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Drones are revolutionizing modern warfare

Mar 26


Military technology has evolved rapidly since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Drone technology, specifically, has emerged as a decisive new factor in modern warfare.

Straight Arrow News contributor Peter Zeihan reviews the use of drones in the Russia-Ukraine war to understand how warfare itself is evolving today. The recent Ukrainian drone attacks on Russia’s energy sector, Zeihan argues, are a testament to the key role that drones perform in modern militaries.

Excerpted from Peter’s March 26 “Zeihan on Geopolitics” newsletter:

The new face of military technology is here… and no, it’s not some Master Chief-type suit running around the battlefield. We’re talking about the democratization of tech applications and the empowerment of individual soldiers to make strategic decisions.

The best example of this is the use of drone technology in Ukraine. With accurate and timely striking capabilities at the fingertips of everyday soldiers, attacks can be carried out at the flip of a switch. We’re seeing this play out with strikes on Russian naval vessels, small drones used in anti-personnel attacks, mid-range infrastructure strikes, and modular drones like the Phoenix Ghost for precision attacks deep in Russian territory.

These drone technologies and other developments are playing a key role in disrupting Russian operations, and we’re beginning to see practical applications for use in future conflicts. The decentralization of precision targeting is shaping up to be a transformative force in contemporary conflicts.

Hey everybody, Peter Zeihan here coming to you from Colorado, we’re in the column between the snowstorms got 40 inches last week, what we’re going to do this weekend is four to six inches almost seems like a rounding error in comparison. Anyway 60 degrees because Colorado. Today we’re gonna talk about the revolution in military affairs that is now going through a second phase. So the first revolution in military affairs happened in the 1990s and 2000s, when the United States started to marry information technologies to its military, it’s combination of sensors and targeting information, whether it’s on the method of delivering the ordinance or in satellite, or attached to the weapon itself. So for example, joint direct attack missions fall into that category, as do cruise missiles like the tomahawk


important stuff. And it basically took whatever explosive ordnance that you had, and allowed you to deliver it to a target with very high degree of accuracy. So instead of having to carpet bomb things like we used to in Vietnam and ages before, now you just send one or two weapons out hit the specific target that you’re at.


There was talk for a good long time that if you marry precision weapons with hypersonics, that all of a sudden, all of the rules of warfare go away. And you could just have a handful of hypersonics to defend everything. And then we discovered things like jamming. And the fact that people don’t have one tank, they have 100,000 people in infantry. And the math never just worked out. hypersonics are just way too expensive. It’s not that they don’t have a role to play. It’s just said it’s not the determining rule. So that was kind of phase one, we’re going through Phase Two now, which is the democratization of the application of these technologies. And so instead of it being controlled from the White House, we’re from a general chair, individual soldiers are now giving command of this sort of information can use it to make targets on an autonomous basis. And we’re seeing this, of course, most aggressively in Ukraine, mostly with drones. The Ukrainians are following a four part strategy at the moment. Sure, this is going to evolve quite a bit. Phase one is applying these drone technologies to things like jet skis and loading them up with a couple 100 pounds of explosives, and sending them out to target Russian naval vessels. That process has been so effective. as I’ve noted in earlier videos, that basically the western half of the Black Sea is now completely no go for the Russian fleet. And most of their ships, especially the larger ones simply can’t shoot back. Because anything that’s installed on the deck of the ship is designed to hit the horizon or higher, and it can’t, or angled down to target the small boats in the water. So that’s number one. Number two, is actually something that’s much more recent that has come up as a result of the problems with the American Congress getting conventional aid to Ukraine, the Ukrainians have had to find a way to hold the line against the Russians when they’re running out of artillery shells. And so that what they’ve started doing as mass producing these very small drones that only have a payload of about a pound, which is about the size of a small grenade. And when the Russians do their human wave tactics, you just send a swarm of them out to go after anything that moves. And it’s basically dropping grenades that range into massed infantry. They’ve done this to the point, that in the Battle of deka, which Ukrainians technically lost, they were inflicting regularly eight and 10 to one casualty ratios on the Russians, despite not having much artillery. So antipersonnel number three is mid range infrastructure strikes. The Ukrainians developed a pair of drones called the side and the beaver of the to the beaver is far more technologically competent, and has a much longer range and better avionics. Whereas the side has basically a garage project that’s practically made out of plywood, it’s a fugly little thing carries a decent warhead, but less range. And they’ve been sending these out against any pieces of infrastructure in kind of the mirror abroad, if you will, within a few 100 kilometers of the frontline, and they’ve used it to target any number of things like refineries in the Russian space,


but also fuel depots. And then finally, something where the Americans are getting on the job with something called the Phoenix ghost. Now, the Phoenix ghost only carries a fairly small warhead, typically five to 15 pounds. The advantage of the Phoenix ghost is it’s modular, and you can put it together on the fly and it’s light enough that one soldier can carry it. Now originally, when the Phoenix goes started coming in, they were going after armored vehicles and supply trucks. But the Ukrainians very very quickly realized that because they were available in such small volume. And because they were so accurate because unlike a lot of drones, these have a live visual feedback to the controller.


They could basically put them in a backpack since someone hiking or driving into Russia and 1000 miles from the front


line, take it out, put it together and send it against an unprotected target. And most of the refinery attacks we have seen in Ukraine in recent weeks in two weeks maybe are probably Ukrainian special forces operating with American made Phoenix goes deep within the Russian Interior. And this is getting a pretty robust because present, you know, we’re talking about regularly a half a million to a million barrels per day of Russian refining capacity is taken offline. The issue is that these things are accurate enough that they can strike within just a couple of feet of what your human that because you can see where you’re going. And that allows the operators to target the sensitive spots in a refinery like the distillation tower, where the parts that are really exploded, get separated. And so if you target that bit, the parts that are really exploded, it really exploded. And repairing this is really difficult for the Russians, because they stopped training engineers in large number over 30 years ago. Anyway, bottom line is that you’re talking about interrupting an income flow for the Russians. That is typically about 80% of government revenues, which is more than what say the US federal government as a percentage of the budget collects in terms of corporate taxes. So big line item. And if you destroy the ability of the Russians to process crude, that means there’s no place for the crude to go because the pipeline system has already filled the maximum. And then you talk about pressure building back up the pipes and then having problems everything through there midstream, right up to the point of production, and they might even have to shut some in. And since they don’t have the engineers to turn it back on that would be that. Anyway, so we’re getting to a combination of strategic warfare, naval warfare, infantry warfare, economic warfare, that didn’t seem possible, as little as three months ago. And now they’re all very much in play with most of these drones, 100% Ukrainian born specials. Now, this, in my mind, evokes something very similar to what happened in the American Civil War. And in the Crimean campaign of the 1850s, when you had Europeans engaging in early industrial warfare, and then sending observers to watch the Americans duking it out, where they were watching the Americans engaged in early to mid industrial warfare. There’s a lot of reasons for a lot of countries to now send observers into Ukraine, even if they’re not providing a lot of aid. Because this is a fundamentally new technological breakthrough. We understand today that the first phase of the revolution in military affairs took what was a relatively lumbering, Cold War defense industry that the United States had, and turn it into something with extreme range and extreme precision. We’re now keeping that precision and marrying it to individual decision making with not 10s, not hundreds, but 10s of 1000s of individual weapons platforms that can be launched in a relatively short period of time, and they’re decentralized. Now there are pros and cons to the hut, but being able to have individuals target enemy formations at scale over 1000 mile front, and then hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of miles away from the front. That is something we have never seen ever, in any warfare in any age. And we are only at the very beginning of understanding just how transformative that is going to be.

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