”Do not engage in military operations; that will lead to defeat. Do not take land from a peasant. Emphasize nationalism rather than communism. Do not antagonize anyone if you can avoid it. Be selective in your violence. If an assassination is necessary, use a knife, not a rifle or grenade. It is too easy to kill innocent bystanders with guns and bombs, and accidental killing of the innocent bystanders will alienate peasants from the revolution. Once an assassination has taken place, make sure peasants know why the killing occurred.” This strategy was referred to as “armed propaganda.” -Ho Chi Minh
For this post, Doug gave me a ton of good ideas and he is certainly a contributor. I also want to thank Amos for the Elephant Chisel idea. This building snowmobiles is an ambitious exploration of drone warfare and what we think it will look like in future wars, and especially at the small unit level. The quote above is more geared towards explaining why precise targeting is so important and why collateral damage will only hurt our efforts in this war.
Let’s get started. The historical reference for this conversation, will be the “White Company“. The White Company was a 14th-Century Italian private military company of mercenary archers, led by John Hawkwood. Highly skilled archers were a hot commodity back in that time period, and were a key element to winning wars. John Hawkwood made a ton of money deploying these types of professionals, and because of these highly effective mercenary archers and their fearlessness, all the countries paid a high dollar to get those services. Matter of fact, that desire to employ the best of the best to win wars, is what would later contribute to the rising debt of countries back then and the creation of the bond in order to help pay for it all. John was also very skilled at playing both sides of the conflict, but that is a different story.
Another reason why I brought up the White Company, is that this closely mimics what is going on today. PMC’s are very important to current day drone warfare. They make the drones, they repair them, they prep them for battle and in some cases they control them. Of course we are not seeing PMC’s take part in offensive operations, where a drone pilot is actually pulling the trigger on targets, but they are certainly involved with all other aspects of supporting offensive and defensive drone warfare.
That’s not to say that a PMC wouldn’t be using drones like this in the future, but at this point, it is military drone pilots that are pulling the trigger. What is interesting today, is the close relationship that PMC’s have with the various militaries in the world, for conducting drone warfare. That is why I like using the White Company reference.
In order to staff a modern day version of the White Company or whatever unit, you need a modern version of archers, or ‘drone archers’. (that would be cool if it catches on as the vernacular for this type of drone warfare) These folks would be the guys skilled at all aspects of drone warfare and would represent the ‘knife’, as Ho Chi Minh would put it, of a unit. Drone archers would certainly give any unit the edge in future battles, much like the archers of the White Company did in the 14th century. These expert drone archers would be tasked with preparing and using drones for both offensive and defensive maneuvers, and their precision targeting would be highly valued. (collateral damage will continue to be a bad thing in the future) Think of these drone archers as snipers who attack from the sky.
The drone archer would of course be used for other drone activities, like surveillance, resupply, and any kind of transport services. These guys would also be used to repair drones, and the accompanying control systems and keep everything in working order.
The drones that drone archers would command in the future, and the tactics used, will mimic nature and it will mimic what we already do in wars with aircraft (close air support) and small unit heavy weapons (mortars, machine guns, etc.). These troops will probably use controllers in the form of iPhones or similar smart devices, and they will more than likely fly the drones from a first person point of view. The easiest and most intuitive method of control, will dominate what is used on the battlefield. Drone archers will also have basic soldiering skills and field skills in order to protect themselves in a war zone or to get into a key strategic position.
Drone archers will operate from all locations. Boats, trains, hill tops, airplanes, vehicles, buildings, etc. They will also earn their money flying drones in all types of weather and terrain, and in all types of combat environments. They should also have training in all types of insertion techniques, and should also have a combat air controller mindset and a certain comfort with radios. I could even see these guys using their bigger drones, to help haul themselves into a position. The type of candidate that would be good for drone archer, is a soldier with a sound infantry foundation that is really good at first person shooter games, basic airplane flight principles and multi-tasking.
The kinds of drones that will be used by the drone archer, will be small and tactically practical for the mission of a small unit. At this time, I think the A160 Hummingbird and WASP/micro drones are what drone archers should be using in order to support a small unit.
The various uses of drones will definitely test the skill of a drone archer. Complex attacks, will include an attack by drone. WASPs will be used to take out individual targets. Hummingbirds could carry a package of precision mini-rockets or precision mortars, and just hover above the battlefield on call and perform surveillance. A Hummingbird could hold a bunch of WASPs, and just spit them out when needed as well. The Hummingbird will be key to the attack, because of the camera systems, payload capability of three hundred pounds and loft time. The Hummingbird could also save lives, by transporting wounded to casualty collection centers, or transporting drone archers, commanders, and snipers to key overwatch positions. That’s if the Hummingbird can do what they are advertising it can do.
A squad of drone archers could either operate like Harris Hawks or like Africanized Honey Bees, with an air attack commander who works with the commander on the ground and the drone archers. The air attack leader also keeps track of targets and watches the entire battlefield and air space, and would probably pilot the Hummingbird. They will lead, and their missions will be to hunt, defend, or just support.
I mentioned the Harris Hawk method, because those birds of prey actually hunt in groups. The Harris Hawks will hunt in groups of two to six. This is do to the desert climate in which they live. In one hunting method, a small group flies ahead and scouts, then another group flies ahead and scouts, and this continues until they get something. In another, all the hawks spread around the prey and one individual flushes it.
The Africanized Honey Bee swarms, and drone archers could swarm targets no problem, with the air attack putting markers on what needs to be killed. WASPs could swarm specific targets to completely annihilate them. (a drone archer could stack five WASPs, all ready to plow into one target) Nature will certainly be an influence as to how these things could be strategically used. The drone itself can be looked at like a direct impact weapon, or suicide drone.
What is really exciting to me, is the idea that drone archers could actually lighten the load of a infantry unit, and increase their effectiveness on the battlefield. If a drone archer needs more drones for the fight, you just airdrop them in, or fly them up to their position from a drone truck. You could also just drop them like leaves, and five hundred feet above the drone archer, they deploy ready for commands. They could also be programed to land where you want them to land, and their wings could have lightweight solar panels which would charge the drone until it is needed.
The best part of it all, is that small units would have air support that would be precise, mobile, and with just the right amount of lethality. A squad leader or platoon commander can implement drone archers, much like they use machine gunners or anti-tank assault men on today’s battlefield. If you need a combatant to be killed on the top of a building, and you do not want to take down the whole building or endanger it’s occupants or the folks behind the target, then you could use a drone archer armed with a micro drone and take that target out. Or in the assault, you use your WASPs and Hummingbirds equipped with lazer/GPS guided mortars, to surgically cull the bad guys from the innocents.(the Israelis have made a mortar like this) And unlike a sniper, who only has one field of view, the Hummingbird with all of the WASPs manned by drone archers have multiple fields of view, and all of those drones can bring something to the fight (scouting, surveilling, killing).
The vision I see, is a small dot high in the sky(Hummingbird), and a multitude of specs flying around above the battlefield (WASPs), diving every once in awhile to take advantage of the chaos of the fight to seek targets of opportunity. And then you might see a bigger explosion on a building, vehicle, or bunker.(precision mortars dropped by Hummingbird)
The final component of this, is the Elephant Chisel or just chisel. I coined this term from what mahouts used to do in order to kill their war elephant back during the Punic wars, if the thing went berserk. These guys would take a hammer and chisel, and pound that thing into the animal’s spine in order to sever it and stop the elephant cold. Drone archers must have a elephant chisel or kill switch for their drones, if they happen to lose control of it or if it is hacked by the enemy.
What I foresee is a kill switch/self destruct mechanism that commanders and drone archers can use, coupled with deactivation sensors if the drone gets near any troops. Probably something small and battery powered, or built into battlefield communications devices. The point is, there must be a fail safe to limit the chance of fratricide or having it fall into enemy hands. I could also see counter hack operations designed to pick up on enemy drone archers, to take them out with a bullet or WASP. Or you try to lure in the enemy to pick up a wounded WASP, and then you trigger the thing while the enemy is holding it.
Now don’t worry, I am not trying to get rid of the traditional scout sniper, but I certainly think drone archers could definitely bring lethality to the small unit level. We could even cross train snipers and drone archers. I just would not want to see snipers disappear, and drone archers should not replace that capability. I even believe police units will want to use drone archers along with their snipers, and maybe outfit WASPs to be non-lethal. Imagine WASPs that have a taser or some neurotoxin in it’s nose?
So now I want to hear from you about where you see all of this going. Drones are not going away, and I only see them getting smaller, more lethal, durable, utilitarian, and easier to control as the future of drone warfare progresses. They will also get smarter, and they will need smart folks to operate them. The enemy will also develop DIY drones and form their own drone archers to commit acts of terrorism or kill troops on the battlefield. We will also see soldiers really pushing the boundaries of battlefield innovation and strategy when it comes to drone usage. Combat experience, video gaming, learning organizations, competition between companies, the desire to win the war and the technological progress towards drone development will all fuel that innovation. Bring on the drone archers!