on the ground. The number of actual soldiers in the British Army is the lowest it has been for quite some time. There are fewer than 80,000 soldiers.

    The pretty uniforms have gone, the regimental badges are on the way out – most of them have gone except as tokens – the messes have remained. The British Army remains over-officered.

    bloke in spain November 22, 2020 at 10:20 am – “The main role for modern militaries is finding justifications for their existence.”

    Clearly the Western Armies look at the Soviet Army and the effects of a limited nuclear war and decided that they were engaged in make believe. So they may as well enjoy it. And they have.

    But they are not trying to justify their existence. They are trying to justify the existence of so many Generals and Admirals. The real Army and Navy can go hang themselves. As long as the number of generous pensions for the top commanders remains.

    I think they would love to get rid of the oiks in uniform and replace them with technicians. Based somewhere like Slough but commanded from a northern London suburb with a higher combined EU or NATO command post somewhere Latin-ish but with good beer. Somewhere in Belgium perhaps.

    The RAF might complain though. They don’t mind killing people but they insist on going really fast doing it.

  12. Re: drones. Yarp, they’re the present and future of war. As Jon notes, the Turks and Israelites are well ahead of us in exploiting this new tech. Turkey in particular is surprisingly good at electronics, and can hold their own against China in some areas. The Yids are incredibly clever chaps in all things cyber. Britain’s efforts, so far, are pretty pathetic in comparison.

    A few hundred of those directed from an armchair in Wiltshire could make any area of the Hindu Kush controllable.

    The great potential of drones doesn’t lie with some fat techie in Wiltshire remotely controlling them like a model aeroplane. That’s old hat, laggy and limited. It’s just transposing the limitations of humans (slow to make decisions, poor at ingesting multiple streams of data simultaneously, potentially troubled by morality) onto machines.

    New hat is sophisticated machine learning algorithms so that swarms of drones soak up vast amounts of data from their distributed sensors, share it, analyse it, and make their own decisions – as a swarm – in real time. Adapting tactical plans at Gigahertz speeds. Sacrificing members of the swarm without hesitation when it increases the percentage of mission success.

    Think Skynet – there’s no technical reason why we won’t have massive formations of flying drones communicating with naval robots, killbots on the ground and satellites in space as a combined force. No humans required, except as targets for deletion.

    This covers just about any military application you can think of – denial of access to the air, sea and land; destruction of the enemy’s strategic infrastructure; targeted or indiscriminate executions of enemy combatants based on facial recognition, numberplate scanning, or behaviour; herding the terrified survivors into makeshift concentration camps built by automated construction bots; total genocide.

    This gets spookier when you consider the military possibilities offered by IoT. Billions of people have willingly put dozens of always-on, GPS enabled, networked sensors in their homes and cars that hear everything you say and relay it back to the cloud. Imagine a hostile drone division had access to all that lovely data, eh? Imagine.

    Could ED-209 patrol the streets of Basra or Belfast? Indefinitely? With no need to rest except for a brief topup of its hydrogen fuel cells and ammo in an automated depot ceaselessly guarded by other killbots? Yes, and Allah help anyone who fails to comply.

    I like to think
    (it has to be!)
    of a cybernetic ecology
    where we are free of our labors
    and joined back to nature,
    returned to our mammal
    brothers and sisters,
    and all watched over
    by machines of loving murder.

  13. Yes, I think close ground support is key, a bit like with artillery which has to be both accurate and on time so can be followed up immediately with boots to take the surrender (or perhaps not) of anyone who found cover.
    I’m sure some engineers in China are working on accurate long range bird shot cannons, or whatever is the best way of bringing drones down.

  14. “Turkey in particular is surprisingly good at electronics”

    Well, sorta. I know the bloke who sells them some of it……

  15. More thoughts on drones:

    A drone doesn’t need to be a robot in the shapes we traditionally think of (Stephen Hawking voiced Daleks with comically poor mobility or clunky Cybermen).

    Real life Bond baddie Elon Musk has already demonstrated a computer chip embedded in the brain of a mammal that’s closely related to humans (the pig). As this tech improves, and with CRISPR gene editing for extra shits n gigs, there’s no reason it won’t be used for command and control. Pop in a chip, add some custom armour and wearable tech with wireless communication, let the algorithms do their magic in orchestrating operations, and you’ve got yourself a combat unit that will terrify the living shit out of the bravest humans.

    Ok, so… how about that, eh? How about teams of special forces chimpanzees working together with heavy infantry bears and lupine/raptor scout units?

    Sounds pretty comical, until an uplifted chimp NCO clambers up your watchtower lickety-split and eats your face while you gurgle for Mummy. Corporal Bonzo is faster, stronger, and more aggressive than any SAS man. He doesn’t fear death, thanks to the sweet dopamine drip of his integrated co-processor, and he’s completely expendable to his handlers. Those PG Tips adverts were a fucking lie.

    Absolute madness, yes, but so was WW2 and that didn’t stop us from incinerating millions of human beings.

  16. @Bongo
    I can’t see why you’d want to put anyone on the ground. The other word is target. They want to surrender, there’s Whatsap

  17. “directed from an armchair in Wiltshire could make any area of the Hindu Kush controllable”

    I’m guessing the £100 Amazon jobbies won’t have that sort of range.

  18. Drones, counter-drones, counter-counter drones, thinking drones, and even chimps with chips. It’s all getting a bit tricky.

    Maybe we should have just nuked the rest of the world while The USA and Britain were the only ones with the bomb. Wasted opportunity when we were ahead.

  19. bloke in spain said:
    “I can’t see why you’d want to put anyone on the ground. They want to surrender, there’s Whatsapp”

    ‘How’s my shooting? Tweet “surrender” @BritishArmy’?

  20. As “manned” comes from the Latin “manus” meaning “hand”, the same source as “manual”, as in controlled by the hand, small enough to hold in the hand, to be on hand, there’s nothing sexist or gendist about it.

  21. @ SMFS:

    ” They are trying to justify the existence of so many Generals and Admirals. The real Army and Navy can go hang themselves. ”

    I remember that Montgomery said, in his memoir, that the men who rise to the top of the Armed Forces in peacetime aren’t the ones you want at the top in wartime.

    @ Steve:

    ” The Yids are incredibly clever chaps in all things cyber.”

    Up to a point; Israel also engages in a huge military and industrial espionage effort against the US.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_Pollard

  22. Up to a point; Israel also engages in a huge military and industrial espionage effort against the US.

    So does the UK. All countries, including allies, do this to one another.

  23. For drone target practice, there’s a particular end of terrace house in Ely inhabited by a minor enemy of the free world…

  24. A few hundred of those directed from an armchair in Wiltshire could make any area of the Hindu Kush controllable.

    Now imagine a few hundred of them directed from an armchair in Wiltshire directed at the other side of Wiltshire.

    Drone weapons are not like chemical weapons where it takes control of a decent factory facility to make them – a small bomb tied to the bottom of a commercial drone is easily achievable by the airmchair terrorist.

    It’s going to make 4th generation warfare a lot less asymmetric.

  25. Jonathan
    November 22, 2020 at 1:11 pm

    @ SMFS:

    ” They are trying to justify the existence of so many Generals and Admirals. The real Army and Navy can go hang themselves. ”

    I remember that Montgomery said, in his memoir, that the men who rise to the top of the Armed Forces in peacetime aren’t the ones you want at the top in wartime.

    Somewhat more recently I read something describing the two types of Flag officers – the political and the operational.

    That is, the ones that can make the connections, play the games in Washington, and grease the skids along with the ones that really know who to fight wars.

    And that you need both of them but in peacetime you forget how much you need the operational flags and they drop in influence (and tend to drop out early because of this if they even get a flag).

  26. You need a surplus of high rankers so that you can replace one who is no bloody good at a moment’s notice.

  27. Unmanned suicide drone is one way of describing a missile…

    The recent Azeri-Armenian conflict apparently showed the drone as very effective in the antitank role, but I have net seen much detail on that.

  28. …working together with heavy infantry bears and lupine/raptor scout units?

    Neal Stephenson came up with something like this in Snowcrash – robocop-type augmented attack dogs, IIRC. An interesting book, until at the three-quarters point you find yourself saying “wah? this makes no sense…”

  29. Neal Stephenson came up with something like this in Snowcrash – robocop-type augmented attack dogs,

    It’s gonna happen. Not tomorrow, and maybe not in 20 years, but this century most likely. A biological combat chassis offers too many inherent advantages over the mechanical kind to ignore.

    Ironicerally, Musk thinks his Neuralink will save us from AI. He’s a cleverer chappie than me, but I reckon he’s dead wrong. AI will probably never amount to more than a box of fancy pattern recognition tricks – a Chinese Room, not sentience. Meanwhile the potential for his brain chips to be used in ways most people would consider evil is far more likely.

    Imagine you were the leader of a large and authoritarian Asian country with catastrophically falling birth rates (signalling the end of your traditional ability to shrug off massive casualties in war), an aggressive and expansionist foreign policy, and little regard for human or animal rights.

    This could solve the internal dissent problem and the future needs of your armed forces in one coin-sized package.

    Unmanned suicide drone is one way of describing a missile…

    Yes, but missiles have a very limited or zero loitering time. What makes drones particularly annoying is their ability to wait until you break cover before they rush to meet you.

    Wondering if Steve may also have read Harry Harrison’s Men from P.I.G. Many years ago

    I haven’t, but am a fan of the Stainless Steel Rat so will check it out.

    Skynet is so 2015. It’s Legion now.

    I was hoping for Holly from Red Dwarf but it’s smegging 2020 so you’re probably right.

  30. Perhaps we’ll reach the day when Americans carry a shotgun loaded with #2 shot, in case some punk tries to pull some drone mischief.

    [Dennis, He of Multiple Personalities, do you think #2 is the right load for anti-drone work? #4 would give a better pattern, but I’m not sure it is big enough to ensure disrupting the drone.]

    I hypothesized during the last Gulf war (2001) that a B-1 bomber took off from Barksdale with with a load of JDAMs one day. 8 hours later, American ground troops transmitted locations of Iraqi tanks, bedded down for the night. The ground troops used laser ranging devices and GPS location data. Over the Mediterranean, the crew of the B-1 loaded the targeting data into the JDAMs. Over country, the B-1 released it’s load, and eliminated an entire division of Iraqi armor. Flying at over 30,000 feet, the Iraqis never heard nor saw the B-1. All they experienced was the sudden, utterly complete destruction of their assets.

    Drone swarm might be an effective tool. My point is, there are other ways to accomplish the same. With greater stealth, and much bigger bombs.

  31. I mention missiles partly in jape (Steve’s right, though ALARM had a loiter capability in the form of a parachute that it could hang upon until an AD radar lit up for it to kill) but partly because the discussion is slightly reminiscent of the Sandys review, that basically said ballistic missiles made manned aircraft obsolete. In 1957.

    A major potential point of weakness for any remotely piloted air system (the RAF’s preferred terminology, neatly sidestepping the “manned” kerfuffle and highlighting the pre-eminence of the 2 winged master race) is the control; if your enemy can hijack that, you’re buggered. For current systems we rely, to an extent, on control of air and space; the signal’s coming from above, receivers are atop the ac, so you can’t hijack it from below terribly easily. Any swarm system is going to be more vulnerable.

  32. Tom – yes, but…

    Modern aircraft are so utterly dependent on complex software systems and electronic sensors and data links (the F-35 is basically a flying router) that the practical difference in terms of cyber vulnerability might not be as wide as we think.

    There was something in the press not long ago about the US Army’s Stryker IFV’s being hacked.

    Also, if we’re going fully automated luxury gay space cybergeddon, one of the great strengths of drones is the capability to very rapidly innovate, iterate and update. For a bunch of legacy reasons as well as elf and safety and whatnot manned aircraft tend to lag behind the latest and greatest electronic and software developments.

    IIRC the Eurofighter still boasts Motorola 68020 processors in some of its key subsystems. An obsolete CPU that hasn’t been cutting edge since 1985.

    The thing about drones is that offers the chance to break away from the massive capital investment and decades of development time new manned aerial platforms now require, and do something more like what the consumer electronics industry does – cheaper, continuous iteration at pace. Software defined warfare.

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