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Transportation Government Security

A US Ally Shot Down a $200 Drone With a $3 Million Patriot Missile (theverge.com) 318

An anonymous reader shares a report on The Verge: Earlier this week, General David Perkins, the commander of the US Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) spoke at the Association of the US Army's Global Force symposium, where he discussed the threats that the US military would begin to face in the coming years. One notable example is how a US ally recently shot down a $200 consumer drone with a $3.4 million worth Patriot Missile. Perkins' talk during the symposium focused on the complexity of a military organization in the field, and how the interconnected nature of air, ground, and sea forces can lead to a fragmented response to a threat between the commanders who are in charge of specific areas. [...] "The gut instinct was," he explains, "that's an air defense problem, because they're in the air." "In fact," he went on to say, "we have a very close ally of ours that was dealing with an adversary using small quadcopter UASs, and they shot it down with a Patriot missile." The problem, he said, wasn't effectiveness: the tiny drone didn't stand a chance -- the issue is economics.
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A US Ally Shot Down a $200 Drone With a $3 Million Patriot Missile

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  • Potential Damages? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Scoth ( 879800 ) on Friday March 17, 2017 @10:44AM (#54058169)

    I guess a potentially more interesting question is whether that drone could have done $3.4 million of damage via surveillance or something. Seems unlikely in this case, but if we're talking some kind of super top secret installation then it might be worth that kind of force to make sure it's really, really blown up.

    Still worth investigating sufficient response that's more economical.

    • by Waffle Iron ( 339739 ) on Friday March 17, 2017 @10:53AM (#54058273)

      Still worth investigating sufficient response that's more economical.

      Maybe they could contract with that shotgun-toting old woman from Virginia.

      • Still worth investigating sufficient response that's more economical.

        Maybe they could contract with that shotgun-toting old woman from Virginia.

        Angry redneck squad - DEPLOY!

    • by OzPeter ( 195038 ) on Friday March 17, 2017 @11:06AM (#54058417)

      I guess a potentially more interesting question is whether that drone could have done $3.4 million of damage

      Note that this is purely a thought exercise and I would never ever think about doing this in real life (FBI take note of this disclaimer!)

      1. Buy some large sized consumer drone off craigslist for cash. (bonus points for showing up in a stolen car and having a disguise)
      2. Modify them to drop small canisters of red paint.
      3. Re-flash the software to ignore all flight restrictions
      4. Wait until the president is at Mar-A-Largo
      5. Program the drones to fly to 1000 feet, drop down over the target and release their "bombs" over visible areas and then fly out to sea on a random flight path until their batteries run out
      6. Release the hounds^w drones at night (or more bonus points for the middle of a golf game)
      7. Wash. Rinse. Repeat at other locations.
      8. Sit back and watch the government spend a shitload more than $3.4 million as they try to control the situation.

      • But you probably complain about lack of money for the arts or education. Nice going. Waste money we don't have.
      • And this is the scenario brought out in TFA. An even easier and more likely plan is to buy a box of DJI Phantoms from somewhere in the world, set them up and buzz them around whatever ally shot the first one out of the sky. Until they figure out a more rational response, they can roll up a whole bunch of pricy Patriots.

        Then you send in the clowns.

        FWIW, I'm impressed that the Patriot can see the little plastic drone.

    • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Friday March 17, 2017 @11:12AM (#54058479) Journal
      This isn't a new issue with drones. I recall a debriefing from the Iraq war where an Apache pilot was asked what he thought the cost of the missiles that he fired and the value of the convoy of trucks that he destroyed were. Hopefully the trucks contained something important to the enemy's war effort, because otherwise he'd spent a few million dollars to destroy a few tens of thousands of dollars. One of the strategies that's been core military doctrine since the US-Soviet conflict in Afghanistan (and Vietnam before that) has been to try to make your enemy outspend you by a large margin. A superpower like the USA might be able to afford to spend $100 for every $1 you spend, but starts to struggle when it has to spend $1,000 or even $10,000 for every $1 that you spend.
      • In Generation Kill there was a scene where some marines were dressed down for shooting a technical with a TOW. I think the cost/benefit of munitions and targets of opportunity was one of the reasons that cannons got put back on ground strike aircraft.
        • In Generation Kill there was a scene where some marines were dressed down for shooting a technical with a TOW. I think the cost/benefit of munitions and targets of opportunity was one of the reasons that cannons got put back on ground strike aircraft.

          For the Marines its not necessarily the cost itself but the number of TOWs available to them. The Marines are not as well funded as the Army or Navy and are adept at improvisation and making do for very good reasons. The Marines will probably purchase some long barreled high choke skeet/trap shotguns to deal with small drones. As they purchased civilian hunting rifles during Viet Nam as necessary to equip snipers and designated marksmen. Its not that such things won't happen in the Army as well, its that in

      • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Friday March 17, 2017 @11:27AM (#54058647) Homepage

        Let's talk about the F-35 in this context, shall we....

      • Note: if you have 400 times as high budget for the war as the enemy, and you spend $300 for every $1 you cost the enemy, you're still winning.

        The problem begins if you have 400 times as high budget, but spend $500 per $1 damage...

        Consider IIWW Eastern Front. Soviets won, despite taking roughly 2x as high losses as Germany. Simply, Soviets had more than 2x the power to throw at them.

        • by gnick ( 1211984 )

          Note: if you have 400 times as high budget for the war as the enemy, and you spend $300 for every $1 you cost the enemy, you're still losing less.

          The problem begins if you have 400 times as high budget, and gets worse when you spend $500 per $1 damage...

          • Well said.

            Such a war effort signals bad people everywhere that the US has decided to effectively put 75% of its own forces in a POW camp at the US taxpayers expense for the duration of a war of attrition. That is the sweet smell of opportunity.

    • by Big Hairy Ian ( 1155547 ) on Friday March 17, 2017 @11:16AM (#54058515)
      The headline should read "Patriot missile finally shoots something down"
      • Nah. Patriots shot down a bunch of SCUDs. Onto populated areas.

        Considering SCUD accuracy was about 50km circle, in a country with lots of empty desert around cities, the Patriots enormously aided the SCUD guidance system in hitting the target.

        • What you say could be true. I tend to think that those SCUDs missed 100% of the time.

          I saw a very careful analysis of all publicly available data on the Patriot performance against the SCUDs, including careful analysis of film footage and landing locations. There is not a single shred of evidence that there was even a single kill. As those SCUDs had certain design flaws that could cause the vehicle to tumble and then fall apart, they did sometimes fall in pieces without interception. But a tumbling SCUD

    • If the US ally was in an actual combat zone the drone might have been in use as an artillery spotter. At which point you have to consider the value of the missile vs. the value of the material and people in the target zone. It would also explain their urgency in shooting it down now with whatever was to hand vs. using a shotgun or something.

      • At which point you have to consider the value of the missile vs. the value of the material...

        The problem, he said, wasn't effectiveness... the issue is economics.

        Let's posit that the "ally" doesn't care how much the missile cost to make because they didn't pay for it. Its cost at that point is very low (it still has to be manned and maintained). From the allies' perspective then, they are comparing that low cost (and maybe opportunity cost) to the value of taking out the drone.
        Sometimes things get much simpler if you just don't give a shit.

      • If a battle were actually raging, and there was a justified fear of counterattack by artillery, yes, shoot the drone.

        Sun Tzu advocates exhausting entrenched enemies with small attacks by light and expendable forces. This is a comical extreme. One Patriot may not matter. But 10? 100? Throwing away money at a 17:1 ratio does not scale.

  • by DeplorableCodeMonkey ( 4828467 ) on Friday March 17, 2017 @10:46AM (#54058195)

    What they need as a starting point is something like AEGIS, but that is plug and play onto any vehicle. Something as simple as a turret that is radar-controlled and that uses 5.56 could shred consumer drones all day. It's be a foregone conclusion if they use 7.62.

    • by EvilSS ( 557649 )

      What they need as a starting point is something like AEGIS, but that is plug and play onto any vehicle. Something as simple as a turret that is radar-controlled and that uses 5.56 could shred consumer drones all day. It's be a foregone conclusion if they use 7.62.

      They have those, and they use 20mm explosive rounds so it's basically like launching a shotgun shell that fires itself after leaving the gun, only much more spectacularly. The idea is to create a wall of high speed debris that a mortar or rocket can't get through without being impacted. They also have the added benefit of not raining down potentially lethal fire beyond the intended intercept range. Spraying thousands of ordinary rounds at a shallow angle (as the CRAM systems tend to do to get an intercept a

  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Friday March 17, 2017 @10:47AM (#54058213) Homepage Journal

    We call it a "golden hammer". Only in this case it's a single-use golden hammer.

  • by Waffle Iron ( 339739 ) on Friday March 17, 2017 @10:47AM (#54058217)

    ... this conclusively disproves all of the naysayers who claim that the Patriot missile doesn't work.

  • by El Cubano ( 631386 ) on Friday March 17, 2017 @10:48AM (#54058223)

    So, how is this different than the economics of decoys?

    I understand that the objectives are different, but dropping a very expensive GPS-guided bomb to destroy what ends up being a $10,000 tank or aircraft decoy is sort of the same problem from an economic perspective. I mean, the same things that come into play there (i.e., how can tell what is a real threat to me and what is not) are also in play in the drone scenario. If they fire off a multi-million dollar munition at every little thing that twitched then any army would eventually run into problems. Plus, one of the main things which a battlefield commander is supposed to do is figure out what the real threats are and filter out the things that aren't real threats (a really difficult problem in most circumstances).

    I guess I don't see what is special about this particular scenario. This problem has existed for decades.

    • by dmatos ( 232892 )

      I guess the difference here is that a $100 quadcopter with a $100 brick of C4 and a $5 detonator on it is a real threat. And if I can spend $205 on a threat that you need to spend $3M to prevent (or suffer hundreds in thousands in damage, if you don't prevent it), then I'm going to very quickly win any war of attrition.

    • The difference is, that if you spot a decoy and identify it, leaving it alone is the best course of action. If you're unsure, not hitting it won't be much of a problem.

      If you spot the drone carrying a small package underneath, you'd better be sure it's not flying over $3.5mln worth of infrastructure...

      And yeah, the package could be styrofoam, but can you afford that risk?

  • Free stuff (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ghoul ( 157158 ) on Friday March 17, 2017 @10:48AM (#54058227)

    The problem with free stuff. When you are getting the Patriot missiles free from the US but the bullets from a rifle are paid by your national govt, the Patriot is the more cost effective solution.
    Children in US dont have healthcare because the govt is busy spending billions on hight tech toys like Patriots.

    • by wiggles ( 30088 )

      > Children in US dont have healthcare because the govt is busy spending billions on hight tech toys like Patriots.

      Oh cut the crap. Children who need it have had free healthcare since 1997. [wikipedia.org]

      • by ghoul ( 157158 )

        Look at the latest Trump budget. It cuts CHIP and WIC and increases funding for the military

    • When you are getting the Patriot missiles free from the US [...]

      Free missiles? Come on. Where do you get this stuff?

      America buys Patriot missiles from Raytheon, the company that manufacturers them. America allows Raytheon to export Patriot missiles to some of its allies [wikipedia.org], but those allies have to buy the missiles from Raytheon, just the same as America itself does. Raytheon offers several generations of the missiles that range in price from about $1M to $6M apiece, depending on which variant the country wants to purchase.

      America sometimes deploys its own supply of Patrio

      • by ghoul ( 157158 )

        America give 4B in free arms to Egypt, 5-6B to Israel and 2B to Jordan. They wouldnt buy PAtriots if they were not free as they have their own Missile programs. This is basically a corporate subsidy to Raytheon

  • by creimer ( 824291 ) on Friday March 17, 2017 @10:50AM (#54058239) Homepage
    For the price of a Patriot missile, the enemy could have bought 1,500 drones to overwhelm air defenses with multiple targets.
    • by ledow ( 319597 ) on Friday March 17, 2017 @10:58AM (#54058327) Homepage

      If a $200 drone costs your enemy $3m to take down, you really have advertised quite a large problem.

      For a few thousand, you can cost your enemy so much money they'll think twice about bothering, which opens them up to attack.

      Or, in the worst case, they are hemorrhaging money and you just pop down the toy shop once a month for another.

      I have to say, the image of a swarm of drones must be really attractive to an attacker of any kind, especially if the response is overkill like this.

      Same as being a fish in a large shoal. Through a few thousand against the most heavily defended places, one of them is bound to get through.

    • For the price of a Patriot missile, the enemy could have bought 1,500 drones to overwhelm air defenses with multiple targets.

      15,000, actually. Or just 1,500 and spend the remaining $2,7M on booze for the victory party.

      • by creimer ( 824291 )

        15,000, actually. Or just 1,500 and spend the remaining $2,7M on booze for the victory party.

        A $20 drone would be smaller than a $200 drone and may not be a big enough target for a Patriot missile to lock on. Launching 15,000 drones might be a logistical nightmare for the attacker.

      • by ghoul ( 157158 )

        Or on kickbacks to Senators like Raytheon (What you think a Patriot missile actually costs 3 million?)

    • Military can't think in terms of price of equipment. More fundamental is accomplishment of war objective. It's true that a CIWS would be a lot more effective here, but it's also shorter range, so ship or vehicle equipped with CIWS would have harder time getting into range. So Patriot could be better in a pinch, better than CIWS that couldn't get there. Also, cost of missile vs drone doesn't matter because the enemy most likely can get less drones than US government can get missiles anyway.
    • by 4im ( 181450 )

      Asymmetric warfare... just like the many small speedy boats used by the iranian navy vs. big cruisers, aircraft carriers etc. of the US Navy and allies in the persian gulf.

      • by creimer ( 824291 )

        Asymmetric warfare... just like the many small speedy boats used by the iranian navy vs. big cruisers, aircraft carriers etc. of the US Navy and allies in the persian gulf.

        Or mines. Nothing inspires more confidence than escorting U.S. Navy warships following an oil tanker into the Persian Gulf because there wasn't enough minesweepers available.

  • by halltk1983 ( 855209 ) <halltk1983@yahoo.com> on Friday March 17, 2017 @10:55AM (#54058297) Homepage Journal
    Can I at least get the video so it's not a complete waste of my tax dollars?
  • Rifle Bullet? No? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Eloking ( 877834 ) on Friday March 17, 2017 @11:04AM (#54058389)

    I mean, we're talking consumer drone so we're talking what? ~500 feet (~150m) and 100 mph? (~160kph)

    Why don't they simply shoot at it with their rifle?

    • by Mashiki ( 184564 )

      Ever gone skeet shooting? Not as easy as it looks. On top of that bullets have a higher chance of killing someone on the ground vs a missile used as an intercept device. Someone can still be killed in either case though, one of the reasons that lasers to shoot them down are being pushed. The other is lasers would be far cheaper and have a higher hit:miss ratio.

      • How much debris is generated from an exploding Patriot missile versus, say, a Phalanx burst? I'm surprised the patriot is safer to shoot.
        • by Mashiki ( 184564 )

          Smaller area coverage fallout if you're talking patriot vs CIWS. CIWS are basically spray and play systems, you can be talking miles of falling rounds while an exploding patriot can be tiny. While the newer self-destructing rounds limit that, you still have the obvious hazards.

      • by swb ( 14022 )

        On top of that bullets have a higher chance of killing someone on the ground vs a missile used as an intercept device.

        This is kind of a solved problem already with anti-aircraft guns, they usually have combination fusing on their projectiles, impact and a timer fuse so that the projectile will explode in the sky before landing, which is also useful for zone fire. So you can fire them in built-up areas and not end up shelling the civilians underneath the ballistic path.

        But I think a better solution is coming up with new projectile options for existing 7.62mm and .50 cal Gatling guns. Most drones are pretty fragile and low

        • A projectile trailing a conductive carbon fiber lead might be ideal for drone-killing. Maybe you get a kinetic kill, maybe you tangle a prop, maybe you short something out, maybe some combination. I like your plastic core idea, that's dandy. But these are very small targets, and shooting them any time they are not obligingly hovering in place is a tricky proposition. On the other hand, hitting them pretty much anywhere with a high-powered round should do them in.

          I think shot is still the best option, though

          • by swb ( 14022 )

            But these are very small targets, and shooting them any time they are not obligingly hovering in place is a tricky proposition.

            That's why I think a gatling gun is the right idea, you can put a lot of rounds into the air. If you get the projectiles to be negligible on landing you have gone a long way to solving the problem. We already have a ton of gatling guns, so designing an entirely new weapon systems seems a waste of money if we can just tweak the ammo.

      • by Eloking ( 877834 )

        Ever gone skeet shooting? Not as easy as it looks.

        Well if there's one guy shooting, then sure. But what if dozens guys shoot 100-200 round per minutes, that should do it.

        On top of that bullets have a higher chance of killing someone on the ground vs a missile used as an intercept device. Someone can still be killed in either case though,

        Well, we're talking about a War environment. I'm surprised there's any consideration about this.

        one of the reasons that lasers to shoot them down are being pushed. The other is lasers would be far cheaper and have a higher hit:miss ratio.

        Unless there's a laser with every squad, I doubt it'll be a solution (but then again, is there a patriot missile with every squad?).

        • by Mashiki ( 184564 )

          Well if there's one guy shooting, then sure. But what if dozens guys shoot 100-200 round per minutes, that should do it.

          CIWS systems are around 2500-8000 rounds per minute and weigh 13,000lbs-24,000lbs and that's required to knock an explosive or aircraft out of the air. Just think on it for a minute, because you're now arguing about spraying an area that could have friendlies with a few thousand rounds falling from the air. Which is why things like patriot missiles work better, it limits the possibility of friendly fire incidents.

          Well, we're talking about a War environment. I'm surprised there's any consideration about this.

          Not always, in many cases we're talking about a defensive environment. The article in questio

    • I mean, we're talking consumer drone so we're talking what? ~500 feet (~150m) and 100 mph? (~160kph)

      Why don't they simply shoot at it with their rifle?

      Who said it was flying that low?

      • by Eloking ( 877834 )

        I mean, we're talking consumer drone so we're talking what? ~500 feet (~150m) and 100 mph? (~160kph)

        Why don't they simply shoot at it with their rifle?

        Who said it was flying that low?

        They said it was a 200$ drone so I've done a quick search of the range and speed of drone at that price range. But yeah I may be completely wrong.

    • You can get $500 drones with a 1km control range. If you want to spend $5000 you can get drones with a 7km control range. That is far enough away in an urban environment to be almost impossible to track down.
  • The missile needs to smash into the drone then continue on to the location it was being controlled from and explode.
  • So what is the $200 equivalent of a Patriot missile (ans: one developed for the commercial sector, rather than on military - bottomless pit - budgets)?

    If the combat space is going to be filled with $200 drones and $100 wheeled equivalents, then this sort of "asymetric warfare" needs an effective and cheap counter. But then, how do you prevent your adversary fom deploying the same cheap and effective technology against your expensive, offensive, weapons?

  • When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail...
    Or a scud missile...?

    Really we just need drone interceptors now (which at government prices will only cost $500k so it's 1/6 the cost of the system it replaces! A win!)

  • We know the drone is definitely dead.

  • This guy shot down a drone spying on his daughter with a shotgun - way cheaper than a Patriot missile.

    https://www.cnet.com/news/judg... [cnet.com]

  • by sjames ( 1099 ) on Friday March 17, 2017 @11:31AM (#54058689) Homepage Journal

    We routinely drop million dollar smart bombs on mud huts and tents in the middle of nowhere. I'm not sure our military even has cheap "dumb bombs" anymore. We fly multi-million dollar high tech aircraft over areas where the enemy barely has the ability to shoot down an old Cessna.

    It's no wonder we can't afford to provide food, clothing, shelter, and basic healthcare here in the homeland.

    • by OhPlz ( 168413 )

      We actually provide all of those things.

      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        To a limited and decreasing degree.

        • by OhPlz ( 168413 )

          No. The feds are putting less money into it, but it's the responsibility of the state, local government, charitable organizations, or even people themselves to take care of this. It's the role of government to make sure there's food on your plate. That's your responsibility. The government should be getting out of being someone's provider.

  • Not the British. they were too busy bugging Trump's microwave to worry about drones
  • Just because a General who heard it from a friend who heard it from a friend doesn't mean it happened.

    Smells like fake news, repeated across multiple media sites that then makes people think it actually happened.

    They have been used to shoot down 10' drones but those don't cost $200 and tend to be flying up quite a bit higher. So 10' drone becomes drone becomes $200 drone and the story evolves into being false.

  • of knocking out cheap drones like that, maybe a cannon that fires a bunch of lead shot like a giant shotgun or even more effective could be shot like those south american bolas it is basically a piece of rope with balls on the ends and they can be thrown and the rope tangles around anything they hit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]
  • They won't say who the "very close ally" is? I bet its that fucker over in the Middle East.
  • This is to me really neat. That a radar based missile system is good enough to track something as small and "low-signature-ish" as a drone.

    Disclaimers:
    a) assuming said "ally" didn't fire off a dozen missiles and finally got lucky
    b) the drone is a small one, not one of the large flying wing type things.

  • So here's the problem, of course not mentioned in the article. The Patriot Missle is doing a heck of a lot more than just destroying the flying drone.

    A butterfly net can take down a tiny drone -- but it can't destroy the explosives being carried by the drone. It can't resist a well-thrusted drone either.

    How big of an explosion does it take to destroy a mysterious flying object in a safe manner? No clue.

    The Patriot missle was designed in an era where the only way to have something fly a long distance to a

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