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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2732

The Menace of Drones in the Potential Battlefields

Hemantha Yapa Abeywardena writes from London…

The spectacular attack launched by a set of drones, coupled with some missiles, on a vital Saudi oil installation may have prompted military strategists to evaluate the danger posed by the flying machines as never before – in a renewed vigour and consistency.

Up until this weekend, Saudis could not pinpoint the location from which they were launched with deadly accuracy. They could not identify the culprits behind it in a comprehensive way either, apart from pinning the blame on its regional rival, Iran, more or less based on anecdotal evidence.

Saudi military machine failed to detect the oncoming drones in time to thwart the attack, despite the country being the world’s third highest military spender and one of the main allies of the world’s most powerful nation.

The worrying development even prompted President Putin of Russia to mock the US Patriot missile system, which should have detected them before the extensive damage was done. “Saudi Arabia should have bought Russian S-400 missile system,” said Mr Putin in a lighter vein.

The attack highlights the potentially menacing danger posed by low-flying drones, not only in modern warfare, but also in the activities involving bad actors: the drones could have been weaponized by more lethal materials than conventional explosives.

The ever growing rhetoric that comes from Iran since the attack clearly reflects the anxiety felt by the Iranian authorities, as the US and Saudi Arabia are edging towards an appropriate response, most probably in proportion to the scale of the attack; it’s highly unlikely that the attack will go unpunished, given the potential reputational damage that could stem from inaction – for the years to come.

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The stakes are high for the United States too; this is the second time that President Trump increased the hypothetical level of readiness for a military strike against Iran, only to back down later on, citing the virtues of peace.

When the US lost a drone after being hit by an Iranian missile, President Trump implied an imminent military strike in retaliation and then backed down by saying the loss of over 150 Iranian lives in the event of a strike was not ‘proportional’.

Even after the attack on Saudi Arabia, President Trump said that he wants to avoid the war, despite the initial statement just after the attack – the US being locked and loaded.

It’s highly unlikely that Saudi Arabia - or the UAE and Bahrain, its regional allies – will take on Iran, given the estimated military strength of the latter on multiple fronts; it’s unthinkable that Saudis will launch a ground attack, involving its army; they may put their faith in military hardware, instead. The Saudis and its regional allies need strategic US assistance on many fronts for such a brazen feat.

President Trump said that he would consult Saudi Arabia about the course of action that they would collectively pursue in responding to the drone attack on Saudi assets. The businessman-turned president may have asked the latter to pay for the lion share of the financial burden, if the war breaks out between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

President Trump, time and again, said that the US has been taken advantage of, by the allies. He would not dare prove himself wrong in an election year; he may well choose the well-trodden path once more rather than taking military action – tightening the sanction screw, yet again.

The oil price, meanwhile, skyrocketed in the aftermath of the attack; it has since subsided somewhat, much to the relief of millions of people across the world, especially when the economic outlook appears to be grim.

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The nature of helplessness felt by the formidable military powers in the presence of relatively small devices like drones, especially when they fly low in large numbers while defying the radar systems, remind us of the solo battle waged by an elephant against a swarm of mosquitoes - with its large ear, both as a weapon and a shield.

In this context, the only pragmatic, remedial action against the menace of drones seems to be the perpetual vigilance against it, not necessarily going high-tech, but also low-tech in similar proportion, in order to avert a major catastrophic scenario in the form of biological warfare or that of nuclear.

- Asian Tribune -

The Menace of Drones in the Potential Battlefields
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