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Thread: Using drones: principles, tactics and results (amended title)

  1. #21
    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Heh. Yes indeed, there are discussions of Army use of aircraft.

    Air Force centric views, to be sure -- but it's an AF magazine so that's to be expected. I particularly enjoyed the rather parochial graphic below from "The Army’s “Organic” Unmanned Aircraft Systems: An Unhealthy Choice for the Joint Operational Environment" which implies -- wrongly -- that Close Air Support is a part of Global Strike, a core AF function (among other things that are the author's opinion). That part is true -- however, that all CAS is subsumed by that is or should be open to question.

    One could and should also question the AF perception that they retain totally the Forward Air Controller function. That makes little sense in the coming era of more distributed operations. There is no reason the average Infantry Squad Leader cannot control CAS.

    My point in citing these things is to question whether the USAF really wants to get in the business of supporting an ODA in a minor contact per the quoted article scenario; yes, it's a TIC but it is imminently possible that the operation that was canceled may have been far more important from the Operational and thus Joint standpoint. Another article in the journal also cites the Army's use mortars and artillery support but both miss the point that given the potential of greater geographic dispersion than has been the norm, that fire support will not have the range and pressure will be on the AF -- or someone -- to reliably provide fire support...

    Pressure not applied by me or by the Army -- pressure applied by Congress and the Mothers of America.

    The AF solution of central control of limited assets is inimical to an effective solution to the problem. It is undeniably efficient -- it is not effective.

    Hopefully, someone will realize that attitude toward CAS is a large part of the reason why the AF has some of the lack of respect they seem to endure...
    Last edited by Ken White; 09-27-2009 at 08:30 PM.

  2. #22
    Council Member Stu-6's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Umar Al-Mokhtār View Post
    it allows the Pakistanis to leverage on our capability yet have plausible deniability in the political dialogue of being the actual operators. . .
    I am not sure there is plausible deniablity here, it seems to me that some/many/most of the population doesn't find their denial plausible at all. Which compounds the problem since now the Paki government can appear to be accidentally killing civilians, a lackey of the US and still wishy washy when it comes to AQ, Taliban, etc, all.

    I can see the use of drones like this (sparingly) but the situation with the Paki government's denials seem to be the worst of all solutions. I understand that the government thinks it is protecting itself but long term I have major doubts.

  3. #23
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    Default Missed this earlier...

    Quote Originally Posted by Ken White View Post
    which implies -- wrongly -- that Close Air Support is a part of Global Strike, a core AF function (among other things that are the author's opinion). That part is true -- however, that all CAS is subsumed by that is or should be open to question.
    I think you're reading to much into that. All AF tasks fall under one of the 12 Air Force core functions (Yes, they changed again recently, global strike is gone - yes the AF need to reinvent the wheel at any opportunity is annoying). Conventional air-to-ground stuff s now categorized under "global precision attack" and that includes CAS.

    One could and should also question the AF perception that they retain totally the Forward Air Controller function. That makes little sense in the coming era of more distributed operations.
    Not sure how you're getting that perception. There's joint CAS doctrine now and the Army fully intends to train its own controllers to Marine/USAF (now joint) standards. Last I heard, the 13F MOS was designated to fill this role. The problem for the Army, based on what I read a year or two ago, is getting personnel trained. I haven't heard much since then, though I recently read that the UK, Australia, Netherlands and Canada all have schoolhouses now and are training and deploying qualified JTACs.

    There is no reason the average Infantry Squad Leader cannot control CAS.
    That depends on what you mean by "control" CAS.

  4. #24
    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Old memories die hard...

    On the Global Precision Attack, forgive me but years of pentagram watching have taught me to be leery of any service (all the services are guilty of this) innocently couching their mission sets in new terms. Assuming they are not challenged away by others, suddenly, a few years later you get a "...that's MY job; you leave it alone." We'll see.

    Not sure how the switch to joint for terminal controllers is progressing. There was some Army resistance on the rationale that it was too much on the 13F plate (foolish); the personnel bureaucracy was rebelling at having to identify and select personnel and divert them to training and they set the standards high which will make selection even more difficult (valid but probably over cautious); they've got to get a school up and running (very valid); and, lastly, the bean counters gripe about having to equip these Army folks to 'support an AF mission' (that's also dumb but bean manipulators are like that...). Hopefully, it'll get sorted and get going, not really critical now but it could be in the future.

    Having said that, do recall I said a Squad Leader -- not a 13F. That is an intra Army turf battle probably driven by AF concern on excessive dropping of stuff on friendlies -- no worries though, if we get in a big war, it'll be back to first Co Cdr and JTAC 13Fs -- then to Platoon Leaders and after a year, it'll be down to Squad leaders again.

    I meant terminal attack control; that means requesting and pointing (given ROVER and, more importantly, other stuff in the pipeline, it's even easier than it used to be) -- the pilot will do the controlling. Airborne FACs can help but they aren't always available. Infantry folks used to call in air and direct strikes all the time -- until it got to be a peace time budget and turf issue. Last one I called was in June of '68; two sets of Fox 4s at 200 feet or so and two A4s at 50 feet, all with nape and HE -- right bird for the job helps. I know, I know, those days are gone, Angels 15, PGM, Litening AT, Sniper XR, the rotating shifts at Creech, etc, etc. Good stuff, life is mo' better -- until you run out of 'em...
    Last edited by Ken White; 06-08-2009 at 05:34 AM.

  5. #25
    Council Member William F. Owen's Avatar
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    Default Something I wonder

    I have the greatest curiosity as to why the "Drones" are being used all. Bearing in mind the circumstances of their employment, and the lack of air defence, why are they deemed better than a manned aircraft - and by that I mean the right manned aircraft. An P-3 can fire AGM-114, and carry a much higher resolution sensor.

    Now, I can see quite a few good roles for UAVs, but they are pretty specific and mainly a function of political concerns. Yes there are sound operational reasons, but personally, I can't see it in the circumstance we are discussing.
    Infinity Journal "I don't care if this works in practice. I want to see it work in theory!"

    - The job of the British Army out here is to kill or capture Communist Terrorists in Malaya.
    - If we can double the ratio of kills per contact, we will soon put an end to the shooting in Malaya.
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  6. #26
    Council Member Mark O'Neill's Avatar
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    Default Several simple reasons really. Most obvious one: Cost.

    Quote Originally Posted by William F. Owen View Post
    I have the greatest curiosity as to why the "Drones" are being used all. Bearing in mind the circumstances of their employment, and the lack of air defence, why are they deemed better than a manned aircraft - and by that I mean the right manned aircraft. An P-3 can fire AGM-114, and carry a much higher resolution sensor.

    Now, I can see quite a few good roles for UAVs, but they are pretty specific and mainly a function of political concerns. Yes there are sound operational reasons, but personally, I can't see it in the circumstance we are discussing.
    You cited a certain platform: Work out the accurals on a P-3 and crew.............. and that is without getting one 'lost'. 'Robot spuds in' makes a far better headline for any government than '13 aircrew die a horrible death' , even before one calculates any other costs

    Cheers

    Mark

    Mark

  7. #27
    Council Member William F. Owen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mark O'Neill View Post
    You cited a certain platform: Work out the accurals on a P-3 and crew.............. and that is without getting one 'lost'. 'Robot spuds in' makes a far better headline for any government than '13 aircrew die a horrible death' , even before one calculates any other costs
    Well aware and that's all pretty obvious, but what if you have P-3 in theatre anyway? The issues related to cost, is that you have P-3s anyway, and they cost what they cost. You can't stack them and see a reduction is cost without loosing big time in capability and skills fade.

    I just used the P-3 as an example, but put another way, "Big War" mission, chasing subs. "Small War " mission, -something else. Could me good to ask the same question of the MQ-9s?
    Infinity Journal "I don't care if this works in practice. I want to see it work in theory!"

    - The job of the British Army out here is to kill or capture Communist Terrorists in Malaya.
    - If we can double the ratio of kills per contact, we will soon put an end to the shooting in Malaya.
    Sir Gerald Templer, foreword to the "Conduct of Anti-Terrorist Operations in Malaya," 1958 Edition

  8. #28
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Indian analyst

    Link goes to an article in The Spectator, 7th May 2009, whcih touches upon the use of drones and as an Indian viewpoint is interesting IMHO we rarely see: http://www.spectator.co.uk/the-magaz...it-worse.thtml

    A glimpse at the authors background: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brahma_Chellaney

    davidbfpo

  9. #29
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    Wilf,

    P-3's are extensively employed in both Iraq and Afghanistan and are valuable platforms for a variety of functions. The problem is that there are simply not enough ISR platforms to meet demand, P-3's included. I have a friend who is a P-3 pilot and their optempo is quite high.

    UAV's have advantages because they can be fielded faster and provide more ISR for a given amount of resources - they have longer loiter times and one can get more flight-hours per aircrew than what you'd get with a manned aircraft. It's also easier to covertly monitor a target with a UAV than a large-multi-engined aircraft. For Afghanistan in particular, lack of ramp space and logistics favor UAV's, especially those operated from distributed locations.

  10. #30
    Council Member William F. Owen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Entropy View Post
    Wilf,

    P-3's are extensively employed in both Iraq and Afghanistan and are valuable platforms for a variety of functions. The problem is that there are simply not enough ISR platforms to meet demand, P-3's included. I have a friend who is a P-3 pilot and their optempo is quite high.

    UAV's have advantages because they can be fielded faster and provide more ISR for a given amount of resources - they have longer loiter times and one can get more flight-hours per aircrew than what you'd get with a manned aircraft. It's also easier to covertly monitor a target with a UAV than a large-multi-engined aircraft. For Afghanistan in particular, lack of ramp space and logistics favor UAV's, especially those operated from distributed locations.
    Mate, all good points. Especially the ramp space, and FOB operations.
    Infinity Journal "I don't care if this works in practice. I want to see it work in theory!"

    - The job of the British Army out here is to kill or capture Communist Terrorists in Malaya.
    - If we can double the ratio of kills per contact, we will soon put an end to the shooting in Malaya.
    Sir Gerald Templer, foreword to the "Conduct of Anti-Terrorist Operations in Malaya," 1958 Edition

  11. #31
    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Good find on that Link, David

    Mildly off thread comment by me on the last paragraph of the linked article:
    "Unwittingly, Obama’s strategy may end up repeating the very mistakes of American policy over the past three decades that have come to haunt US security and that of the rest of the free world. In seeking narrow, tactical gains, the Obama team risks falling prey to a long-standing US policy weakness: the pursuit of short-term objectives without much regard for the security of friends. It must abandon its plan regionally to contain rather than defeat terrorism, or else an Islamist takeover of Pakistan is inevitable."
    The on-thread aspect is that Mark O'neilcorrectly pointed to the why of Drones; the article points out that the application of Drone power can be quite, uh, selective -- and the quoted paragraph ties all that together with American short-termism.

    Our failure to heed History and take the long view is well known. Hopefully we can do better this time. Given the callow nature and venality of many of our politicians from all parties, whether we can or will do so is worrisome.

    Which gets back to Drones. A strong point is lessened cost in many aspects. Another is is their ease of use in dangerous or problematic situations.

    A shortfall is that very ease of use can lead to flawed decisions and uses...

  12. #32
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Drone attacks: legal and other points

    IMHO a good article in The New Yorker drawing together many of the issues, without citing David Kilcullen though and especially on the legal aspects: http://cryptome.org/0001/predator-war.htm

    Note the full article is behind a 'pay wall' and is an update on a previous article (incomplete): http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2...6fa_fact_mayer and a follow-up (complete): http://www.newyorker.com/online/blog...-pakistan.html

    There is a further article (with stats in appendices): http://www.newamerica.net/publicatio...revenge_drones

    davidbfpo
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 10-21-2009 at 04:11 PM. Reason: Add link to last item

  13. #33
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Where the drones struck

    Hopefully fits here, although there are many threads on drone attacks in Pakistan and hat tip to a newly discovered blogsite recommendation (thanks Leah).

    Near-exact locations of US drone strikes in Pakistan item, which links to Google maps :http://circlingthelionsden.blogspot.com/ posted 18th January
    davidbfpo

  14. #34
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Drone items

    Two items found today. A comment piece by an Indian postgrad student on the RUSI website: http://www.rusi.org/analysis/comment...4B702AC47A4BF/

    Has this on polling in the FATA, yes I concede a few issues with that:
    A survey of 550 FATA residents by a Pakistan based organisation found that 52 per cent of those surveyed considered the drones accurate. 58 per cent did not think anti-American sentiment had been inflamed by drone attacks, 70 per cent thought the Pakistani military should carry out targeted strikes, and 60 per cent judged that militant organisations were being damaged. If accurate and reliable, these figures fly in the face of popular reports. Farhat Taj, a researcher from the organisation conducting the study, argued that the people of Waziristan 'see the US drone attacks as their liberators from the clutches of the terrorists into which, they say, their state has wilfully thrown them'.
    Plus the author and group doing the polling are not fully id'd.

    Again in the UK, a report in The Guardian on the RAF use of drones, which is unusual. Apparently based on FOI requests: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/fe...es-afghanistan and the:
    The MoD says there have been no reports of RAF drones killing civilians.
    davidbfpo

  15. #35
    Council Member carl's Avatar
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    The biggest advantage of a drone is endurance. As everyone know they can stay up a long time. They have a lot of disadvantages too.

    They tend to crash a lot. The article David provided stated that 1 of 6 British Reapers in operation since 2008 has crashed. That is about par from what I read.

    They are not as cheap as people like to think. A Reaper is 10 million and up and a Predator variant is 4.5 and up. That is a lot of money, especially when they crash a lot.

    They may do what they are told but sometimes they don't. This is one reason manned aircraft don't like to fly too close to them. That makes a difference when there are a lot of aircraft over a target.

    They are slow, very very slow, a least the Predators are. If they are working an area and something critical happens 60-80 miles away, it will take them a long time to get there. If there is a strong headwind, forget it. The Reaper is a lot faster but it is a lot more expensive and they crash a lot.

    They may not take up ramp space like a P-3 but the Predator isn't that small and the Reaper is a big airplane. You can't just put them in a corner. They will require ramp space, taxiways and a smooth runway like most planes.

    In order to get that endurance, you have to have a pretty lightly loaded wing. This, I think, will give you problems in heavy weather. An F-104 rode out the bumps better than a Cessna 150. The same probably applies to the drones.

    I don't know what their crosswind restrictions are but I would be surprised if they matched those of most manned aircraft.

    Their absolute biggest disadvantage is one I don't often, if at all, see addressed. They are controlled by radio. If you can control them from far away, couldn't some real smart guy on the other side overpower your signal and take your drone from you? I know it is hard to do, but can somebody truthfully tell me it is impossible.

    On the cost question, comparing a drone to a P-3 or such is a false comparison. You should be comparing it to a civilian light fixed wing aircraft like a King Air or a Caravan. Those airplanes new are rather cheaper to buy and used ones are way cheaper. They have fair endurance and if you put in extra fuel tanks they can have good endurance. They don't crash much and they can fly in heavier weather and probably greater crosswinds.

    Even a Caravan is faster than a Predator and a King Air is as fast as a Reaper and much cheaper. If called to go support a situation 80 miles away, a King Air can get there in about 20-25 minutes. Civilian manned aircraft last for decades. I doubt anybody will be flying a 2010 model Reaper in 2040.

    If you wanted a manned airplane that will approach the endurance of a drone take an old regional airliner like an ATR-42, which unmodified can have up to 10 hours endurance, and modify it with some internal fuel tanks. Then you would have an manned airplane with that would would approach the practical endurance of a drone without the disadvantages. You could do the same thing with a Dash-8 or a Saab 340. You would however, have to avoid overloading it with sensors.

    You can also fly these airplanes with civilian crews which would be much cheaper.

    There are alternatives to drones out there that can do aspects of the job better.
    "We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again." Gen. Nathanael Greene

  16. #36
    Council Member William F. Owen's Avatar
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    A survey of 550 FATA residents by a Pakistan based organisation found that 52 per cent of those surveyed considered the drones accurate. 58 per cent did not think anti-American sentiment had been inflamed by drone attacks, 70 per cent thought the Pakistani military should carry out targeted strikes, and 60 per cent judged that militant organisations were being damaged. If accurate and reliable, these figures fly in the face of popular reports.
    ...so why was anyone ever listening to "popular report" not based on empirical evidence?
    Quote Originally Posted by carl View Post
    Even a Caravan is faster than a Predator and a King Air is as fast as a Reaper and much cheaper. If called to go support a situation 80 miles away, a King Air can get there in about 20-25 minutes. Civilian manned aircraft last for decades. I doubt anybody will be flying a 2010 model Reaper in 2040.
    Concur. the IDF has a large fleet of King Airs and has done for 20 years. They are actually far more useful than the UAVs for some missions.
    If you wanted a manned airplane that will approach the endurance of a drone take an old regional airliner like an ATR-42, which unmodified can have up to 10 hours endurance, and modify it with some internal fuel tanks. Then you would have an manned airplane with that would would approach the practical endurance of a drone without the disadvantages. You could do the same thing with a Dash-8 or a Saab 340. You would however, have to avoid overloading it with sensors.
    Again, concur. The case of UAVs is, just like "air power" vastly over stated.
    Infinity Journal "I don't care if this works in practice. I want to see it work in theory!"

    - The job of the British Army out here is to kill or capture Communist Terrorists in Malaya.
    - If we can double the ratio of kills per contact, we will soon put an end to the shooting in Malaya.
    Sir Gerald Templer, foreword to the "Conduct of Anti-Terrorist Operations in Malaya," 1958 Edition

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    Like anything else, various UAV's and manned aircraft have advantages and disadvantages. Ideally you want a mix of capabilities.

    The Air Force has the MC-12 "project liberty" aircraft deployed to do the manned-ISR mission. They are certainly better in some cases than UAV's.

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    Just to make a brief foray into the realms of hypothesising (I am J2, after all), how would the strategic - and tactical, for that matter - calculus alter if the Americans decide they would like to look at ways extending these drone strikes into the Quetta area? Could that policy co-exist with the reconciliation bribery initiative? Are the Taliban cammnders resident in Quetta more or less likely to reconcile if the threat of being killed in Quetta is real? At this stage I would think strikes would be a step too far for the Pakistanis, but I'd be surprised if it's something the Americans are not looking at.

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    IF the US were to strike as far as Quetta, it would mean one of two things, and BOTH make actual drone targeting and tactical issues pretty much irrelevant:
    1. Pakistan has agreed to such strikes. In that case, it means Pakistan has given up the "good taliban" (betrayed them?) and in that case, you dont really need drones, low paid pakistani police officers could do the job (and the surviving members of the "shura" would escape to the badlands or back into afghanistan, not stay in quetta). Individual terrorists can certainly hide in big cities, but then they are much more hidden to drones than they are to the local police.
    My point is, if the Pakistani state ever decides to betray their friends, then its not a drone issue in big cities like Quetta (this is NOT the case in the tribal areas..there the pakistani state may have even less reach than the drones, so drones may be needed even if Pakistan is one hundred percent cooperative, as is maybe the case in South Waziristan?)
    2. Pakistan has NOT agreed and the US has decided it doesnt care. In that case, the US has many more direct ways of making Pakistan change their mind and those would probably be much more important than hunting for a needle in haystack in a country where you dont have too much good intelligence. In other words, why look for an invisible shura in a "hostile" country when you can look for the very visible prime minister and have HIM change his mind about cooperation....
    Just my amateur thoughts

  20. #40
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Dead Terrorists Tell No Tales

    Dead Terrorists Tell No Tales:Is Barack Obama killing too many bad guys before the U.S. can interrogate them? is an article in FP: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/article..._tell_no_tales

    It is a good read and this is a 'taster':
    Hold the applause. Obama's escalation of the "Predator War" comes at the very same time he has eliminated the CIA's capability to capture senior terrorist leaders alive and interrogate them for information on new attacks. The Predator has become for President Obama what the cruise missile was to President Bill Clinton -- an easy way to appear like he is taking tough action against terrorists, when he is really shying away from the hard decisions needed to protect the United States.
    And ends with:
    The fact that Obama's administration no longer does this when it locates senior terrorist leaders today means the president is voluntarily sacrificing intelligence that could protect the American people -- and that the U.S. homeland is at greater risk of a terrorist attack.
    I trust that this aspect of CT has been fully debated inside government, although I am sceptical that any leader living in the FATA could be captured for interrogation.

    Hypothetical scenario: the Nigerian bomber-to-be is id'd in a Yemeni city, shortly before he starts his journey to what we now know was Detroit. Attempt to capture or strike with high explosive?
    davidbfpo

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