For eleven years, military experts have been debating how to coordinate drones for a group attack against one target. We know that Iran and of course China, are already masters of this technique [1]. It is probable that other States, including Israel, the United States and Russia and Canada, are also capable of applying it.

In the night of 6 January 2018, drones attacked the Russian naval bases in the Syrian port of Tartous and the Russian air base at Hmeimim. Three went for the marine base and 10 went for the air base.

These two attacks are completely unconnected to the attacks on the mortar on 31 December 2017. The latter left two dead and 10 injured at Hmeimim.

During the attack, which was carried out using un-identified drones, four U.S. Navy drones for observation followed the reactions of the Russian defense.

The group making the attack consisted of 13 drones. The Russian army bought down seven of them and took control of the other six, forcing them to land. Three of these were pulverized on landing and three others have been recovered intact.

Studying the drones captured has allowed us to establish the following: that these engines, which have a flight capacity of around 100 kilometres, were travelling at around 50 km/hr and their coordination by satellite was by analogous signals not digital signals. They were transporting shells of artisanal construction meant to destroy the ships in the harbour and the planes stationed at the air base.

So what we have here is very simple equipment, which has already been used on the battlefield, both in Iraq and Syria. The novelty flows from its coordinated use by satellite.

The Russian army is now continuing its investigations. A notable objective is to determine which satellite was used in this operation and which State owns it. According to the Russian daily newspaper Kommersant, the most likely hypothesis is that these drones were armed by the jihadist group Ahrar al-Sham.

Ahrar al-Sham was established by the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood before the war against Syria. It includes in its ranks several of Osama Bin Laden’s companions. Its “Foreign Minister”, Labib al-Nahhas, is one of the British MI6 officers. At the end of 2016, Ahrar al-Sham signed an agreement with Russia recognizing the “de-escalation zones”; an agreement which it has clearly not respected.

The spokesperson for the Pentagon, Adrian Rankin-Galloway, declared to RIA Novosti that the drones used to attack the Russian military installations in Syria were “easily accessible” on the market. However, the Russian Minister of Defence assured that these drones had been put together by specialists on Syrian soil and, in particular, that they had been coordinated by satellite.

Furthermore, the Pentagon acknowledged that it had used for the first time its Global Hawks reconnaissance drones on the boundary line of Donbass, on 1 and 7 January which is in fact the day after the two attacks against the Russian military installations in Syria.

This technology failed on the Syrian battlefield against the Russian army, which is equipped with the most powerful anti-air weapons in the world (Pantsir-S1) and the means of radio electronic war, capable of bringing Nato commands to a grinding halt. Yet in a different environment, this technology could conquer.

According to the Russian daily newspaper Izvestia, the Russian Defense Minister and the FSB are studying the creation of special units for fighting the drones. The Russian Armed Forces have already been equipped with a specialist unit in defending fixed targets, which could be attacked by the drones, or with the use of simple rockets, cruise missiles, systems of precision weapons, tactical planes and helicopters for attack.

So the technology and necessary means to coordinate an attack by a group of drones has been transferred to a terrorist group. This means that even if the Anglo Saxons preserve coordination via satellite, they nonetheless announce a radical change in the Security and Defence.

Anoosha Boralessa

Analysis of the drones that attacked Hmeimim”, Translation Anoosha Boralessa, Voltaire Network, 12 January 2018.

[1See this video of the Chinese People’s Army, June 2017.