back to article Russia claims it repelled home-grown drone swarm in Syria

The Russian Defense Ministry has reported that its forces in Syria have been attacked by a swarm of GPS-guided drones carrying improvised explosives. The attack took place on the night of December 5, with 13 drones were picked up on radar. Ten aimed themselves at Russia’s Hmeymim air base and three more headed for a logistics …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Other peoples' money only goes so far

    "Every now and then, reports give me this nagging feeling in the back of my head that it might also be our western taxes that fund terrorism in places like Syria, so I wish they'd spend it on prettier drones"

    You know, sometimes you have to get your priorities straight.

  2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

    Re: Other peoples' money only goes so far

    reports give me this nagging feeling

    That nagging feeling will become even more nagging when they start flying those things into malls, Jewish (or "wrong muslim") kindergartens in your own city. Which if we continue funding them they will. It is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when. There is a saying around those parts of the world - you do not feed a rabid pariah dog. It will still bite you.

    The sole difference will be that the kindergarten will not have an electronic warfare specialist at hand or a Kashtan CIWS to deal with it.

    By the way, the bomb is an off the shelf one (probably a bomblet from a cluster munition), someone welded a hook to it in a workshop. It is significantly LOWER tech than the drone itself. It is also the reason why they picked 'em. The drone itself is mostly plastic and wood - minimal radar footprint. It was the bomb and/or active communication that gave it away.

    It is also technically the right approach. I find it quite funny when idiots rant about the dangers of someone putting something on an off-the-shelf quadcopter. They really have no clue of how little range and carrying capacity does one of those have compared to a model aircraft with a proper petrol engine.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Other peoples' money only goes so far

    The funny thing is that the public, especially the press, seems to have a bit of a motivation problem when it comes to naming responsible parties. I wonder if people might get a bit weary paying taxes so their government can support unpleasant elements abroad to further their geopolitical delusions and then use even more taxes to establish oh-so-expensive systems of total surveillance in our so-called free countries which then of course fail completely to avert the fallout, if they were ever meant to. People might develop minor trust issues. So it is probably for the best to tell them too much.

    Back to those "drones". As you say, on a technical level, the whole thing is rather smartly done. Pretty smart for those rabid pariah drug fiends in Syria.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The shape of things to come

    It won't surprise me if it is not that long before we get attacks using drones here.

    Then all of them will be banned.

  5. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

    Re: The shape of things to come

    Only for PR value. You can strap a much heavier bomb to yourself, than you can fit on a drone. Or even just carry it in a rucksack and leave it somewhere on a timer.

    The whole death-cult thing is a huge disadvantage to these terror groups. Obviously it increases the horror of their attacks, and makes planning a lot easier. But the problem with killing all your people whether the mission succeeds or fails, is that you can never build up experience.

    Obviously in Al Qaeda and IS there are leaders who are not called by God to get blown up. Although they are often called by Allah to live in relative luxury and send other people to their deaths. But most of the efforts in the West don't seem to have built much of a command network to plan the next lot of attacks, or train the next lot of people. That's obviously going to make higher tech attacks a lot harder.

    The IRA got good at bomb making because they protected their bomb makers. They often didn't even go on the missions to plant them, so even if everyone was caught - they still had the skills and experience on hand.

  6. JohnG Silver badge

    Re: The shape of things to come

    "You can strap a much heavier bomb to yourself, than you can fit on a drone."

    Yes, but a drone can go places where you can't. A drone could carry some nasty chemical or biological agents, that might be more devastating than a bomb.

  7. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

    Re: The shape of things to come

    Chemical and biological weapons are incredibly short range unless you have very expensive and complex delivery devices. And usually lots of them. It's nothing you can knock up in a shed.

    The only chemical attack in Syria that killed lots of people was the one in the suburbs of Damascus that Cameron lost the vote in parliament over. That used something like 1,500 little artillery/mortar projectiles to get the gas spread around. You can't do stuff like that without massive infrastructure and resources.

  8. adam payne Silver badge

    While this sounds scary the pictures posted of the drones by the Russians raise some serious questions about the efficacy of the technology used. While the home-made bombs look authentic the drones themselves look cobbled together and low-tech.

    Low tech but no less deadly.

  9. MyffyW Silver badge

    I'm certainly not going to draw any conclusions on military efficacy from what it looks like.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Low tech is often very effective. Unfortunately many military types are awed by technology and think that it is a solution to many problems.

    Being creative is really the lethal skill here.

  11. Credas Silver badge

    I don't really see why they would have gone to all the trouble of building a bomb release system into their improvised drones, nor why they would spend time and effort making such pretty looking bombs when the rest of the drone was more sensibly lashed together with whatever would do for a one-way trip. A simple explosive pack in the fuselage and an impact fuse would make more sense. I suspect we're looking at a simple improvised drone attack bigged up for Russian propaganda purposes here.

  12. Voland's right hand Silver badge

    I don't really see why they would have gone to all the trouble of building a bomb release system

    1. If they are using an off-the-shelf autopilot package it is likely to have objections to being flown into the ground.

    2. They are using an off-the-shelf bomblet from a cluster munition. That has to hit the ground at a reasonable speed and the correct angle for the detonator to work. If you just crash the drone into the ground you may not get the correct result. This type of model aircraft is SLOW. In addition to that the bomb has to be mounted near the centre of gravity so its front and propeller serve as a crumple zone.

    3. The other alternative - integrating an high explosive package into the drone itself including detonator, etc requires significantly more effort and facilities you simply do not get in a Al Qaeda workshop (under whatever name they call themselves today so we can sponsor them) - for that you need a testing range and some proper explosives handling facilities. The result is also likely to be less reliable compared to an off-the-shelf munition.

    So whoever built it actually knew what they were doing. That is the scary part here.

  13. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Refer to "Superiority" by Arthur C Clarke.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    " A simple explosive pack in the fuselage and an impact fuse would make more sense. "

    No need to make something when there is a proven object already to hand. A release mechanism is a complication - but gives a chance of recovering the delivery vehicle. That appears to be the more difficult part of the system to construct.

  15. Credas Silver badge

    2. They are using an off-the-shelf bomblet from a cluster munition.

    Do you have a reference for a cluster bomb munition that looks like that? Because I've never seen one like it, and I can't really think why anyone would design one in such a low-drag form and with such a poor packing density. These are more like it.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not sure about your point 1, having built a couple of drones, all equipped with off-the-shelf autopilots, there has never been any objection from the autopilot about flying into the ground. In fact it is the one thing that the software (or maybe the operator...) excels at.

  17. Voland's right hand Silver badge

    Do you have a reference for a cluster bomb munition that looks like that?

    AO-1Sch is one example. There are several others. I cannot dig out the exact one, but it does look like something which I have seen before. Russian or Chinese by the way. Just cannot remember the exact reference.

    I can't really think why anyone would design one in such a low-drag form

    Russians do - there is a number of submunitions for their newer multiple rocket launchers, etc which are closer to a conventional bomb in shape than what USA or UK refer to as a typical cluster bomb submunition. I believe the Chinese have copied them as well.

  18. h4rm0ny Silver badge

    A low-tech device that does the job is better than a high-tech device that does the job for one simple reason: For the price of a single US$500,000 device, you can get thousands of cheap ones.

    If you can build a model plane out of balsa wood and a cheap motor with enough range, that's what you do. Besides, the sophisticated part of these was the guidance systems which aren't shown in these pictures.

  19. anothercynic Silver badge


    @Anonymous hits it on the head.

    All's fair in love and war, and the low-tech approach is what most guerilla warfare uses (IEDs in Afghanistan/Iraq, traditional weapons and cheap guns in Somalia, now cheap RC 'drones' in Syria).

  20. Credas Silver badge

    Do you have a reference for a cluster bomb munition that looks like that?

    AO-1Sch is one example.

    Sorry? Here are some pictures of AO-1Sch submunitions - and they're as high-drag and butt-ugly as all the rest I've seen!

  21. Voland's right hand Silver badge


    So am I. I swear I have seen something very similar somewhere once upon a time in Eastern Europe. I just cannot dig out of my brain the exact reference of what it is.

    I do not think the bomb part is a DIY - I am pretty sure I have seen it somewhere. It looks waaay too familiar. Just cannot remember :(

  22. emmanuel goldstein

    They look like modified mortar rounds to me.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Even lower tech

    Take one completely standard donkey, add a GPS system and some means of steering the donkey, and inducing it to move forwards (servo-motor plus whip being the obvious solution).

    Deploy donkey plus guidance plus explosive payload. There you go, instant heavyweight suicide bomber.

  24. bombastic bob Silver badge

    A guidance system could be an RPi with a 9-axis IMU and GPS module attached... and open source software to power it. Convenient for hobbyists, but that's what terrorists are doing, apparently, by repurposing hobby equipment as weapons of terror. I could cobble one together myself [and probably write the guidance control software for it]. I'm very familiar with IMUs and GPS because of a customer project I've been working on for a while, and it wouldn't take a "schmott guy" very long to figure out how to build something evil with the same tech. (yeah, 'Nize hat').

    And the bombs were probably stolen or purchased via the black market.

  25. JohnG Silver badge

    Then there was the comment about a lack of landing gear. Why would such a device need to land in a controlled manner?

  26. Archtech Silver badge

    A grand old British tradition

  27. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

    Low tech is often very effective

    Indeed. A bow and arrow can kill you almost as easily as a rifle.. Just ask the French!

  28. Filippo

    So their electronic warfare specialist managed to hack half of them while they were flying in? That's actually pretty awesome. Saves a pretty penny too, given that I'd wager the anti-aircraft missiles outcost the drones by at least three orders of magnitude (which is the whole point of this kind of attack).

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Russian tech hacked by Russians?

    Inside knowledge?

    Could it be Russian supplied tech...really wouldn't be surprising givin Putin's record.

  30. DropBear Silver badge

    "Hacked"? Doubt it. I much rather suspect they locally messed with the GPS signal and somehow confused the heck out of the drones. Maybe it was as simple as spoof-dropping the ground level until the drone crashed into the actual thing that was still where it used to be...

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Russian tech hacked by Russians?

    "Could it be Russian supplied tech...really wouldn't be surprising givin Putin's record."

    It doesn't necessarily need a government's collusion for arms to reach people who are, or eventually become, the enemy. It has been well documented that Western supplied arms have been found in the hands of groups fighting against the Western-backed forces.

    Arms manufacturers tend to sell to whoever has the money. Even when there are legal proscriptions - it only takes one shady middleman to make the sale appear legitimate.

    Civil wars generally only continue as long as external forces are supplying arms to both sides.

  32. h4rm0ny Silver badge

    Re: Russian tech hacked by Russians?

    You're suggesting the Russians are bombing themselves. Quite frankly we know the CIA are present in Syria and have been supplying expertise and equipment to Al Quaeda and similar there. Western assistance to build these is not remotely implausible.

  33. h4rm0ny Silver badge

    Re: Russian tech hacked by Russians?

    Governments generally have a pretty good idea of who their weapons are reaching. Which is a very different thing from publicly admitting it or it being done legally. And when weapons end up in "the wrong hands", it's as often simply a matter of time and shifting allegiances than error. Arms dealers are VERY aware of who governments will be okay with them supplying and who will get them into a very nasty situation.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Russian tech hacked by Russians?

    Some Russian news sites reported that the claim about assistance from a foreign government was about the GPS devices used on these drones - apparently, these used military GPS, as opposed to the commercial variant common in sat navs and smartphones and therefore, not items one could buy on Alibaba.

  35. Kernel Silver badge

    Re: Russian tech hacked by Russians?

    "You're suggesting the Russians are bombing themselves."

    I heard that they were thinking about doing just that, but then a Lieutenat Minderbender turned up from somewhere with an outsourcing deal they couldn't afford to ignore.

  36. frank ly Silver badge

    "... but appear to have few metal parts and lack even landing wheels."

    They don't need landing wheels for a suicide mission. The lack of metal parts was probably an attempt to avoid radar detection.

  37. Anonymous Blowhard

    "They don't need landing wheels for a suicide mission."

    Possibly, or it could be an obvious weight saving measure; many commercial miniature UAVs don't have landing wheels. They may even have hoped to recover some of the drones if they'd been successful.

    "The lack of metal parts was probably an attempt to avoid radar detection."

    Possibly, but equally it's also a weight saving measure, and plastics, composites and wood are a lot easier to work with than metal airframe construction techniques.

  38. Vinyl-Junkie

    Re They don't need landing wheels for a suicide mission

    My first thoughts too; I was instantly reminded of the Japanese kamikaze piloted bombs of World War II which also lacked landing wheels, because they would never be required to make one.

    See picture here

  39. Mark 85 Silver badge

    They don't need landing wheels for a suicide mission.

    The lack of wheels also makes sense in that not having them reduces drag which will increase speed, range, and/'or payload. If the aircraft could fly back to base, it could just land in tall grass or even sand. A few repairs and it's ready for action.

    As a side note, during WWII one of the (I forget which one) German rocket planes didn't have landing gear but skids. Low weight and no maintenance to speak of. I won't go into it's success as they were very dangerous aircraft to fly but the landing system seems to have worked.

  40. notowenwilson

    "German rocket planes"

    That'd be the ME163? I believe. Not sure how well the skid worked but I believe they were fairly effective at killing their pilots before they had a chance to land.

  41. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "highly advanced machines"

    Maybe by Russian standards, but they look cobbled together with duct tape and wire.

    That said, how they look has very little bearing when the bombs they carry are dropping on your head.

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: "highly advanced machines"

    "but they look cobbled together with duct tape and wire.".

    Ah, you're fingering the A-Team.

  43. Lee D Silver badge

    Nailed it.

    Been waiting for this to happen for ages.

    Now, when they say that they took some out with an AA missile, how many missiles for how many drones? I'm guessing that it's a lot cheaper and more practical to launch 1000 drones than 1000 missiles, especially if you only need one to get through and your target doesn't HAVE 1000 missiles.

    This is basically what first popped into my head when GPS + load-bearing drones became a possibility. Not even a professional attack, either. Amateur terrorism. Coming soon to a city centre near you. It's scary stuff.

    Maybe then these things will get some regulation (but that won't stop them either).

    Literally nothing stopping someone making an "art project" of 1000 drones in a warehouse, and then making them fly out... over thousands of kms if necessary, by all kinds of random routes. Landing on a building should they be low on battery, solar panel on the back and off you go again (maybe even with a little fuel for an "emergency" launch if it detects someone approaching / touching it while it's charging back up).

    Program in the same target location to them all, their origin will basically be impossible to ascertain (quite why these one's origin was isn't explained), they would come at you from all angles, over the course of many hours (or could be synchronised to the second but likely to generate attention while they wait around) and you'll never be quite sure if the attack is over.

    It only needs one to get through to cause havoc, it'll generate scary headlines IMMEDIATELY and have a massive knock-on effect, it won't need a ton of funding, or for them even to be carrying anything necessarily, and it'll be hard as hell to knock out 1000 drones all in a little flock that you can't just get with one missile.

    I would also think that rather than bombs, gas would be more effective - much more scary, basically only needs some scary-looking green fogging gas to be heated up to prove proof of concept and scare the life out of everyone, lighter, controllable, doesn't make you explode while you're setting it up, etc. and yet still a viable attack method if you did have some dangerous gas.

  44. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Not an AA missile, an AA unit. The Pantsir system can shoot missiles, but it also has good ol' fashion AA guns.

    They most likely used the guns.

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The thousands of German V1 attacks on southern England used cheap ram jet drones launched off sledges on short concrete ramps. Simple gyro control - and a distance cut-out aimed them at the approximate target area.

    They were generally slightly faster than any intercepting prop-driven aircraft - and anti-aircraft fire was initially too inaccurate to nail them reliably. It is interesting to see film of batches of anti-aircraft rockets being fired vertically simultaneously in the hope of intercepting one.

    Even after the launch sites in France were overrun - the Allied supply port of Antwerp was the target for future attacks.

    V2 ballistic rockets were also used. Although interception was impossible - they were a much more complicated and expensive device to use than the V1.

  46. Arctic fox

    RE: "The thousands of German V1 attacks on southern England"

    In fact a number of the aircraft stationed at British airbases in S.E. England at the time of the V1 offensive could successfully intercept the V1. The Spitfire XIV, the Mustang III, the Tempest V and the Mosquito could all do this. The biggest challenge to interception was in fact the time window between detection and the V1 being over a densely populated area when shooting it down would probably have caused it to explode when hitting the ground thus negating the point of the interception.

  47. h4rm0ny Silver badge

    Re: RE: "The thousands of German V1 attacks on southern England"

    Fun and amazing fact: although British pilots were instructed to shoot down the V1s., their gyroscope ceased working if inverted. That is to say that if you could get the missile to fly upside down it would immediately crash. British pilots would sometimes fly alongside the missile and get their wing under its fin and flip it over.

    Interesting book that mentions this: Empire of the Clouds by James Hamilton-Paterson. (No, I'm not touting the book and no connection. Amazon's just the easiest link).

  48. Arctic fox

    RE: "the missile to fly upside down it would immediately crash"

    Yes h4rm0ny. I had in fact forgotten about that trick some of the RAF pilots used. I seem to remember that it involved flying just under the V1 so that the fighter's wing was just under that of the drone and tipping/flipping the V1 over onto its back. Those brillcream boys were crazy/very brave - luckily for us!

    Edit: Sorry, I read your post too quickly and failed to see that you had already mentioned this.

  49. x 7 Silver badge

    Re: RE: "the missile to fly upside down it would immediately crash"

    It wasn't wing-to-wing contact which caused the V1 to flip, but rather flying with the wings just close enough for the Allied aircraft to disturb the airflow over the V1's wing, resulting in loss of lift on one wing and an inevitable stall

  50. anothercynic Silver badge

    Re: RE: "The thousands of German V1 attacks on southern England"

    +1 on h4rm0ny's book recommendation!

    Empire of the Clouds is mega!


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