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Another ISIS was downed last month, this time by an Iraqi soldier who’s either a top notch marksman or got extremely lucky. Whatever drove his success, this makes for yet another in a string of ever-more-sophisticated flying machinery used by ISIS that has fallen into coalition hands, and the story that unfolds when these are examined is telling.
Have no fear, nothing ISIS currently possesses or is likely to have in the foreseeable future can come close to the effectiveness and lethality of the unmanned aerial vehicles (s) that are used by, you know, actual armies. But this doesn’t mean that they’re not making progress.
The brought down by Sgt Hussain Musa Kathum is a DJI Phantom 3 quadrotor of the kind you or I can easily buy online. This is the at least fifth time coalition forces have destroyed ISIS drones, and some of them are not just the kind available to consumers. ISIS is reportedly modifying drones, and even working on making them.
“Some of the bad guys are fiddling around, trying to improve the performance,” says Rebecca Grant, president of IRIS Independent Research in Washington, DC. “It may be a very basic, ‘actually take off’ kind of improvement, but it says that there is some level of active work in the area. It’s probably not super-sophisticated yet, but they’re working on them.”
Drones can be bought on Amazon for less than $100, but they come with severe tactical limitations such as short range, limited flight time, slow speeds, and minimal battery life. Clearly, ISIS is not happy with these shortcomings.
“If it was me, I would be asking ‘How can I extend the battery life, how can I extend the operational range, how can I stick a payload on here that I can actually use? How can I really get that to work?’” Grant says.
Apparently, ISIS is asking these same questions. In December, Kurdish forces in Syria downed an ISIS with an explosives payload. They’re not the only ones to use kamikaze-drones, as both Hamas and Hezbollah have employed them in the past. Hamas and Hezbollah based theirs on Iranian military-grade s like the Ababbil-3. ISIS almost certainly isn’t being supplied by Iran, but whatever it is they can get their hands on, it’s more advanced that what you or I can acquire easily.
“Just looking at what’s out there, I think [ISIS] certainly has access to the bad-guy -makers in the region, certainly they have access that goes beyond what they can order commercially,” Grant says.
Coalition forces are not complacent to this threat. The US military has been preparing for the “red threat” for the best part of the last decade, and is working on ways to fight it. “Clearly, the fact that they struck it tells you that the U.S. and coalition forces are very aware,” she says. “They’re vigilant and going after even that embryonic threat.”