Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Non-state actors and the implications of the recent attack on Saudi oil infrastructure

That brings us to my next point, one you probably also thought to yourself when this happened—this was an unprecedented attack. Welcome to the murky world of unmanned warfare that I have been warning about for many years. I almost take this issue personally because people use to blow it off or even snicker at it. Now all the predictions I wish were wrong are coming true and at an alarming pace.

The Department of Defense was ridiculously asleep at the wheel regarding this threat and is now scrambling to play catchup. Anyone who says differently is straight-up lying. It's well established what non-state actors can already do with relatively low-end unmanned aircraft technology—Houthi rebels alone have been using suicide drones for two and a half years—just imagine what a peer state will be able to do in the very near future. Instead of a mass of individual suicide drones layered in with other weapons, like cruise missiles, attacking a target simultaneously, imagine a swarm that is fully networked and works cooperatively to best achieve their mission goals, including jamming or killing air defenses in order for the swarm to make it to its final destination. America's adversaries are all too aware of this game-changing potential and the lack of defenses to counter it in any robust manner.

Here's a cold hard reality that most people just don't understand, including many defense sector pundits—air defense systems, no matter how advanced and deeply integrated, aren't magic. They have major limitations, especially considering most primarily rely on ground-based sensors.
Satellite imagery and GPS:
The cold hard truth is that counter-unmanned aircraft and counter-cruise missile capabilities are not 'sexy' to develop, field, and maintain operationally, but it will increasingly become absolutely essential to divert more funds in this direction. And no, I am not talking about some guys running around with wonky, sci-fi looking electronic warfare rifles. I am saying dense and layered counter-UAS capabilities will be required to even counter domestic threats in the years to come, especially against VIPs and critical infrastructure.

We live in an age where everyone has access to high-resolution satellite imagery of nearly any point on the globe. This is something that was unthinkable even following the end of the Cold War. A single individual now has the capabilities that entire government intelligence agencies were built to produce, all on their smartphone or laptop computer. And it's entirely free!

GPS is even more of a revolutionary capability. It's incredible pinpoint accuracy really has become more concerning since the hobby drone industry exploded and now components to control drones via GPS are somewhat off-the-shelf in nature and are supplied from manufacturers around the globe. With these two things combined, a bad actor has both the targeting intelligence and the precision targeting capabilities available for a minuscule fraction of what they cost in the past and without any major barriers of entry.
H/t Tyler Cowen.

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