May 21, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

Recall there was already a drone assassination attempt on Maduro in Venezuela a while back


That kind of thing must give the Secret Service the heebie jeebies.

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Very thought-provoking article. A few thoughts:

1. The impact of drones is asymmetric, on two levels:

A. It's much more significant at the low end than at the upper end. Put differently, drones allow second- and third-rate military powers to exploit the aerial dimension more effectively than the would otherwise be capable of. Drones are airpower "on the cheap", as it were. A modern, first-rate air force is today a multi-trillion dollar investment over a period of decades. Drones give you *some* ability to project power aerially, while avoiding this up-front cost.

B. Air defense systems were designed with crewed aircrafts and - to a lesser extent - missiles in mind. (Relatively) slow platforms with small radar cross-sections lacking much in the way of an infrared signature are a mismatch for most of the air defense systems deployed today. (For example, Israel's Tamir interceptor - a component of the famous "Iron Dome" - was only recently upgraded to be able to target some drone types).

This is why (usually) the most effective anti-drone asset (at present) is a crewed fighter - or helicopter - armed with a cannon or anti-aircraft missiles. This is what the Royal Air Force did in World War I with the V-1 "doodle bug" - a fast fighter with a souped up engine would intercept them and either destroy them directly or tip the V-1 drone with its wing, causing the un-piloted aircraft to spin into the ground. On paper, this doesn't pencil out well: you're committing a $100 million asset to destroy something cost 2 - 3 orders of magnitude less, but it *does* work.

2. The Azerbaijanis were lucky in their choice of opponent. The Armenian order of battle was decrepit. It's mostly aging Soviet-era stuff. They didn't take their opponent at all seriously. The Azerbaijan drone buildup was not a secret. They just didn't consider it to be important, nor did they invest in counter-assets of their own. The Azerbaijani drone force would have been much less effective against a component military.

3. The main advantage of battery-powered drones with electric engines is that they give you an ability to "live off the land" - the world is full of electronic devices, you can repurpose batteries, motors, GPS, etc., and repackage them as drones. (In Iraq, insurgent groups used cellular phones, ubiquitously available, to remote detonate IEDs). There's a performance penalty at present, but increasingly there won't be, and every battery-electric vehicle is a treasure trove for this style of "scrounging" warfare. (Imagine what you could power with the Tesla 4680 battery).

4. As you say, regarding swarms, quality has a quantity all its own. The battlefield physics of networked swarms might very well be highly counter-intuitive. At present, this is mostly the realm of think tanks, tabletop exercises, and computer simulations, however.

5. The directionality of aerial combat is clear: ALL aerial assets will be "drones" - uncrewed - at some (indefinite) point in the future. This endpoint will be accelerated if/when a great power conflict occurs. This is a story

6. Electronic countermeasures are increasingly central. It's not an exaggeration to say that the decisive moment(s) will occur in this domain in future wars. In the 1950s, SAGE was one of the first real-world applications of networked computer systems at scale. In the 2020s, one of the first real-world applications of military AI will be in this domain.

7. Regarding assassin drones, I consider the single likeliest threat here to be a short range platform that's guided from the ground by a handler. (The Israelis used something analogous when in February they assassinated an Iranian nuclear scientist using a remote-controlled gun).

8. Regarding cyberwar, states have reached an unstable understanding that cyber-operations do not rise to the level of requiring a military response. This isn't tenable long-term I suspect, as increasingly every process and product and workflow has a digital layer, hacking has real-world effects (for example, the Colonial pipeline on the East Coast. This was a ransomware op by cybercriminals, but if a nation-state was responsible, I think it should be considered tantamount to an act of war (we would consider it such if a team of commandos blew up pumps on the pipe, causing a shut-down. The real-world effect is the same, so should the response be).

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This depressingly sounds similar to what many historians have written about the pre WWI period——when it subjectively felt like the war “just happened” out of nowhere.

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The incentives of cyberwarfare interest me. The NSA no doubt sits on a pile of zero-day exploits. Were they to oversee the fixing of these security flaws and the patching of our national infrastructure, they would keep the country safer. Yet in so doing, the NSA would vastly reduce its own offensive capabilities. Wasting an exploit on some tit-for-tat attack (temporarily) opens the door to reprisals using the same technique, so any attack had better be worth the cost. And perhaps that wasted exploit would have proved utterly devastating on the battlefield of the big day. Better to keep your cyber-powder dry and suffer low-grade attacks, to truly keep the country safer. Russia, on the other hand, likely as a use-it-or-lose-it strategy. There’s an asymmetry at work.

With regards to biowarfare, I’m less worried about military use and more by what a small group could accomplish: terrorists who unleash what they cannot control, or the proverbial mad scientist who figures that the world would be a better place without humans.

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" In late 2020, a group working for Russia’s intelligence service breached many parts of the U.S. government,"

It is very irresponsible to ascribe this level of certainty to a claim about responsibility for a cyber attack. Russian responsiblity here - while being a plausible conjecture - is by no means fact.

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This was a really important post Noah, thanks for writing it.

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Let's not hype the bio thing. There's a reason it didn't happen in the 20th century even though people were talking about it then, too: large-scale, high-impact bioweapons are intrinsically hard to control.

Organisms have their own "agendas", and spread to places where you don't want them. They mutate in unpredictable ways and cause effects you don't want. They respond unpredictably to environmental conditions. Nothing invented recently changes that, and nothing on the immediate horizon would change it either.

The idea of "surreptitiously" vaccinating an entire country just doesn't make sense. *Maybe* you could stockpile doses in advance, but if you try to administer them at scale it *will* be noticed. Furthermore, releasing diseases is risky even if your own population *is* vaccinated. If your bioweapon is reproducing wildly in a large enemy population, it will have many chances to mutate into something that evades your vaccine.

Not to mention what happens to your position to when (not if) it spreads to the unvaccinated populations of various formerly neutral third parties, giving them incentives to join the war on the other side. It may not be wise to respond to a computer attack with conventional weapons, but a bio attack that does any serious *will* provoke a military response, and you can't be sure who you'll be making as an enemy.

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ISIS would regularly attach grenades to drones and try and drop them on US army combat outposts and other installations.


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I can see why this is scary. Not only are the technologies themselves destructive, they disrupt the calculus that enables effective deterance.

But for some does it offer new defensive opportunities? For example, Taiwan has an expertise in critical computer hardware. Might they be able to translate that into an effective asssymetric drone force? While fanciful, I can imagine volunteer brigades of e sports players from around the free world drinking their bubble tea and flying drones to defend Taiwan from an attack from the mainland.

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I know very little about all of these, but I'm the least ignorant about biowarfare. Biowarfare isn't unknown on a large scale in conventional modern warfare. In the 20th century the Japanese used them in China during WW2. The Soviets had the world's largest supply of bioweapons, largely anthrax and bubonic plague. Before modernity there appear to have been attempts to infect people with diseases, although with no clear germ theory of disease it's ambiguous as to what people may have believed the channel of transmission was.


After WW2 the use of bioweapons was prohibited along with a number of other weapons of mass destruction. Although this is probably naive(I hope it isn't), I think we have to rely on the good graces of the worlds nations to just not use them in conventional warfare. No one has used nukes since WW2 even though a lot of nations have them and I'm unaware of bioweapons ending up on the battlefield. Chemical weapons have been employed by dictators like Saddam Hussein against his enemies both internal and external. Rogue states aside, my worry about bioweapons is them getting into the hands of terrorists who don't care about the Geneva Convention, not so much Putin using them if things get hot between Ukraine and Russia. I believe that the international pressure and threat of things like sanctions, no fly zones, and cutting off foreign aid may be enough to corner most states. You just need to make sure you get the right players to cooperate.

Indeed, my biggest worry about bioweapons, are non state actors acquiring them.

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There is a cool book called "the future of war: a history" that I think is a decent antidote to making too much of a trend out of recent warfare & technological development.

Throughout history we have over-estimated most technological revolutions. The example you make about air power is particularly telling.

The UK and France may have been "surprised" by the quality and effectiveness of enemy tactical air power, but this was an improvement over what was possible and performed already in WWI (even the famous japanese torpedoes were in great part a technical improved over what was already possible but didn't revolutionize war).

In fact the lesson learned by the allies was that their theories had predicted that the strategic air power would make war obsolete (if Hitler attacks France, we will bomb Berlin and the war will be over in an afternoon...). Instead air power has proven to be just another dimension over which to fight quite conventional battles. Even in Armenia, after a quick blitz, the advantage in drone technology proved not very effective when the war moved to the mountains...

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As I said below on June 28 "It was a false flag ! Done by RAW and MOSSAD,to fund the DRONE DEFENSE TECHNOLOGY,TO BE SOLD BY ISRAEL,TO INDIA !"

And then on the 5th of July,2021


Lo and Behold ! Is it Coincidence ! dindooohindoo

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This is another false flag ! A drone came from AK, 10 kms into Hindoosthan,via the IB/LC and all the pandoos of the BSF,ADS and the IAF were sleeping !

The attack was at NIGHT – so there was NO VISUAL SIGNATURE.

Y did the Drones miss ? Did they come to blow a hole in the roof of a building ? How could they miss the Choppers and Jets ? What about the Fuel Dumps ?

UAVIED = IED Force Multiplier ! A small payload can cause more damage than a ICBM – as the payload can be targetted TO A SPECIFIC EXPONENTIAL TARGET (like ammo dumps,fuel dumps,jets loaded with fuel and ammo ….)

Sat pictures of the IAF base would be known to the Mujahideen,and so,the GPS coordinates WILL GUIDE THE DRONE TO THE TARGET ! So Y did the drone miss ?

So the Drone was NOT GPS tuned (OR HAD NO GPS) ,and was a basic drone ! Y will a basic drone be used, unless it be tracked to drop payload at a target ? The only STEALTH WAY to do the same – is via a camera, which transmits at set intervals (so that IAF jammers,do NOT intercept the transmission)

The fact that the Drone entered the IAF base and was on ATC zone, means that the handler could see the target ! AND SO Y DID THE HANDLER DROP THE CHARGE AT THE WRONG TARGET ? There was no drone recovered by the Indians – SO THE DRONE DID NOT MALFUNCTION – and so,Y was the payload dropped ?


Hamas DRONES were large with heavy payloads,and slow,with a set trajectory !

Indian Drones are based on the “IED Force Multiplier” concept ! The key in India is TARGET SELECTION – then getting the drone to HIT the target,is easy meat – especially at Nights with cloud cover and a dark moon ! If the small drones fly even at 10000 feet – radars will not detect the same !Tree Top cruising is the last option,for the mujahideen !

So the Israeli technology will not work, in India !

The Solution to jammers used by the Indians, is saturation drones,at the same time but attacking from different coordinates.In addition,once the drones are 50 -100 meters from the target – all radio frequency and visual transmission needs to be cut off, and the handler has to use time and distance to plan the drop – by 1 last transmission, at an unknown frequency !

Once the drone RCS is minimised,then drones at a height of even 500 feet,will be invisible to radar and the human eye – even in the day ! Then just one last visual relay from the drone is required – to release the payload – like the WW2 bombers – were bombs were manually dropped from 20000 feet – AND THIS IS 500 FEET ! And if this happens at NIGHT – then it is Gala Freedom! KAMIKAZE DRONES ARE NON-STOPPER !

Sooner rather than later,the UAVIEDs will reach the Naxals and the North East !

Take the example of Goa,IAF base in Dabolim Commercial Airport,Fuel Dumps for IAF,Navy and Railways – visible to the eye,Ports and Ships at Dock – visible to the eye,packed tourists in the open spaces,oil and naptha tankers docked at high seas ….

India has TO READ THE WRITING ON THE WALL ! Give Freedom to Kashmir and partition India !

The Indians DID NOT have the sense to have a ABR, in the form of a drone,at a height of even 1000 feet to scan all projectile movement – as a drone,has a SET TRAJECTORY AND PATH PATTERN AND A SET SPEED .Even then,the ABR MIGHT detect the drone,BUT WILL NOT BE ABLE TO STOP THE DRONE.NO ADS WORKS AT 50 TO 300 FEET – AS IT IS TOO CLOSE TO MISS.dindooohindoo

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Hideo Kojima already mused about such future in his video game Metal Gear Solid Guns of Patriots

A very underrated comment on war and society

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Apparently Turkey is also building a drone "aircraft carrier" that can launch those Bayraktar TB2's: https://www.dailysabah.com/business/defense/turkeys-tcg-anadolu-to-allow-drones-to-land-takeoff-in-global-1st

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Covid was not an engineered bio weapon, but last year’s Covid experience should be a strong warning how terribly vulnerable we would be to one and how disjointed and ineffective our public health response to one would be.

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