Iraqi Forces Use Consumer Drones Against ISIS

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Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) bring many advantages to the battlefield. One of the main ones is the ability to safely surveil enemy positions. Military grade UAVs, however, can be prohibitively expensive if you don’t have the sufficient backing of a well-funded  state structure behind you. Iraqi militias fighting ISIS have turned to a somewhat cheaper solution: everyday drones.

Both Shia militias and Iraqi officials regularly use consumer drones (like the DJI Phantom line) to reconnoiter ISIS fighters’ positions and help call military strikes. These drones don’t usually last for longer than 40 minutes in the air, but even this is enough to improve accuracy and provide ample warning when attacked.

“The drones have been extremely useful for preventing casualties among our forces,” says Sadiq al-Husseini, a commander in the Badr Organisation – the largest and oldest of Iraq’s Shia militias. “They have helped us lock onto targets with our mortars and cut Isis’s supply lines.”

As engadget notes, “there’s also a political motivation to use these drones.” Uncertain that they’ll receive drones from coalition partners, Iraqi forces prefer off-the-shelf drones as these are easily replaceable and free the forces from foreign control. Shia militias, however, often get military-grade drones from Iran. These are often clones of western UAVs, such as those from Boeing.

Drone use in the battlefield is becoming far more prevalent. This is more a case of proliferation than innovative use of technology. Many actors in the Iraqi-Syrian arena have been using UAVs for a while, from Syrian revolutionaries, to ISIS, who have been known to strap explosives to drones for improvised aerial attacks.