The term “drone” has become synonymous with Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle, or UCAV, and small UCAVs have become common in modern warfare. Small, modern consumer drone has become a staple of irregular warfare. Cartels have mounted automatic weapons on drones and ISIS used them to drop bombs on their enemies. No longer a plaything or innovative camera platform, drones will be used in any domestic conflict in the United States.
To date, irregular forces have used drones for:
ISIS often dropped munitions out of a plastic tube when released remotely by a servo motor. 40mm grenades were popular with ISIS as they were light and could be lofted easily by consumer Quadcopters. Larger drones can drop 60mm and 81mm mortar bombs. Homemade bombs often using plastic explosive have been seen in Latin American cartel wars and in the Middle East. Weapons don’t need to be dropped; a more accurate strike, at the cost of the drone, can be delivered in a kamikaze attack involving terminal guidance to the target and detonation.
Payloads depend on speed and range required. Maximum payload for a large quadcopter is about 4-5lbs. Optimal payloads are on average half a pound or less, up to 1.25lbs or half a kilo. About 1lb of C4 explosive is enough to destroy a truck. Bare explosives can be studded with ball bearings or other metal to create shrapnel; however, this may take the weight limit over what small drones can carry.
In addition to the above discussed surveillance and reconnaissance roles, armed drones will be used in direct combat. Area fire that is ordinarily accomplished in militaries by mortars, artillery, and grenade launchers will be done by drone. Americans just won’t have access to these weapons the same way that Afghans and Iraqis did. Explosive armed drones themselves may be flown directly into targets and detonated in the same manner as militaries employ missiles.
Drones may be used in the following manner to kill:
Immediate action drills
Shooting down drones
Shotgun drone shootdowns are not uncommon. To date, it has largely been on the range, by an annoyed neighbor, or by an angry man who caught the drone peeping. Based on the limited information provided, these drones were close and not attempting to evade. Drones engaged in combat operations will try to remain as distant as possible and should evade, making a shootdown more difficult.
Drones are designed to be lightweight and thus quite fragile. They can be easily damaged by high velocity projectiles. Any impact may cause the drone to lose orientation and crash; the more violent the better. Shotgun shells may be the best chance at shooting down a drone at low level and a good skeet or trap shooter should be the one to make the attempt.
Range, altitude, and the drone’s speed will all factor into the ability to hit it as much as the ability of the shooter, the gun, and the ammunition used. Wind, temperature, and altitude can affect range as well.
Drone air-to-air combat
Shooting down a drone with a gun is not going to work against a pilot who is anticipating anti-drone fire, actively evades, flies smartly, and keeps the drone out of range. This means that the fight will need to be taken to the offending drone. Anti-drone air superiority will become a thing.
All combat is about what happens on the ground. Aircraft were first used in military applications for reconnaissance, then bombing. Naturally, the countermeasure was to develop fighter planes that specialized in shooting down aircraft. While fighter vs. fighter combat has captured the imagination and hearts of fighter pilots all over the world, the actual job of air superiority is to deny the airspace to the enemy. If fighter jets are waiting to shoot down his bombers and transport planes, he can’t use his air force to support his ground troops or attack the enemy.
Though it would be expensive to have a lot of remote control planes and drones, it is possible to use drones against drones. Note however that one would have to fly their remote control aircraft physically into the drone to knock it out of the sky. For your small UCAV, this will be a suicide mission.
A light and cheap drone that can climb to a decent altitude and fly fast would probably be ideal. Practice can be done with easily repairable drones. An experienced drone pilot may be able to accomplish a mid-air collision without much rehearsal. The kinetic impact should be all that is required to crash most consumer quadcopter types. Once downed, the wrecked drone should be captured for intelligence exploit or an ambush can be setup to wait for the enemy’s recovery attempt.
Are you likely to be killed by a drone? It is highly unlikely. In a future destabilized America immersed in urban combat, most deaths will be caused by famine and disease, followed by gunfire, as in most wars. Drones will be problematic mostly as a reconnaissance and command & control tool. I would be more worried about a looting gang launching a drone to see who is asleep before the 3 AM attack than I am someone flying a drone with C4 through my bedroom window.
Note: this an adaptation from my non-fiction book Suburban Warfare: A cop’s guide to surviving a civil war, SHTF, or modern urban combat, available on Amazon.
Author Don Shift
Don Shift is a veteran of the Ventura County Sheriff's Office and avid fan of post-apocalyptic literature and film who has pushed a black and white for a mile or two. He is a student of disasters, history, and current events.