Tactical drones are looming larger on the battlefield, but there is a distinct price difference between weaponized insurgent drones and the technology to stop them. Credit: US Marine photo.

They say, good things come in small packages. I suppose that goes for bad things too, especially when it comes to suicide drones.

We all know how dangerous IEDs (improvised explosive devices) are. Now consider a swarm of flying IEDs?

According to Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr., a four-star general and the head of the US Central Command, anyone can “go out at Costco right now” and buy a cheap drone, and turn it into an IED, Gina Harkins of Military.com reported.

“These systems are inexpensive, easy to modify and weaponize, and easy to proliferate,” McKenzie said during a virtual event hosted by the Middle East Institute.

The US has systems that can defend against large unmanned aircraft, he added, but organized militaries and terror groups in the region are making use of much smaller and cheaper off-the-shelf drones.

The small aircraft can not only take off and land vertically, but are really tough to spot.

Battery-operated drones that have cameras and can be flown for a couple miles at a time cost just a few hundred dollars. McKenzie said adversaries can use them to surveil and target US and partner facilities, Military.com reported.

Land-based IEDs targeting US vehicles in Iraq and Afghanistan were some of the deadliest weapons insurgents used in Iraq and Afghanistan. The threat led the military to develop new armored vehicles that could better protect the troops inside.

Now, the US needs to defend service members against IEDs that can fly.

Andy Morabe of Electronic Warfare demonstrates a hand-held Drone Killer weapon at AUSA 2019 in Washington, D.C. The weapon drew interest from Tokyo police for the upcoming Olympics. Credit: Dave Makichuk photo.

According to DefenseAerospace.com, small drones pose three distinct challenges to advanced militaries:

The first is the engagement envelope. Because these drones are small, fly low and are very quiet, they would be difficult to detect and engage with existing air defense systems. There might be no warning of an attack.

The second challenge drones pose is to the defenses’ magazines. Simply put, the defense is more likely to run out of interceptors before the insurgents run out of drones. If drones were employed in swarming attacks, the defense might not be able to shoot fast them down enough, DefenseAerospace.com reported.

The third challenge, possibly the most difficult, is the cost-exchange ratio between cheap drones and relatively expensive defensive weapons.

Think Costco vs. Raytheon — the cost gap is the size of the Grand Canyon.

The key to the very successful Israeli Iron Dome defense is that it only engages those weapons that are heading for populated areas or infrastructure targets.

An attack by drones employing advanced guidance systems would require the defense to intercept all the inbound UAVs. The cost-exchange ratio would be prohibitively expensive, DefenseAerospace.com reported.

“Right now, we’re on the wrong side of the cost imposition curve because this technology favors the attacker — not the defender,” McKenzie told Military.com. “But we’re working very hard to fix this.”

US troops have been training to take out drones armed with explosives since Kurdish fighters were killed by a small drone that blew up while they were taking it apart in Iraq in 2015, Military.com reported.

That was the first time the Islamic State was believed to have killed troops on the battlefield using a drone, The New York Times reported at the time.

Just last month, airmen in Qatar for a training exercise were tasked with grounding a small drone, which they treated like an IED, Military.com reported.

“Although [unmanned aircraft systems] is a newer threat, the concepts used to mitigate the associated hazards are ones that we are all too familiar with,” Senior Master Sgt. Joseph Leslie, an explosive ordnance device flight superintendent, said in a release about the exercise.

McKenzie on Monday called Iran the most challenging driver of instability in the region, Military.com reported.

“For more than 40 years, the Iranian regime has funded and aggressively supported terrorism and terrorist organizations and defied international norms by conducting malign activities which destabilize not only the region but global security and commerce as well,” he said.

“Iran is a major source of instability in Iraq, and uses Iraq as a proxy battleground against the United States.”