Is America Defenseless Against Drone Attacks?

America could be defenseless against drone attacks, making the Pentagon’s proposed $750 billion 2020 defense budget a waste of money.

I think drones are now the primary weapons of modern warfare, and America is unprepared for drone attacks. To elaborate, Yemen’s Houthi rebels knocked out half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production capacity, raised international oil prices by 20%, and disrupted 5% of the global petroleum supply with one drone attack on 14 September 2019.

Plus, the Houthis could trigger a war between Iran and the United States; and blow apart the Saudi/American alliance by setting two oil facilities on fire, Bloomberg speculates. Disturbingly, the Houthi drones penetrated 500 miles into Saudi Arabia; a country that spent $67.6 billion on military equipment in 2018, The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates.

Astoundingly, the Houthi drones could have cost as little as $15,000, The New York Times claims. Frighteningly, Saudi Arabia’s huge high-tech arsenal; much of which is made in the USA, could not stop a $15,000 drone attack.

Could Drones Bring America to its Knees?

Therefore, I wonder if a similar drone attack could bring America to its knees. For instance, drones could knock out a power plant or major electricity transmission lines, or terrorize a large city.

One way drones could paralyze America is to attack a major airport. A squadron of drones could fly over LAX; or Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport, dropping grenades on the runways for instance.

Some observers credit a 1994 mortar attack on London’s Heathrow Airport by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) for forcing Her Majesty’s Government to negotiate with that group. Notably, British Prime Minister Tony Blair signed the unthinkable Good Friday Agreement to end the Troubles in Northern Ireland in 1998. Under the agreement, Irish nationalists laid down their arms while the UK granted the IRA political recognition.

Hence, it is easy to see the Houthis’ strategy here. The rebels hope to force Saudi Arabia to end its intervention against them in the Yemen Civil War. The goal is to make continued war in Yemen too costly for the Saudis.

Likewise, the IRA brought Her Majesty’s Government to the negotiating table by threatening Britain’s economy. To explain, continued attacks on airports could shut down Britain’s tourist trade and paralyze the nation’s economy.

Is America Defenseless Against Drones?

America could be as defenseless against drones as Saudi Arabia because that county models its forces on the U.S. military.

For instance, Saudi Arabia’s 313 fighter jets and 122 batteries of antiaircraft missiles did not prevent the 14 September drone attack. If the Saudi forces cannot stop drones can the U.S. Armed Forces?

The Houthi drones call America’s entire air defense strategy into question. The drones’ success should have Americans questioning the vast amounts of money the Pentagon spends on manned fighter planes.

For example, the $1.45 trillion the military could spend on F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter program. Notably, The National Interest labels the F-35 “One of the Five Worst Fighter Jets ever Made.” Yet, the Air Force intends the F-35 to be the backbone of our air defenses.

The Project for Oversight alleges only 11% of the Air Force’s F-35 test planes can perform all of their assigned missions, The American Conservative charges. Despite the failures, Investors’ Business Daily calls the F-35 fighter “the most expensive weapons program in the world.”

Bizarrely, the United States and nine other countries have ordered 3,100 F-35s, Business Investor Daily reports. Thus, America, and its allies, are wasting their resources on fighter planes when drones are fighting and winning the war.

Is there a Defense against Drones?

Defending against drone attacks is difficult because of drones’ nature. For example, enemies can haul a large drone in a semi-trailer, a medium-sized drone in a minivan, and a small drone in the trunk of a car. Thus, drones can pass under any radar.

In addition, drones do not need large airfields. Any empty field, rooftop, ship’s deck, or stretch of highway can serve as a take point for drones. Therefore, attackers can penetrate defenses by driving through borders, or coming in close to shore on a boat or ship.

For instance, terrorists could use one tramp freighter; or yacht, to launch swarms of drones against Manhattan. Small drones could fly over Broadway, Central Park, the George Washington Bridge, Wall Street, LaGuardia and JFK airports, and Times Square dropping hand grenades. Larger drones could fire missiles, cannons, Gatling guns, or machine guns into skyscrapers causing showers of glass to fall on pedestrians below.

Is the Drone Apocalypse Coming?

Defending a city against such a drone attack will be difficult. For instance, the drones could complete the attack by the time they scramble fighter planes.

Another frightening scenario is drones destroying the fighter planes on the ground before the attack. A drone could destroy fighters on the ground with missiles or grenades.

Consequently, we may need to keep fighter planes; or armed drones, on permanent patrol around our cities. Yet such patrols may not be enough because attackers can launch drones from almost anywhere. A true nightmare could be dogfights between drones and fighter planes over a city, with pieces of aircraft raining down on civilians below.

Electronic warfare; in which defenders jam or override the radio signals that control drones, is a partial defense. However, we can build robotic drones that can carry out attacks without remote control. Thus no amount of electronic warfare can stop the drone once it takes off.

AI will Make Drones More Dangerous

Furthermore, it is theoretically possible to equip drones with artificial intelligence (AI) that could change tactics and devise strategies during a battle.

Today’s AI can already outwit human champions at games like poker and chess and lawyers at legal strategy. Frighteningly, the AlphaZero AI from the Alphabet (NASDAQ: GOOG) subsidiary DeepMind taught itself how to beat champions at  strategy games including chess, Go, and Shogi (Japanese Chess).

Given AlphaGo’s success, I think an AI-operated drone capable of devising successful attack strategies is probable. Plus, terrorists could adapt commercially available AI like Tesla’s Auto Pilot system for vehicles to control killer drones.

In addition, drones need not fly to wreak havoc. There are now drone submarines and drone tanks. Russia’s Uran-9 robot tank, for instance, is the size of a minivan. Hence, terrorists could haul a Uran-9 into a city in a semi-trailer and turn it loose.

Frighteningly, they equip the Uran-9 with several weapons including an automatic canon, machine guns, and missile launchers. A long-term threat is walking robots like those Boston Dynamics builds.

A madman could build an AI-operated walking robot that fires guns right now. Thus, a real-life terminator is now theoretically possible. I think all it will take to build a real life terminator is a highly intelligent sociopath with a large bank account and some technical skills. Furthermore, I suspect there are more than a few sociopaths working on real-life terminators in their garages right now.

Will the Saudi Drone Attack Change Warfare?

Drone warfare is nothing new but the Houthis just took it to the next level. To clarify, the Houthis showed that drone warfare makes far more economic sense than conventional warfare.  

To elaborate, the drone attack probably caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to Saudi Arabia’s infrastructure could have cost as little as $15,000. Thus, the Houthis won a major victory from an economic standpoint. Moreover, a rag-tag band of rebels disrupted the world’s oil markets with as little as 10 drones.

Saudi Arabia could have to end its war in Yemen to prevent future drone attacks and preserve its economy. Given those circumstances, terrorists and government leaders all over the world will shop for drones.

In particular, rogue leaders like Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro will start pondering drone attacks on great powers like the United States. Just the threat of such an attack could bring America to its knees, much as the IRA’s Heathrow mortars drove the UK to the bargaining table.

Therefore, it could be a good idea to sell or short Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) stock. Lockheed Martin builds the F-35 and other manned military aircraft. Given recent events in Saudi Arabia, Lockheed’s fighter planes could be as obsolete as horse cavalry.

We now live in the age of drone warfare. Everyone must watch the skies carefully. The drones are coming!!