A video was released through Social Media on 9 Aug 16 that purports to show a Hezbollah drone delivering live sub-munitions against ground targets in Syria. The video footage, below, which appears to be genuine, represents an interesting and significant development. Full analysis of this attack is available to IMSL IKARUS subscribers, however this redacted preliminary assessment is openly provided due to the event’s significance.
The video is a combination of three short drone attack clips and has been shared on several source sites and platforms. Some sources claim that the attack occurred recently in the Aleppo area of Syria. One source suggests the attack occurred to the south west of the Aleppo military college, one naming the area as Khalsa (we are in the process of verifying this). Of the three combined clips, the first appears to have the drone observing some form of explosive attack against a building. The second clip shows an explosive attack against a vehicle, which could have been the result of a munition released by the drone as the drone appears to be directly and exactly above the target. No munition is visible during the clip, but the “drop” may have occurred before the edited second clip commences.
The third clip is the most significant and clearly shows two sub-munitions being released (at about the 29 second mark). Analysis of the video footage suggests that the drone was at a height of approximately 750ft (240m). The items released appear to be two Chinese MZD-2 sub-munitions, of the type contained within a Type-81 GRAD artillery rocket, cannibalized and repurposed. A number of release mechanisms are freely available for consumer drones and model aircraft, as third party offerings, or one could easily be improvised. One report suggests that this could have been an Iranian adaptation, however, we assess that the capability is well within Hezbollah’s capacity to develop and that they have access to artillery rockets containing this type of sub-munition.
The accuracy of the weapon system would vary with altitude and weather conditions, particularly winds, but potentially is very accurate. It should be borne-in-mind that the effect of two small sub-munitions would be limited so, in terms of target lethality only, it does not represent a hugely capable system. But this can be offset by the high accuracy potential. However, the psychological and propaganda effects are assessed as significant. If this or a similar improvised capability were deployed against locations outside of Syria and the Middle East, the psychological and propaganda effects on European or American populated targets would be very significant in both respects. One should also consider the vulnerabilities of (REDACTED for this public assessment) as a target for this type of attack.
Further analysis REDCATED from public availability – full analysis available to IMSL IKARUS subscribers – Analysis related to accuracy.
The MZD-2 is designed as a small, impact-fuzed, dual-purpose sub-munition, incorporating a small shaped charge, capable of penetrating light armour, together with pre-formed fragmentation (ball bearings) providing an anti-personnel effect.
Further analysis REDCATED from public availability – full analysis available to IMSL IKARUS subscribers – Analysis related to target effect and lethality.
The two sub-munitions each have a mass of approx 214g thus, when combined with a release mechanism, the overall payload of the system on the drone is likely to be less than 0.5kg. This is within the capabilities of a number of COTS drones. Thus, combined with analysis of the video, we assess that the drone was most likely a relatively small COTS multi-rotor drone, possibly a variant of the DJI Phantom series, the most common COTS drone in the world and one that has been observed in use in the Syrian conflict on many occasion.
From a terrorist perspective this improvised attack system provides the following advantages:
1. Re-useable precision attack capability that provides live feed.
2. Utilizes readily available (to them) sub-munition payload.
3. Excellent propaganda value with integrated video recording.
4. Limited target effect ameliorated by potential high accuracy.
Hezbollah has utilised a number of drones in operations over both Syria and Israel in the past, a number of them believed to have been supplied by Iran. A number of them are believed to have been armed with munitions, however, this is the first recorded (video) use of what appears to be a small commercial multi-rotor drone dropping explosives.
Why is this incident significant?
• It is likely that this is an explosive munition attack from a small COTs drone, perhaps a DJI. DJIs are commonly available all over the world.
• Some commentators have dismissed the significance of the attack due to the limited effect of just two small sub-munitions. However, such a view misses the value that the potential high accuracy and ease of use that such a system offers together with the very high psychological and propaganda effects.
• While the target in this case was an unimportant tent in Syria, its application to other targets, including the western populous, would be very much more significant. (Further analysis redacted)
• There are significant public-safety and EOD implications to the recovery of a grounded or crashed drone armed with sub-munitions.
• There are serious safety implications associated with simply “jamming” a drone with a remotely initiated payload release mechanism (Further analysis redacted). IMSL can provide advice on the development of appropriate drone response protocols.
• This attack could be a precursor for a range of weaponized drone related capabilities. Our experts expect that the development path might include the following technological /capability paths: (Analysis redacted)
IMSL continue to monitor the development of such systems globally.
IMSL IKARUS is a subscription based drone threat intelligence and analysis service, covering the complete range of illegal, illicit and inappropriate use of drones and drone types. This report provides a redacted example of the analytical content. Go to IMSL IKARUS website for more details.