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Limitations of air defense and drone technology

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Editor’s Note: Drones are often said to revolutionize warfare, but recent experiences in Ukraine and elsewhere suggest that these systems have many vulnerabilities.their is longer researchAntonio Calcara, Andrea Gilli, Mauro Gilli, and Ivan Zaccagnini argue that drones are highly vulnerable to air defenses and that highly trained humans are essential for drones to function most effectively. I’m here.

Daniel Byman


After two decades of hype, the war in Ukraine is prompting a reassessment of military drone utility. The Ukrainian military used Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drones to great effect early in the conflict, and the United States considered selling her MQ-1C Gray Eagle to Ukraine. But as the war progresses, these platforms are becoming less effective.According to Ukrainian Air Force pilots interviewed Foreign Policy, Turkey TB2s “The first few days were very useful and important [of the war]stop those columns [of armored vehicles]but now [the Russians have] Building good air defenses is of little use. Another Ukrainian Air Force pilot told Breaking Defense:[I]It is very dangerous to use such expensive drones [like the Gray Eagle]in our case, [the] Enemy air defense… This is not Afghanistan. Along the same lines, a military analyst writing for The Drive said U.S. defense planners made similar assessments. “[T]The US Army came to many of the same conclusions on this issue. [Gray Eagle]ability to survive in relatively low-threat environments,” they wrote. “The U.S. Air Force is moving Gray away from his Eagle cousin, his MQ-9 Reaper, for the same reason.”

These assessments contradict the prevailing narrative that military drones are war-winning weapons systems. For example, in the early days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, some observers hailed Turkish drones as a definitive weapon, so much so that fundraising initiatives to buy more of his TB2s for Ukraine were widespread. was broken. Similar stories emerged during the Nagorno-Karabakh War between Armenia and Azerbaijan in 2020, and during the fighting in western Libya in 2019. Some analyzes described armed drones as “magic bullets” or “game changers.” In light of these understandings, the New Yorker even went so far as to claim that TB2 “changed the nature of war.”

Of the two recent articles, one was published in International Security. And one of our upcoming Security Studies will focus on the dynamic interaction between military drones trying to infiltrate enemy airspace and the air defense systems trying to protect them. We understand these diverse perspectives. Discussions about drones largely ignore the role of air defense, but since the 1960s, electronics, materials, and the driving force dramatically enhanced An air defense’s ability to detect, track, engage, and destroy air targets. As a result, air defenses become a formidable threat to any aircraft, as the United States has experienced. Vietnam and Yugoslavia indicate. One of our academic articles focused on the Libyan Civil War, the Syrian Civil War, and the Nagorno-Karabakh War.Our empirical analysis Air defense is a particularly serious threat Medium Altitude Endurance (MALE) military drone. has to do with Physics of Electromagnetic Backscatterhow integrated air defense system operate and State-of-the-art signal processing.

MALE drones can penetrate enemy airspace protected by some air defense systems, but are ineffective against modern integrated air defense systems. Ground and Airborne Radar and Engagement SystemsThese are not major challenges for modern radars. Radar echoes of most reported MALE drones allow detection and tracking at long range. Russia’s early warning radar can detect an aircraft like her MALE drone up to 126 miles away, and fire control radar can detect and track it from 69 miles away.

Additionally, tactics aimed at reducing the time available for enemy air defenses to react are only effective against some nodes of integrated air defenses. For example, an Air Force wishing to penetrate enemy airspace to attack ground targets with armed drones may employ certain tactics such as flying at low altitudes to delay detection by enemy radar, but this tactic is Valid only for the base system. Not for things in the air. As the altitude of the radar increases, so does the range at which it can detect aircraft flying at low altitudes. Air defense systems can detect low-flying aircraft within range by placing a radar above them. Mountain Also tall mastor by relying on aviation assets such as airborne early warning and control aircraft and patrol jet fighters.

Modern air defense capabilities do not mean that MALE drones will always be detected —detection is probability gameHowever, against state-of-the-art air defense systems, various types of ground and air systems are in position to detect, identify, track, and engage, so the MALE drones themselves are likely to be systematically and consistently successful. is low. incoming drone. Russian air defense systems combine these features to make it difficult to penetrate Russian airspace. As one of his Ukrainian Air Force pilots told his Breaking Defense, “In my opinion, now that we know the Russian air defense system, Gray knows the range of his Eagle’s missiles. , he has a 90% chance of being shot down.”

S.Since the development of modern air defense systems in the 1960s, air warfare has been dominated by a “hider finder” race between air defense and air penetration. This hider-finder competition penalizes those who fail to master the set of tactics, techniques, procedures, technologies, and features necessary to avoid enemy detection, but detectable enemy targets are large. incur costs. The higher the air defense capability, the more difficult the air penetration. The more air penetration possible, the more difficult the air defense.

For air penetration, Hider Finder competitions require you to evade, degrade, and/or destroy enemy air defense systems. Drones can detecttrack, engage Using radar systems to use them against countries with modern integrated air defense systems requires extensive infrastructure and operational support.First, countries may use cyber attack To Decrease the enemy’s air defense network. number two, Intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance functions must detect ground-based air defense positions and transmit them in real time to mission planners. This allows them to identify routes that might exploit gaps in radar coverage, minimizing the likelihood of detection. We need to deceive them into revealing their locations so that repressive assets can target them with anti-radiation missiles and loitering munitions. Aircraft flying to attack these air defense systems or subsequent targets must be supported by electronic warfare assets capable of blinding or deceiving still-active enemy radars.

Whether the Hider Finder is difficult for a country employing MALE drones depends on the enemy’s air defense capabilities. Although the risks are relatively limited, it still requires extensive infrastructure and organizational support in terms of communications, mission control, intelligence, surveillance and target acquisition. This is why the US widely employed her MALE drones for riot operations during the global war on terrorism. But even in these environments with relatively weak air defenses, MALE drones have become increasingly vulnerable in recent years due to increased access to surface-to-air missiles by rebels and militants.

Against more capable enemy air defenses, the competition between hiders and spotters becomes tougher and more unforgiving. Over the last 20 years, improvements in data collection (sensor acuity and multi-sensor connectivity), data storage (big data), and data analysis (such as machine learning) have greatly enhanced the detection, tracking, and detection capabilities of air defense systems. Enhanced. and identify. Additionally, state-of-the-art air defense systems now have sophisticated cyber defenses and electronic countermeasures to evade detection, jamming, or suppression. These features further complicate the task of air infiltration.

Drone vulnerabilities were particularly prominent in Libya. In Libya, Turkey used her January 2020 ceasefire to deploy an air defense system that helped shoot down her Chinese-made MALE drones and prevented further use. MALE drones have been successful in recent conflicts with other assets and platforms, such as electronic warfare to blind and deceive enemy radars, decoys to deceive enemy radars, and artillery to attack using reconnaissance data from drones. Because they were used in combination. Special forces that provided enemy location, or targeting information.

In reality, drones have not ushered in an era in which air strikes predominate. Instead, MALE drones remain vulnerable to state-of-the-art air defense systems. As a result, drones have not been equalizers in world politics because of the support assets and capabilities needed to effectively use military drones in conventional conflicts. has been expanded rather than eliminated. Despite the popular belief that drones are a war-winning weapon and that nations can wage wars without deploying troops on the ground, skilled military personnel have become a key factor in recent conflicts. I’m here.

Some commentators argue that drones are expendable because they cost much less. This is a feature that provides an offensive advantage and empowers weak actors. There is some truth to this, but the argument needs to be qualified. First of all, even expendable drones need to be sophisticated enough to be effective in competing airspace. Additionally, there are a number of relatively inexpensive solutions that can ground incoming enemy drones, including human-portable air defense systems, anti-aircraft artillery, and electronic warfare systems. Finally, some observers argue that drone swarms will become a formidable threat to air defenses in the future. This may very well be true, but only if Swarm technology can overwhelm new developments on the other side of the equation: concomitant advances in air defense. Exactly the same technology as the technology also strengthens the defense. Whether future swarm tactics can defeat air defenses should be investigated, not hypothesized.

Our article draws attention to the interplay of offensive and defensive power in the high-tech age. In doing so, it adapts the dynamics of innovation and counterinnovation that have played an important role throughout history to the exigencies of the Age of Precision. In the past, the dynamic of innovation and counter-innovation has led to the development of more resistant defenses such as shields, fortress walls and armor, and more powerful weapons from bows to cannonballs.In an age of precise and devastating ammunition, competition is about finding the enemy while hiding from enemy defenses., It also promises to help illuminate other areas. These competitive dynamics point to the need to return the role of air defense systems to the discussion of drone warfare at a time when many analyzes of drones and other emerging aviation technologies have not received sufficient attention.Kenneth Wellrell, a historian of air defense systems, states: put it“RReaders are more interested in aircraft than the weapons that bring them downBut the role of air defense since World War II cannot be overstated.As A Ukrainian Air Force pilot told Breaking Defense: [moving forward]”

The opinions expressed in this article do not represent those of NATO, the NATO Defense College or any other organization to which the author is or was affiliated.