Mindanao Times

Downing highlights limitation­s of US unmanned aircraft, say


US DRONES have been a key tool in conflicts against insurgent organizati­ons such as the Taliban and the Islamic State group, but Iran’s downing of one of the aircraft highlights their limitation­s against more sophistica­ted adversarie­s.

While drones offer the significan­t attraction of not putting American lives at risk and can stay aloft for more than a day, allowing for extended surveillan­ce missions, they can be vulnerable to air defenses, are often expensive, and their loss can lead to sensitive hardware falling into the wrong hands.

American drones “are generally not stealthy, they are generally not aerodynami­cally impressive,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow and director of research in foreign policy at the Brookings Institutio­n.

“I believe sophistica­ted air defenses will continue to have good chances to shoot down an aircraft like an RQ-4 whenever it is in position to do meaningful surveillan­ce of their territorie­s or other assets,” he said, referring to the type of drone brought down by Iran near the strategic Strait of Hormuz last week.

But “it takes quite a bit to target an American military asset, and most countries won’t do it just because Iran seems to have ‘gotten away with it’ here,” O’Hanlon said, noting that punishing US sanctions on the country mean it is not emerging unscathed.

“These drones were not, generally speaking, designed with contested airspace in mind,” said Arthur Holland Michel, co-director of the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College.

“If you looked at the operationa­l history of the RQ-4 Global Hawk, you’ll see that it generally avoids denied-airspace environmen­ts,” he said.

Michel said that Predator drones had been shot down in the Balkans and Iraq, while a stealthy RQ170 was lost over Iran in 2011, with Tehran claiming to have used it to build a copy of its own.

“There are some possibilit­ies for operating in contested airspace, but generally no, this is a system that if someone wants to shoot it down, they probably can,” he said.

But American drones have proved “tremendous­ly important” in “counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency style operations,” said Michel.

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