Having learned from ISIS attacks in Syria, Russia is rushing to put armed drones on the front lines.
Following in the footsteps of U.S. Marines and Special Forces, the Russian military is looking to outfit soldiers with small multi-rotor drones armed with explosives, the Russian Defense Ministry told Russian news site Izvestia.
“It is planned that the new flight vehicles will perform not only reconnaissance missions, but also strike targets with miniature bombs” the news site notes. The outlet doesn’t say exactly how big the drones will be, only that they will go to divisions and brigades of the ground and airborne forces as well as special operations forces and marines.
In some ways, Russia is following the footsteps of the U.S. military. In 2015, U.S. Special Forces began experimenting with small insect-like drones for gathering intelligence and surveillance. Last February, the U.S. Marines announced that they would be distributing quadcopters to every brigade. The U.S. Army will also distribute the small “Black Hornet” insect drones from defense contractor FLIR to soldiers with the 82nd Airborne in Afghanistan (the British Army was the first to use them there in 2011.) But there’s a big difference, the U.S. military has not said that the small drones they are pushing to troops on the front lines will carry bombs or other weapons.
The Russian plan was informed by soldiers’ experience in Syria, according to Izvestia. In January 2018, ISIS attacked a Russian military base with hobbyist quadcopter drones rigged to carry and drop explosives.
The Russian military’s decision to send small bomb drones to the front lines “once again highlights how much the experience in Syria has influenced Russian military operations,” said Sam Bendett, a researcher at the CNA Corporation and a member of CNA’s Center for Autonomy and AI as well as a fellow in Russia studies at the American Foreign Policy Council.
“We are seeing the full-scale adoption by a major national military of technologies that were first used very effectively by a non-state actor,” he said. “While on the receiving end of the [consumer-off-the-shelf] small quadcopter strikes, the Russian defense establishment was able to determine how and why such systems would be used.”
Russia’s adoption of a wide variety of drones, from large unmanned strike aircraft to small quadcopters, could be a “boon for Russian UAV manufacturers,” said Bendett. “Many developers have in fact built, tested and showcased quadric-and multi-rotor copters at events like the recently-concluded Army-2019 expo, with the hope of potential [Ministry of Defense] contracts,” he told Defense One.