Governments may spend billions on developing sophisticated radar and warning systems linked to missiles and jet fighters but did not consider cheap, disposable drones could blitz them with impunity.
Drones are small mostly plastic technology that can fly short distances under remote control.
The more deadly version is a UAV – unmanned aerial vehicle – that is a smaller version of a jet fighter armed with bombs or missiles.
The most lethal application was seen in the choreographed raid on Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq oil fields.
The attack was co-ordinated so several UAVs and drones arrived on target at the same time, having already flown a great distance.
Ideal weapons of terror
They were programmed to approach from unexpected directions at low heights to avoid radar and detection.
UAVs and drones are the ideal weapon of terror as they do not cost much but pack a punch from out of nowhere.
“The level of complexity in the Abqaiq attack is above anything we’ve seen before. Using a mix of cruise missiles and UAVs that arrived all at the same time calls for a serious level of planning and proficiency,” said Douglas Barrie, an air power fellow at think tank the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
“Digital technology has made a huge difference to what smaller UAVs can do. Suddenly you can pack a lot into a UAV, you can almost turn it into a precision guided weapon.”
Phaser v Leonardo
The US government is tight-lipped about defending against drone attacks, but has reportedly sent a top secret new weapon to Saudi Arabia for testing against raids.
Phaser is hot off the production line and works on the principle of firing microwaves at inborne aerial threats to frazzle their circuitry. The beam is 100 metres wide and a kilometre long, pulsing at the speed of light to bring down enemy aircraft in seconds over a wide area.
The $16 million ray gun is touted as a cost-effective way to counter air raids, although it faces competition from Leonardo, a precision beam that jams the chips and computers controlling a drone. Leonardo is not yet in production and the price is not known.