The Russian Defense Ministry confirmed on January 8 that a swarm of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, have attacked their airbase in Syria on the night of January 5th. The drone strike is the latest of a recent flurry of mysterious attacks against Russian forces in Syria, and military officials are still clueless as to who’s behind them.
The Defense Ministry said that 13 small drones, what they described as a “massive application of unmanned aerial vehicles,” targeted two separate locations. Seven of these were neutralized by Russian anti-aircraft defenses, while the rest caused no significant damage after exploding upon touching the ground.
It’s hard not to think of that futuristic slaughterbots in that viral video, except that those were autonomous and the drones that attacked the Russians were most likely remotely controlled.
The use of drones for warfare isn’t something new, they have been used in various forms since the 19th century.
But swarms of small drones like the ones seen in Syria have only recently been employed in modern defense programs. Defense contractor Duke Robotics has one such program in the works, with an ordinary-looking multi-rotor drone called the TIKAD — except it really isn’t your regular hobbyist drone. The TIKAD is armed with a high-powered rifle.
Advocates of drone warfare see it as the future of military operations, and one where the lives of human soldiers need not be put in harm’s way. Deploying smaller drones could also end up becoming cheaper than using regular UAVs like the Predator.
So, as crude and rudimentary as those drones that bombed Russian forces were, the mysterious attackers are definitely up to something. The incident was, indeed, the first time a swarm of drones had been weaponized for a military strike — but it most definitely won’t be the last.