US Military’s Fatal Mistake: How Cheap Suicide Drones Breached Air Defenses – Part 1
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“We mistook the drone of a pro-Iranian armed group for a friendly aircraft.”
Early on Sunday, January 28, three American soldiers were killed by a drone attack, specifically a suicide drone, from a pro-Iranian militia. Many were injured. Claims of human error due to a misjudgment by the U.S. military have been raised.
According to The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and The New York Times (NYT), a Shahed drone from a pro-Iranian militia accompanied a returning U.S. military drone intending to suicide bomb when it landed on the base. The problem was the inexperienced response of the U.S. military at Tower 22, a supply base located in the northwest of Jordan, which could not distinguish between the ally and enemy drones, resulting in dozens of casualties. Thus, the pro-Iranian militia’s attack was successful because the air defense system of Tower 22 misidentified the enemy drone as a U.S. reconnaissance drone and did not respond immediately.
However, foreign media have raised doubts about this explanation, citing the fact that two drones attacking two U.S. bases near Tower 22 in southeastern Syria at a similar time were shot down.
About this, The Washington Post reported that U.S. intelligence analysts are currently investigating whether pro-Iranian militia forces in Syria and Iraq launched attack drones to coincide with the takeoff and landing times of U.S. reconnaissance drones launched from Tower 22.
Possibility of Mimicking the Flight Pattern of U.S. Reconnaissance Drones
However, foreign media continue to question why the U.S. military’s air defense system missed the enemy drone. All U.S. military drones returning to base have a system that automatically identifies them as ‘allies’ to distinguish them from the enemy. They had plenty of time to judge in advance. At the time of the attack, the base’s air defense system was known to be operating normally.
The Associated Press also released a preliminary report stating that the U.S. military mistook the enemy drone for a friendly one and suffered damage. According to the document, a U.S. military drone was returning to Tower 22 when an enemy drone was flying at a low altitude. The U.S. military confused the enemy drone with an ally one, and the pro-Iranian militia’s Shahed drone hit the base without being shot down.
The agency also noted that a Coyote, a drone-catching weapon, was deployed inside Tower 22. If the U.S. military had not mistaken and operated the Coyote properly, they could have shot down the enemy aircraft.
A former U.S. military intelligence officer expressed concern in an interview with the newspaper, saying, “If they mimicked the flight pattern of U.S. reconnaissance drones, this means the enemy has a considerable ability to capture signal information.” He also added that the militias, who have launched more than 160 missile and drone attacks targeting U.S. military bases in the Middle East since last October, may have received information support from countries like Iran.
Tower 22, which was hit by the suicide drone, serves as a supply hub transporting supplies to U.S. military bases in the vicinity, including the U.S. military base in Al Tanf, Syria, and throughout Iraq and Syria. The U.S. military officially deploys approximately 2,500 troops in Iraq and 900 to 1,000 troops in Syria. There are also undisclosed forces scattered throughout the region.
The main mission of these troops is to train the Iraqi military and anti-government militia forces in Syria and conduct joint operations to eliminate the remnants of the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group still present in the two countries.
However, Tower 22 had never been attacked since the start of attacks on U.S. forces in the Middle East by pro-Iranian militias and terrorist groups in mid-October last year. Therefore, the success of this suicide drone attack is a significant blow to the U.S. military.
In fact, the attack by this suicide drone was precise and meticulous. Although 350 U.S. troops and Jordanian forces were stationed at Tower 22, the drone accurately struck only the barracks living area where most of the U.S. troops were sleeping in the early morning. The New York Times reported that it targeted the U.S. living space, which is slightly larger than a cargo container and made of aluminum. In addition to the three federal reservists from the engineering corps who were killed, more than 40 U.S. troops were injured, some of whom were transported to Iraq and Germany.