So, Hamas decided to send up a drone, perhaps similar to the one recently shown below on Al Aqsa TV:
|Video of purported Hamas drone, from Al Aqsa TV, via NBC News and The Blaze|
You can probably guess what happened next. There was an Israeli Patriot battery in the area, which quickly detected the drone. Powerful radar, 100-G missile, no problem. Within seconds, a missile was on its way, and the Hamas Air Force was no more.
The Israelis are still looking for wreckage of the drone, which was reportedly unarmed. Hamas says it has dispatched UAVs for a variety of "special missions" over Israel, but there is no evidence to support those claims.
Apparently, the terror group hasn't learned one of the cardinal rule of drone operations; simply stated, UAVs work best in a "permissive" air defense environment, where you don't have to worry about an advanced surface-to-air missile system blowing your UAV out of the sky. Incidentally, Israel's Iron Dome system is also capable of intercepting drones at low and medium altitude, so the life expectancy for any Hamas UAS is probably measured in seconds.
Still, the UAV threat from terrorist groups cannot be dismissed. With the proliferation of drone technology, small, pilotless aircraft can be assembled, launched and controlled by a small team of technicians, or in some cases, a single person. They can carry rockets, small missiles, bombs and even WMD payloads, making them a useful terror weapon for targeted strikes, particularly against soft targets.
The shootdown also provides a lesson for advanced military powers, including the United States. Our ability to sustain UAV operations--even against lesser foes--is hardly assured. We lost more than a dozen drones over Serbia in 1999, against a well-trained (but antiquated) air defense system built around aging SA-2 and SA-3 radar-guided SAMs, along with lots of MANPADs and AAA. Of course, that's one of the advantages of UAVs; you can build them in large numbers, expecting to lose some and still have enough to cover the target.
Against a more advanced foe (think: China), the problem would be much more serious. Beijing has spent billions on advanced SAMs over the last 15 years, along with state-of-the-art radars and battle management systems. A few years ago, the retiring commander of the Air Combat Command, General Ron Keys, told a defense audience that China's ability to take out our UAVs would be limited "only by their ability to reload their SAM launchers."
A slightly sobering thought for a nation that has become dependent on total battlespace surveillance and dozens of daily UAV orbits.