The drone defense dilemma: How unmanned aircraft are redrawing battle lines
By Tom Kington
ROME — First there was the video from Libya of a Turkish drone destroying a Russian Pantsir missile defense system.
Next came the veteran S-300 air defense system — also Russian — being taken out in Nagorno-Karabakh by an Israeli-built Harop loitering munition.
In the conflicts in Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh last year, unmanned platforms often made short work of the ground-based systems designed to neutralize them, paving the way for easy attacks on vulnerable troops.
What is more, experts say, is that the balance of power between drones and air defense systems is shaping up to be a key to global wars in the near future.
“Libya, Nagorno-Karabakh and also Syria have just showed us that if a fielded force cannot protect its airspace, then the large scale use of UAVs can make life extremely dangerous,” said Justin Bronk, an air force research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in England.
Turkey’s Bayraktar TB2 armed drone grabbed the headlines during the Libya conflict last year, which saw Turkey deploy the platform to defend the U.N.-backed Tripoli government against strongman Khalifa Hifter, who relied on Russian Pantsir systems.
Able to fire their Roketsan munitions from outside the range of the Russian systems, the TB2s scored hits, helping stop Hifter’s advance.