The terror group's drone fleet, if you will, contains nothing even remotely so sophisticated — or lethal — as an Air Force Predator. Its gear is comparatively cheap, consisting of either homemade electronics or products readily available on the consumer market. But the militants' growing use of drones highlights an important battlefield development in the conflict in Iraq and Syria. The enemy is now regularly employing this technology for everything from propaganda videos and surveillance to indirect fire spotting and, possibly, weapons delivery.
Iraqi Sgt. Hussain Musa Kathum displays an ISIS drone he shot down in Anbar province.
Photo Credit: Iraqi ministry of defence
Kathum's score is the latest incident in an unfolding battle Marines are facing in Iraq as ISIS deploys cheap, readily available unmanned aerial vehicles in ever greater numbers.
A surge of media reports over the last year has documented the terrorist group's increased use of commercial and homemade drones on the battlefield for everything from propaganda videos to surveillance, indirect fire spotting and even possibly weapons delivery.
"We've known for a while that we're not going to be the only folks with UAVs for surveillance on the battlefield," Grant said. "So here we are."
"Improvised drones are homemade with cheap parts that can be assembled in homes or other areas," officials said when asked for clarification.
ISIS uses both commercial and improvised drones on a regular basis to recon potential attacks, posing a "valid potential threat" by gleaning sensitive tactical information, the official said. "Improvised drones," he added, "are homemade with cheap parts that can be assembled in homes or other areas."
"Some of the bad guys are fiddling around, trying to improve the performance," she said. "It may be a very basic, 'actually take off' kind of improvement, but it says that there is some level of active work in the drone area. It's probably not super-sophisticated yet, but they're working on them."
Out-of-the-box, tactically viable drones can be purchased on Amazon for under $100, but face major operational limitations due to their short range, slow flight speed and minimal battery life. ISIS has used commercial drones to capture propaganda footage of battlefields and suicide attacks since at least December 2014, but improvising solutions to their limitations would raise the ante — and potential lethality.
Weaponized payloads, while difficult for ISIS to pull off, are not too far a stretch. "If it was me, I would be asking 'How can I extend the battery life, how can I extend the operational range, how can I stick a payload on here that I can actually use? How can I really get that to work?'" Grant said.
Matthew L. Schehl covers training and education, recruiting, West Coast Marines, MARSOC, and operations in Europe, Africa and the Middle East for Marine Corps Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.