Last week, the U.S. allegedly shot down an Iranian drone using new maritime anti-drone technology. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the drone near American warship the USS Boxer in the Strait of Hormuz was brought down using new technology that had just been added to naval defences.
It was the latest move by the U.S. military to deploy more furtive measures against Iran, allegedly taking place after the drone came within 1,000 yards of the warship and ignoring multiple calls to stand down. However, Iran denies the claims and says all of its drones are accounted for.
The new anti-drone technology, dubbed Marine Air Defense Integrated System (MADIS), was developed in response to increasing threats to U.S. Marines around the world. It works by using jammers to block the drone’s communications, forcing it to crash.
It is thought MADIS is also capable of shooting at drones, but there is no evidence that this happened here.
MADIS drone takedown demonstrates the changing face of warfare
MADIS technology is yet more evidence that warfare is rapidly changing to include both physical and electronic capabilities.
In June, the U.S. launched an offensive cyber strike on Iran to disable the computer systems used to control rocket and missile launches. Then in July, IRGC Commander Hossein Salami unveiled a tactical battlefield communications unit designed to withstand electronic warfare compromises and maintain the military’s command and control infrastructure.
Last week’s drone take down is the latest in a series of incidents between the two nations. In June, Iran allegedly shot down a United States military drone, escalating tensions.
The drone allegedly taken down by the U.S. last week was sophisticated military kit, Philip Ingram, MBE, a former colonel in British military intelligence, says. “Anything that is an active weapon requires careful collateral damage assessment done before being fired. For example: Would the system affect any other aircraft or shipping in the area?”
He says the system is clearly a “land-tactical system deployed to plug a gap in what the USS Boxer has in its own sensor and defense suite now, as well as to test its maritime capabilities.”
Jamming, spoofing and “old fashioned shooting” are all part of the array of capabilities modern warfare encompasses, says Ian Thornton Trump, security head at AMTrust Europe. “What Iran needs to understand is, western actions will include cyber electronic warfare and a range of kinetic capabilities.”
Generally, western doctrine calls for proportionality of response under the law of war, Thornton Trump adds. He says “making a protagonist’s drone fall out of the sky with a jamming capability is all ‘fair game’.”
“It’s unlikely the U.S. will learn much from the Iranian drone captured intact–or not–but it sends a pretty hard to miss ‘we’ve got you covered’ message.”
Iranian drone: Useful to the U.S?
However, it’s also possible that this incident could be extremely useful to the U.S. In fact, Thornton-Trump says it’s possible the U.S. could reverse engineer it, find a zero-day vulnerability and shut down any Iranian drone “when they feel like it” by using the captured machine’s information: “Capture one ‘sample drone’, compromise all the drones.”
At the same time, the US has vast capabilities that allow it to gather intelligence through the interception of signals and communications, says Thornton-Trump. Therefore, he says: “The drone’s telemetry, electronic characteristics and the manner in which it was used and deployed will assist in refining counter measures and enhancing targeting capabilities.
“Every electronic squawk from that drone will be dissected and analysed. It’s certainly a win for western nations and gives away useful information should hostilities continue or escalate.”
Whatever the outcome, this event sent a “very strong message to Iran,” says Ingram. But he warns: “This, in turn, will have made them more determined to take physical action and will have contributed to the Stena incident.”
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