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Today, we need to consider a different lesson. Invasion and/or occupation are a de facto declaration of war no matter the words used in excuse. Each war has it’s own lessons to learn, and history suggests that the truism about preparing to fight the last war is sadly true. For just two examples, think of WWI and the machine gun versus formation fighting. In WWII, we saw the battleship replaced by the aircraft carrier.
Sadly, I fear we are well on our way to learning a wrong lesson from the Russia-Ukraine war. For far too many, the focus is on drones, loitering munitions, and advanced artillery. The first two in particular have grabbed popular fascination, and what is being done with them is indeed amazing, successful, and more. There are already concepts for the next drone du jour, and a lot of armchair talk about how drones and other unmanned systems are the future.
To my mind, there are two big problems for anyone facing or under occupation in regards this. First, drones are the technology of today. Second, the enthusiasts miss the key point that makes drones possible: data.
As for the first point, drones have already been changing the face of warfare for a few years now. What has changed is that troops regular, irregular, and partisan are making full use of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technology. At least in some quarters, the creative use of COTS has been discussed for some time, especially as a variety of systems have matured. Video cameras and displays, drones, model rockets, advanced phone and radio devices, and more all have a place.
Drones will be a part of warfare in any form from now on. The real question is what will be the technology of the next war? Again, as we’ve discussed before, what matters most in the struggle against any invader or occupier is flexible minds. In this war, it is that flexibility that saw drones modified for recon, for pinpoint bombing (micro bombing), and even delivery of small (or even medium) items to troops cut off or otherwise needing resupply. It was that mental flexibility that saw someone use a 3-D printer to design and print a tail fin for various grenades (mostly 40s) so that they fell straight and true onto target.
Which brings us to data. Knowing where to start looking for targets takes data. Controlling drones at remote ranges takes data. Sharing your wild hair for modifying a drone to hit enemy targets takes data. Sharing the 3-D printer file for grenade tail fins (and other delights) takes data. Assessing strike and other action results takes data. Data, and the ability to share/communicate it, are essential to fighting any invasion or occupation.
In this case, quite a bit of that rests on the use of the Starlink satellite internet system. The enemy can jam many things, it’s hard to jam an entire satellite constellation. Add in the ability of cell phones to communicate directly with satellites, and you have something any general throughout history would have killed to have for their campaigns.
The modern smartphone is, at its core, a computer. If you can hook that computer directly to a satellite independent of cellular service, you have the ability to pull in data from satellites, web sites, and more. You also have the ability to control systems from a distance. Make it a discrete hot spot, and you can hook in drone or other controls to it. You can hook a laptop into it, and then brother do your abilities go up.
Now, if you can figure out how to make your uplink signal shielded or a tight-beam to help escape detection (for the enemy will be looking for you), all the better. Even better is to hide the abilities of the phone to a cursory search. The Russians have primarily been checking cell phones for obvious signs of resistance such as text messages, e-mail, photos, and such. They may get smart, and if not, others are surely learning lessons as well.
If you even begin to think you might be invaded or occupied, now is the time to start setting up the necessary communications/data systems. You need multiple access points to the internet, cellular, and satellite systems. You need to make those as secure as possible. Set up as many systems as you can for redundancy as well as security. It would also be wise to set up some maskirova of your own, both in terms of hiding things and putting up some things for the enemy to find and/or destroy so they think they have hurt you.
Also, start buying terminals and services now, and set-up funds out-of-country to pay for those services after you are occupied. Buy new cell phones with the satellite technology, and get what computer equipment you can as well. Despite Elon’s generosity to the Ukraine, the level of service needed costs. Plan for it. And look at ways to get creative and use the enemy’s systems (and funding sources) against them. Again, flexible minds.
What will be the next drone? Good question, and there are some options already out there. Without data and the ability to communicate it, none of it will be effective.
For the grins of it, some thoughts in fiction form.
Korolev stood in the control tower and watched the massive cargo plane maneuver to the end of the runway, as always fascinated with the beauty of the movement as well as wishing it could hurry up. Right now, the jamming systems around the base were down, as were the automatic defense systems against drones since it would not go well with higher if said systems took out your own plane.
The one thing up and working, however, was radar. Ground clutter meant that it could only scan from about fifty feet up, but everyone knew that drones came in and dropped things, and to do so meant usually they flew a hundred feet or higher.
Cursing as the plane stopped at it’s hold point, Korolev lit a cigarette and muttered a few words about being a nervous old woman. He would be glad when the plane was gone and the defenses could come back up. Besides, the plane not only had a few prisoners, but a lot more medical evacuations as well as items liberated locally to be sent back home. The evacuations were needed, not only for the wounded, but that accidental electrical short in the barracks shower had overwhelmed the cardiac capabilities of the medical staff. The hospital of the occupied air base was not designed for the number of casualties coming in to it.
Finally, the giant plane began its roll down the runway. About a third of the way down, it began to rotate, and finally the wheels left the ground. Even as they did so, however, disaster struck.
The drones were small and had come in on the deck, only lifting up briefly to clear the fence. No one saw them until it was too late. As the transport lifted, all of them homed in on the engines on the right wing, the wing on the same side as all the hangars, storage, and other necessities of a modern airbase.
Most were simply small drones, while a few may have had some bit of explosive or incendiary munitions on board. It almost didn’t matter as they hit each engine like a massive bird strike. Even as Korolev’s mouth began to open and his cigarette to fall unnoticed, those engines came apart.
For something moving so slow, the pinwheel to the right happened in the blink of an eye. Still in ground effect, the giant transport didn’t have a chance. It crashed into the flight line and hangars on the right side of the runway. Fully fueled, it exploded into a mushroom cloud that swelled up hundreds of feet even as thousands of liters of burning jet fuel rushed out over the ground to engulf nearby hangars and planes.
Away from the crash, crews raced into the hangars and revetments where the fighter jets waited.
“Good!” thought Korolev. “Get them out and away before they go up too.”
As flames began to engulf the hangars, explosions began, spreading the destruction even further. It was then that Korolev noted that the ends had popped off a crate in the pile of liberated items to be sent back home on the next flight. It was from the local school robotics collective and contained all the robots they had. As he watched, fifteen to twenty robots suddenly raced out of the crate, and headed towards the hangars and revetments for the fighters.
The wheeled robots were fast, agile, and had closed the distance before anyone could react. They reached their targets and exploded under the fighters near the left main landing gear in a rippling wave. Those going for the hangars targeted the lead fighter, trapping the rest inside. The planes that didn’t go up immediately from the effects of the directional mines in each robot collapsed as the landing gear gave way. Many of them caught fire as they did so.
With almost everyone looking at the twin disasters, no one saw the third wave coming in. These were planes, the current iteration of the old radio controlled planes and some of them were quite large. Like the original attack, they came in low, popped over the fence, and went straight for the base tank farm.
The largest fired what appeared to be modified model rockets at the big tanks. They weren’t trying to make them explode, just leak. Though if they had exploded no one in the resistance was going to mind. Some of the mid-size and smaller planes did modified bombing runs, lobbing 40mm grenades with tail fins at the sides of the tanks. The last few planes across dropped incendiary grenades as they raced off and dropped back down to the deck outside the fence.
The build seemed slow to those used to the movies, but within a few minutes, the tank farm was ablaze, with only the deep revetments around the tanks holding in the burning fuel. Horrified, Korolev stared at one of the emergency pipes that penetrated the berm so that spilled gas could be pumped into trucks and taken away at need. Was it his imagination, or was that remotely controlled valve starting to cycle?
Previously In This Series