The Middle East is a laboratory for asymmetric drone warfare. Iran-backed Houthi Rebels in Yemen recently used a drone boat to damage a Saudi frigate. An American ally (mostly like Israel or Saudi Arabia) used a multi-million dollar Patriot missile to shoot down a cheap drone. ISIS terrorists are turning regularly available consumer drones into bombers to attack Iraqi and Kurdish forces that are trying to push the out of Mosul. In all three of these cases, an enemy that had little or no conventional capability in the sea or air, used drones to asymmetrically attack in ways their opponents weren’t ready for.
But it’s the recent efforts of Houthi Rebels in Yeman that are most chilling because it appears they are attempting to use drones for a larger strategic purpose—to suppress the ability of Saudi and UAE Patriot missile batteries.
The Rebel’s Qasef-1 drone (mostly likely from Iran) has the ability to lock unto a particular radio emission and then slam into whatever is producing the emission and destroy it. If the Houthi Rebels can get enough of the Qaesef-1 drones they could attack Saudi and UAE Patriot missile batteries or force them expend all their missiles. If successful, this could open a door in air defenses that the Houthi Rebels could use to launch ballistic missiles at either Saudi Arabia or the UAE.
So when you read about a drone being shot down by a Patriot missile, look beyond the headline to see the significance—drones allow small, technologically inferior forces the ability to make a lot of havoc. Now, everyone has to adapt to this new threat. And just like asymmetric drone warfare, the Middle East is the laboratory for solutions against this threat.