Connect with us

Intelligence

ISIS Drones: Evolution, Leadership, Bases, Operations and Logistics

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D

Published

on

Asaad Almohammad, Ph.D. & Anne Speckhard, Ph.D.

[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] T [/yt_dropcap]he use of drones by terrorist organizations has been documented for over a decade [[1],[2], & [3]]. During November 2004, Hezbollah used Mirsad-1, an Iranian made drone, for reconnaissance over Israeli territories, for 20 minutes without being intercepted. Hezbollah operatives managed to fly the drone back to Lebanon.

It is reported that Hamas, the Palestinian terror group, had a development and storage facility for drones that were destroyed by the Israel Air Force during mid-November 2012 [[4]]. By mid-July 2014, Hamas also used Ababil-1, an Iranian made drone, which was shot down by the Israeli forces [[5]]. Furthermore, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, another designated terrorist organization, was able to hack the video feeds of the Israeli’s army drones for the period from 2011 to 2014 [[6]].

The first successful and significant use of drones to attack rival forces by a non-state actor has only occurred recently. It was carried out by Hezbollah agents in Arsal, Syria during late September 2014 in which their aerial attack targeted and killed 32 fighters of al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’ affiliates in Syria. More recently, ISIS began using drones to drop Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), most often grenades, to successfully hit enemy targets.

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) commented to The Washington Times on ISIS’s use of IED loaded drones [[7]] [[8]]:“In the end the IEDs are the terrorist’s artillery… This is not rocket science. This is a natural progression for IEDs. This isn’t crazy stuff that this is happening now. We should have seen this coming.”

Indeed, terrorist organizations’ obsession with drones is not new.

Hezbollah, a Shiite militia, and Hamas, a Sunni jihadi group and an affiliate of the Muslim Brothers, are both supported by the Iranian regime. Their drones, both the units and the training to operate them, are also Iranian sponsored. Unlike these two terrorist organizations, ISIS developed its drone program using off-the-shelf commercial drones and there is no evidence that they relied on any state actors in improving such capabilities. As ISIS started to appear on the defeat, the group increasingly began to release materials on its drone-based operations, including surveillance, command and control, and attacks. These published pictures and videos were largely employed for propaganda purposes.

By February 2017, ISIS drones became the sexy new topic among ISIS’ sympathizers and nemeses, instigating the discussion, debate, and projection of the nature and employment of these weapons in potential terrorist attacks. Alarmed by the current and potential danger of drones as a tool of terror, this report is devoted to collecting intelligence on drone-related operations within ISIS-held territories in Syria. Before presenting the obtained information, a review of the jihadi group’s activities and operations regarding this program is instrumental to inferring the current and future implications of ISIS’ progression in this area.

ISIS’ Use of Drones

In this section ISIS drones’ capabilities and activities are summarized based on a wealth of available open-source information. ISIS’ documented use of the technology has been covered thoroughly by commentators, analysts, and academics. The following list presents a chronological summary of ISIS’ rapid progression and utilization of drones across Iraq, Syria, and Libya for the period spanning August 2014 to March 2017:

  1. The National Defense Magazine reported on a YouTube video showing one of the first instances of the use of drones by ISIS in late August 2014 [[9]]. The video showed aerial footage of army bases in the close vicinity of Raqqa city. The National Defense Magazine argued that ISIS’ utilization of the technology would allow the jihadi group to gain situational awareness and use more advanced propaganda material.
  2. In a video released during early September 2014 [[10]], an ISIS operative claimed that the group used drones in surveilling and collecting intelligence on the Tabqa Military Airbase, Raqqa before they launched an assault and seized it from al-Assad’s forces. A propaganda video that was released by al-I’tisam, a media company of ISIS, on the 9th of September 2014 showed some reconnaissance footage that seemed to be taken by ISIS operatives before they attacked the base [[11]].
  3. ShamiWitness, a major twitter account that used to spread ISIS propaganda and methods, shared a guide providing beginners with instructions on how to start building multi-copter drones during mid-October 2014 [[12]].
  4. In early September 2014, ISIS captured and released aerial footage of a terrorist attack that targeted fighters in the Kurdish town of Kobane, Syria [[13]]. The video, taken by an ISIS drone, was used for propaganda purposes.
  5. In late January 2015, ISIS agents and/or sympathizers tweeted a link to a document that commented on the shortcoming of ISIS’ drones, argued the justifications behind the downing of the drones by rival forces, recommended different commercial drones, and provided instructions and resources on how ISIS can modify and improve its current drones [[14]].
  6. In early April 2015, ISIS released a video of an archaeological site, claiming the site had pagan idols, which they intended to destroy [[15]]. An ISIS drone took the opening footage. On two other separate occasions during early April 2015, ISIS claimed, through a released video and a picture, to have used its drones in reconnaissance missions to coordinate its attacks on an oil refinery in Baiji Iraq [[16]] and Ain Sheep checkpoint in Idlib governorate [[17]].
  7. In mid-December 2015, ISIS used a drone to film a suicide mission in Anbar province, Iraq [[18]].
  8. In early January 2016, an ISIS-released pictorial report surfaced online [[19]]. That report showed footage taken by an ISIS drone that was used to plan an attack on an Iraqi militia camp in the close vicinity of Fallujah. Moreover, during early January 2016, ISIS released a video captured by drones showing suicide missions in al-Anbar, Iraq [[20]].
  9. In late January 2016, ISIS released a video of the Benghazi battle in Libya. The video was largely used to threaten forces fighting ISIS and other Islamists factions [[21]]. In the video an operative appeared to be using a smartphone to control a drone that captured footage of the battle.
  10. In late February 2016, ISIS launched a Telegram channel to connect to and use the knowledge of scientists and engineers who sympathize with the militant group [[22]]. That channel discussed topics related to the assembly and development of ISIS’ drones, including remote control of missiles.
  11. In mid-May 2016, ISIS released a picture taken by a drone that captured an attack in the close vicinity of Ramadi, Iraq [[23]]. In late May 2016, a photo of ISIS’s operatives using a computer to control a drone during an attack on Iraqi forces in Fallujah surfaced in an announcement made by A’maq, ISIS’ news agency [[24]]. Moreover, ISIS also released a video that had scenes that had been captured by a drone [[25]]. The footage featured the assault on Peshmerga forces in the north of Mosul, Iraq on the 3rd of May 2016. During that attack Charles Keating, a U.S. Navy SEAL, was killed. In addition, during late May 2016, ISIS released a picture that included drone footage of its attack on Peshmerga forces in Ninawa, Iraq [[26]].
  12. In early July 2016, the Pentagon reported that ISIS was using drones equipped with full-motion cameras and IEDs [[27]].
  13. In late September 2016, ISIS released a video of a suicide attack on an Iraqi military base that shows drone footage of Belgian ISIS militants before carrying out the mission [[28]]. The video shows a Belgian jihadi, among others, calling for European Muslims not to fear death and to conduct similar attacks in the name of ISIS.
  14. In early October 2016, the Iraqi forces announced that they downed a drone belonging to ISIS in the south of Mosul [[29]]. The drone was reported to be carrying out a reconnaissance mission to surveil Iraqi forces’ advancement towards ISIS strongholds.
  15. In mid-November 2016 ISIS released a video showing its operations against Iraqi forces that were advancing to retake Mosul [[30]]. The film is full of drone footage that capture ISIS’ suicide attacks.
  16. In early December 2016, a video released by ISIS showed a more systematic and professional use of its drones in a raid in the close vicinity of Mosul, Iraq [[31]]. During that period, ISIS released drone footage of two operations, one that captured footage of an attack on Turkish and Syrian rebel forces around al-Bab Aleppo [[32]] and the other against the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces west of Mosul [[33]]. Moreover, in mid-September 2016, a pictorial announcement of suicide attack in the vicinity of Benghazi, Libya was released. That image showed drone footage of the operation [[34]].
  17. In early January 2017, ISIS released a film that contained drone footage [[35]] praising the suicide missions that were carried out by foreign and local jihadis during the battle for Mosul. In late January 2017 ISIS released a propaganda video showing its drones dropping grenade-sized munitions on Iraqi soldiers and tanks [[36]]. The video captures the damage caused by the bombs and claims that ISIS drones have become a nightmare for the forces battling the militant jihadi group. Moreover, during that period ISIS released another video showing an operation in which a drone dropped a bomb on a military site in Iraq [[37]].
  18. In early February 2017 ISIS released propaganda posters on Telegram and social media platforms. One of the posters features ISIS drones attacking and destroying U.S landmarks [[38]]. During early and mid-February 2017, ISIS released a flood of images of the damage caused by its combat drones across Iraq and Syria [[39], [40], & [41]], using them as propaganda material. In mid-February 2017, ISIS operatives or sympathizers started to call for the use of drones to target civilian populations, places of worship, and infrastructure (e.g., power grid), among other targets, in the West, Middle East, and North Africa [[42]]. This is no small thing given that when ISIS called for use of vehicular rammings and knife attacks a spate of them followed across Europe and elsewhere. Similarly when al-Qaeda and later ISIS repeated instructions for pressure cooker bombs and other homegrown attacks these calls were also heeded, although to a lesser extent.
  19. Moreover, ISIS also released a video using areal footage taken by its drones [[43]]. That video featured Iraqi and Syrian ISIS bombers, including two Yazidi children, carrying out suicide missions. In addition, ISIS operatives or sympathizers shared photos on Telegram that featured ISIS combat drones carrying out attacks during night time [[44]]. In February 2017, ISIS released a video showing their operatives in Salah Al-Din, Iraq learning how to modify and weaponize drones [[45]].
  20. In late March 2017, an Arab media outlet released an original file, which had been obtained from a hard a drive taken from ISIS headquarters in northern Syria, that showed Fadhel Mensi, a Tunisian national known in ISIS circles as Abu Yusri Al-Tunisi, who is an ISIS engineer working on increasing the weight that the drones could carry to 20 kilograms [[46]] increasing the damage they could do by dropping larger payload IEDs.

As mentioned earlier, ISIS developed its drones program without any support from state actors. That sets the jihadi militant group apart from terrorist organizations sponsored by Iran. Moreover, the program has been used to improved ISIS’ effectiveness on the battlefield since August 2014. The brief summary of ISIS’ employment of drones indicates that the group has rapidly improved its experience in using drones and has managed to improve its combat experience through use of the technology in surveillance missions, command and control, and in carrying out attacks against rival forces. The above review shows that the program has been largely used to harm the enemies of ISIS, but even more so to produce propaganda material to make ISIS look strong versus weakened under enemy assault and to instill fear in its rival forces, boost the morale of its own fighters and supporters, improve its brand, and increase recruitment. The material was also employed to provide its sympathizers across the globe with the knowledge required to use a cheap, non-suicidal tool of terror. The odds of drones being used by lone wolves in the West should alarm many [[47]]. There is a wealth of guides and instructions online, distributed by ISIS, for beginners to modify and weaponize off-the-shelf commercial drones and as stated earlier, ISIS’s calls for homegrown attacks and instructions on how to carry them out has been heeded in the past.

February 2017 marked a spike in ISIS’ use of drones and the release of propaganda associated with the program by ISIS media operatives and sympathizers. ISIS is on the defeat in Iraq and Syria and such deployment might enhance their chances of slowing the advancement of Syrian, and Iraqi forces and their American allies. Alerted to the danger of ISIS’ surveillance and combat drones, the Iraqi forces are now using the Raysun MD1, a Taiwanese made multicopter jammer, to neutralize this danger [[48]]. During late July 2016, the American forces were also seen in Iraq using a new technology known as DroneDefender (i.e., an assault-rifle-like device that functions as a frequency jammer to down ISIS drones [[49]]. Reports that a drone flew over the American Embassy Baghdad were also circulated of late. Some analyst argued that the aforementioned measures were not enough to tackle this sort of threat. For instance, Peter Singer, the New America Foundation’s analyst, reported [[50]]:

“The drone defender gun is not part of the regular kit,” implying it should be, and continued that American soldiers are “going to face this potential threat across the world, in anything from battles to doing an embassy evacuation. And that’s not good. We should have seen this coming and developed a plan and equipment, not just for us, but for allied forces.”

Furthermore, talking to reporters during the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium, Maj. Gen. Jay Silveria, deputy commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command, argued that it’s critical to go after ISIS logistics, finance, leadership, and storage when it comes to the jihadi group’s drones program:

“Find how ISIS is training the pilots, where they’re storing the aircraft—not just wait until the thing shows up and then shoot it down.”

Indeed, if the group uses a swarming technique in a surprise attack it might be difficult to do so and jamming the drones could end up in them simply falling from the sky and exploding their payloads in any case.

In attempt to understand ISIS’ leadership, logistics, finance, storage, and training relating to the militant group’s drone program, the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) tasked a number of sources on the ground to collect intelligence. Constrained by the duration of data collection and resources, this report does not provide exhaustive details on the aforementioned aspects of ISIS’ drones program. However, information was obtained that was related to the leadership, development facilities, training centers, operations, logistics, and the interaction between different entities involved in the program. The following section presents the information obtained by ICSVE. The details are compared to data released by researchers and analysts, when possible, to present a clear picture and to carry out analyses.

Bases, Leadership, and Logistics

The data obtained by ICSVE related to ISIS’ drone activities within its territories in Syria. Trusted sources reported that they first saw ISIS drones during mid-January 2017. Previous reports show that ISIS has been actively using the technology at least since August 2014. As of mid-January 2017, ISIS had moved over 200 young militants known as Ashbal al-Khilafa (“Cubs of the Caliphate” in English) from the city of Raqqa to the town of Maadan. Members of the Cubs of the Caliphate were armed and equipped with suicide vests. A militant led the Cubs of the Caliphate by the name Harith al-Shmari (a.k.a. Abu al-Bara). The Cubs of the Caliphate shipped 12 small multicopter drones, each equipped with a small bomb using pickup trucks. Trusted sources connected the shipped drones to Abu Ukba al-Marakshi, one of ISIS’ key engineers. Al-Marakshi, a French national, who use to operate from al-Bab, Aleppo appeared in Raqqa during late December 2016. He was seen with Ali Juma Al-Shwakh (a.k.a. Abu Luqman, the emir of Emni [the director of ISIS security forces]).[51] Abu Luqman attended an exercise in the use of combat drones. Al-Marakshi was reported to be the one testing the drone and it was reported that he demonstrated the use of the technology to Abu Luqman. Al-Marakshi took part in the modification and weaponization of multicopters. In late January 2017, he moved with the Cubs of the Caliphate to Maadan, Raqqa.

Training Center

In early March 2017, ICSVE learned that ISIS ran a center to train militants on the use of drones in surveillance and combat capacities. During that period, ISIS trainees were seen flying multicopters in the city of Raqqa. To be exact, the drones flew over the intersection of 23 Shbat and Tal Abyad Streets in Raqqa. Sources traced the drones to their launching point. In mid-March 2017, a number of trusted sources reported the location of ISIS’ drone training center (see map below). The center used to be a female clothing outlet by the name Banat al-Yawm (translates literally to Today’s Girls and loosely to Modern Girls). Other sources obtained information on the individuals running the center. These members are as follow:

  • Ahmad Banawi (a.k.a. Abu Uqba), a Syrian national from the Idlib governorate, is in charge of the center. Ahmad Banawi was seen in public, teaching ISIS operatives how to use surveillance drones. He instructed the operatives in the area opposite the center. He is reported to have a degree in aerospace engineering.
  • A Libyan national by the alias Abu Amarah al-Libi reports to Ahmad Banawi. Al-Libi coordinates with other centers that are involved in ISIS’ drone program.
  • A French national by the alias Abu Muawia al-Faransi used to be connected to the training center. He is reported to be in France as of mid-March 2017. Sources could not obtain much on al-Faransi except that he is tall and blond.
  • An Iraqi national by the name Jibril (a.k.a. Abu Suhil) reports to Ahmad Banawi. He coordinates with entities that oversee ISIS’ drone program in Iraq. Jibril originates from Rawa, Iraq

Dronemap1

Map 1. Drones’ training center (latitude, longitude): 35.9514406, 39.0125906

In mid-March 2017, ICSVE received information indicating that individuals running ISIS’ drone training center in Raqqa were in constant contact with operatives who were affiliated with three other entities. The aforementioned entities were believed to be handling a number of drone-related operations. Data obtained at later dates uncovered that the three operational bases and the training center work closely with each other under one leader.

Initial Modification and Maintenance

After obtaining commercial drones, ISIS moves them to a base close to Panorama Park in Raqqa. The facilities used to be the headquarters of the environment directorate in Raqqa (see map below). This base is in charge of initial modification and the maintenance of ISIS’ drones. It is noteworthy that the base is not exclusive to drone-related operations. It was reported that other electronic and mechanical operations are also carried out from that base. Some information regarding the names and nationalities of engineers and technicians who operate from that base was obtained by ICSVE. Their details are as follow:

  • A Jordanian national by the alias Abu Azam.
  • A Syrian national by the alias Abu Saad.
  • A Syrian national by the alias Abu Usama..

dronemap2

Map 2. Initial Modification and Maintenance Base (latitude, longitude: 35.9415194, 38.9928067)

IEDs and Weaponization

The entity that handles the initial modification of the drones works closely with another base. That base receives modified surveillance drones to weaponize them. This weaponization base’s key operation is to produce IEDs, be they airborne or otherwise. According to sources close to ISIS, a man by the name Umar (a.k.a. Abu al-Zubair) is in charge of this base. He is an Iraqi national from Diyala, Iraq. He was an Emni (security forces) operative before being reassigned to his current position. His second in command is a Moroccan national by the alias Abu Yazid. Umar and Abu Yazid commute using a black Jeep. Sources reported the address of this weaponization and IED development base (see map below). The weaponization of drones is carried out from the basement of that building. Engineers, technicians, and IED experts cooperate to equip drones with bombs. In late March 2017, sources reported that operatives working from that base tested a drone carrying an IED weighing almost 5 kilograms. However, this center does not store weaponized drones. All operational drones are sent to a storage and distribution center. Drones that malfunction or have defects are sent back to the modification and maintenance center.

dronemap3

Map 3. IEDs and Drones’ Weaponization Base (latitude, longitude: 35.9427865, 39.0200579)

Storage and Distribution

The storage and distribution center receives weaponized and surveillance drones from the former operational base. This entity also receives surveillance drones from the modification and maintenance center. The location of this base was reported in late March 2017 (see map below). Requests for combat drones from militant ISIS members are received by operatives managing storage and distribution. Combat and surveillance drones are provided.

dronemap4

Map 4. Storage and Distribution Base (latitude, longitude: 35.948772, 38.9979565)

to militants in areas of heavy fighting. In addition, this center cooperates with the training center to provide militants with trained members to operate surveillance or combat drones if needed. Moreover, this base handles the distribution of the drones within ISIS-controlled territories in Syria and Iraq. A number of Europeans operate from base. Their details are as follow:

  • A British national by the alias Abu Jarir is the director of the base.
  • A French national by the name Muhammad Jalalia reports to the director of the base. He oversees operations related to the storage of the drones.
  • A Swedish national known as Islam reports to the director of the base. He is in charge of the distribution of the drones.

Leadership

In mid-April 2017, sources reported to ICSVE that the highest ranked ISIS operative who is in charge of their drone program is a militant by the name Muhammad Islam. He is in his thirties and holds a degree in information technology for a British University. Muhammad is a European citizen of Malaysian descent. This suggests that he does not have Malaysian citizenship as the Malaysian government does not allow dual citizenship. In ISIS’ ranks, Muhammad has the title of Emir that could refer to manager, director, or minister. He oversees drone-related operations. In late April 2017, ICSVE learned that a Syrian national by the name Yahia al-Abdullah was the second in command for Muhammad Islam, the Emir of ISIS’ drone program. Al-Abdullah was born in 1987. He holds a degree in software engineering from Aleppo University. Based on information obtained by ICSVE, the organizational structure that governs the operational interaction between members involved in ISIS’ drone program was inferred.

Recent Operations and Logistics

Information obtained from trusted sources indicates that in mid-April 2017, Muhammad Islam, the Emir of ISIS’ drone program, directly supervised a joint operation between the modification and maintenance center and the IED and weaponization center. Muhammad was overseeing the operations, started sometime before March 2017, to modify commercial drones to increase their operational time, distance and flying capabilities, and the IED load they could carry. The new design was modified for drones to be equipped with 6 small IEDs. Moreover, the modification and maintenance center was working on the inclusion of a solar panel on top of the drone body to further increase its operational life. The drones were also painted with a wax-like coating. Twenty-seven drones were reported to be subjected to this modification. They were all small drones; their diameter being less than 70 centimeters.

In late April 2017, the storage and distribution center received a number of drones matching the description of the drones that were undergoing modifications through the aforementioned joint operations. Each drone was equipped with a solar panel. Full motion, high resolution cameras were installed on the lower and middle sections of the drones’ bodies. However, no IEDs were installed. It is not clear whether the drones were only modified to carry out surveillance operations. It can be safely argued that those drones could be weaponized before being deployed to the battlefield. That said, that center also received drones of a different design in late April 2017. These drones were equipped with two small IEDs. The drones of this type were quickly distributed, only staying in the storage facilities for a few days. Drones that resemble the two above-described designs were seen in the training center slightly earlier than the documentation of them in the storage facilities. That suggests ISIS might have tested and trained its operatives using these drones.

In addition, sources reported to ICSVE that in early March 2017, the storage and distribution center shipped a number of surveillance and combat drones from Raqqa to the city of Mayadin, Deir ez-Zor. Those drones were carried using pickup trucks. This move corroborated an earlier report that argued an increasing significance of the city of Mayadin in the fight against ISIS [[52]].

Furthermore, as of early March 2017 ISIS’ agents were reported to have obtained commercial drones from Lebanon and then shipping them to ISIS held-territories in Syria. A recent study on tracking the supply of components used by ISIS showed that ISIS was able to obtain detonating cords and detonators through an intermediary, Maybel, based in Lebanon [[53]]. This corroborates the information received from ICSVE’s sources. Moreover, in late April 2017, it was reported that the Emir of ISIS’ drone program, Muhammad Islam, used his second in command, Yahia al-Abdullah, to procure commercial drones and electronics required by the modification and maintenance centers. Based on information obtained from trusted sources, the procurement is not exclusive to the needs of ISIS’ drone program. That said, ICSVE learned that ISIS trades antiquities and artifacts to pay for purchases made in Beirut, Lebanon. Al-Abdullah was reported to be a key operative in such dealings. The purchased products then get shipped to Homs, Syria. From there, ISIS agents smuggle them to Raqqa. To that end, extrapolating on information obtained by ICSVE, the procurement and logistics operations of ISIS drones program are illustrated in the following figure.

Conclusion

This report provides a brief review of ISIS’ use of drones. The review outlines the operations the terrorist organization has carried out using off-the-shelf commercial drones. Noticeably, ISIS’ capabilities and expertise in using drones in surveillance, command and control, and attacks have improved. It is noteworthy that in February 2017, ISIS’ use of drones and release of material documenting such employment had increased dramatically. It appears that ISIS is on the defeat in both Iraq and Syria. ISIS’ deployment of drones and disbursement of associated propaganda could have been to reinforce its brand as a terrorist organization and to do as much damage as possible while losing on the battleground. Through its recent propaganda ISIS claimed that its drones are eliciting fear and hysteria in its enemies. Moreover, the group is capitalizing on the technology and their employment of it, in claiming revenge, improving their credibility in the eyes of sympathizers, increasing the recruitment of new members, and positing drones as a cheap tool of terror to be used outside the Syrian and Iraqi theaters as well. Its sympathizers were called to use drones to inflict substantial damage and cause horror in civilian populations across Europe, the United States, and MENA. That turn of events is alarming and has multiple implications for national security.

Drones are increasingly being used by civilians in the public domain (e.g., taking aerial pictures and footage, mail delivery, etc.). This growing use of drones by the general public provides an opportunity for terrorist organizations to adapt methods they previously employed, which used other tools of terror such as delivery trucks, to drones. There seems to be a pattern in ISIS’ encouragement of using tools unlikely to raise an alert, when attacking civilian populations. For instance, the approach of ISIS’ new magazine, Rumiyah, towards the use of trucks as a tool of terror was justified in the following [[54]]:

“Though being an essential part of modern life, very few actually comprehend the deadly and destructive capability of the motor vehicle and its capacity of reaping large numbers of casualties if used in a premeditated manner” P. 10.

Modified and weaponized off-the-shelf commercial drones might present a less dangerous tool of terror for wannabe terrorists that prefer an alternative to suicide missions. Such uses could be hard to detect in urban settings, yet could lead to devastating aftermath if not intercepted. Compared to the delivery trucks, all this method requires is to get hold of instruction manuals that are available online, and ammunitions.

ISIS managed to disburse a large number of guides and instructions on the modification and weaponization of drones and ISIS-inspired lone wolves might be able to get hold of material required to produce IEDs through criminal networks [[55]]. Moreover, this new tool is likely to complicate the work of law enforcement agencies that are trying to prevent acts of terror. Giving that the use of drones for commercial and personal purposes is expected to increase in the future, policy makers may need to consider passing regulations. They could enact policies to restrict the sale of commercial drones without digital identification numbers. Police officers may then need to be equipped with the technology required to identify the number of operational drones. Such a numbering system could be linked to the identity of the operator. Police officers may need to be equipped with frequency jammers to down suspected drones although if they are loaded with explosives that is not always a good solution. Notwithstanding that the suggested measures might cause certain inconveniences for operators using drones for legitimate commercial and personal reasons, these measures are intended to allow law enforcement agencies to intercept and down drones that might target civilian populations.

This report used intelligence information that focused on operational bases, leadership, activities, procurement, and logistics. That knowledge, if confirmed, is expected to allow forces fighting ISIS to strategically disrupt and neutralize ISIS’ drone operations. An earlier report presented evidence indicating that ISIS is highly bureaucratic when it comes to its drones program [[56]]. Based on information obtained by ICSVE, ISIS’ bureaucracy regarding its drones program is task specific, systematic, and complex. The data shows a top to bottom organizational flow that pervades ISIS’s operations and upholds it’s “hear and obey” philosophy.[57] The Emir of ISIS’ drone program, Muhammad Islam, oversees the operation of four entities that are involved in the program. These entities are, namely, the centers for modification and maintenance, IEDs and weaponization, storage and distribution, and training. The centers were reported to cooperate in joint missions and to carry out task-specific operations.

Furthermore, this report provides some details on a number of individuals who are involved in the program. This includes the program’s top leader, his second in command, the directors of three out of the four centers, engineers, technicians, and operatives tasked with managerial functions. This endeavor also presented details on the interaction between operatives involved in the drones program. That glimpse allowed for the deduction of the organizational hierarchy of ISIS’ drone program.

Through the second in command, of the Emir of the program, Yahia al-Abdullah, the leadership of the four entities procures from Beirut drones and the materials required for modifying them. ISIS agents were reported to trade artifacts and antiquities to pay for the purchased products. Those products get smuggled to Homs, Syria by ISIS operatives. ISIS’ agents in Homs handle transporting the shipment of the products to Raqqa, Syria. Once the drones and technology required to modify it get to Raqqa, they get delivered to the modification and maintenance center. At most this center produces surveillance drones. It was reported that this center cooperated with the entity tasked with weaponizing the drones, the IED and weaponization center, to develop and improve ISIS combat drones. Commonly, the IED and weaponization center works on equipping the drones with airborne IEDs. The storage and distribution center receives surveillance drones from the entity in charge of modification and maintenance and combat drones from the one tasked with weaponizing them. ISIS militants submit forms requesting drones at the storage and distribution center. When needed, the storage and distribution center communicates with the drones’ training center to provide militants with operatives trained in using the drones. The training center also teaches militants who are assigned to drone-based tasks. Using that insight, ICSVE was able to infer the procurement and logistics involved in ISIS’ drone program.

Reference for this Report: Almohammad, Asaad & Speckhard, Anne (May 4, 2017) ISIS Drones: Evolution, Leadership, Bases, Operations and Logistics, ICSVE Research Reports http://www.icsve.org/research-reports/isis-drones-evolution-leadership-bases-operations-and-logistics/


 

[1] “Hezbollah says it has capability to bomb Israel from air,” Haaretz, Nov 12, 2004

[2] Eugene Miasnikov, “Terrorists Develop Unmanned Aerial Vehicles,” Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environment Studies at MIPT, Dec 2004, http://www.armscontrol.ru/uav/mirsad1.htm

[3] Hezbollah Mirsad-1 UAV Penetrates Israeli Air Defenses,” Defense Industry Daily, April 20, 2005.

[4] Yoav Zitun, “Watch: Hamas UAV that can reach Tel Aviv,” YNETNEWS, November 16, 2012, http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4306887,00.html

[5] Lorenzo Francheschi-Bicchierai“Israel Shoots Down Hamas Drone,” Mashable, July 14, 2014, http://mashable.com/2014/07/14/israel-shoots-down-hamas-drone/#yAEFyiQgFgqs

[6] Yonah Jeremy Bob, “Islamic Jihad Member Convicted in Plea Bargain for Hacking IDF Drones,” Jerusalem Post, January 31, 2017, http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Islamic-Jihad-member-convicted-in-plea-bargain-for-hacking-IDF-drones-480092

[7] Adiv Sterman, “Hezbollah drones wreak havoc on Syrian rebel bases,” Times of Israel, September 21, 2014, http://www.timesofisrael.com/hezbollah-drones-wreak-havoc-on-syrian-rebel-bases/

[8] Rowan Scarborough, “How ISIS-controlled drones like this are striking new fear within the U.S. military,” The Washington Times, January 24, 2017, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/jan/24/isis-drone-dropping-precision-bombs-alarms-us-mili/

[9] Yasmin Tadjdeh, “Islamic State Militants in Syria Now Have Drone Capabilities,” National Defense Magazine, August 28, 2014

[10] https://vimeo.com/177453167

[11] Geoff Earle & Bruce Golding, “ISIS using surveillance drones to target Syrian military,” New York Post, August 26, 2014, http://nypost.com/2014/08/26/isis-using-surveillance-drones-to-target-syrian-military/

[12] For more on ShamiWitness see Channel 4, “ISIS propagandist ShamiWitness: Man charged in India,” June 1, 2015, https://www.channel4.com/news/isis-shami-witness-medhi-masroor-biswas-charged

[13] Kiran Moodley, “Isis releases drone footage of suicide bombings in Kobani,” Independent, December 11, 2014, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/isis-release-drone-footage-of-suicide-bombings-in-kobani-9917198.html

[14] Justpaste.it/jnabi7

[15] Steven Stalinsky & R. Sosnow, “A Decade Of Jihadi Organizations’ Use Of Drones – From Early Experiments By Hizbullah, Hamas, And Al-Qaeda To Emerging National Security Crisis For The West As ISIS Launches First Attack Drones,” MEMRI, February 21, 2017, Inquiry & Analysis Series No.1300, https://www.memri.org/reports/decade-jihadi-organizations-use-drones-%E2%80%93-early-experiments-hizbullah-hamas-and-al-qaeda#_edn135

[16] Ralph Avellino & Gilad Shiloach, “Video: ISIS Uses Drones In Oil Refinery Assault,” vocative, Apr 17, 2015, http://www.vocativ.com/world/isis-2/isis-using-drones-in-iraq/

[17] Steven Stalinsky & R. Sosnow, “A Decade Of Jihadi Organizations’ Use Of Drones – From Early Experiments By Hizbullah, Hamas, And Al-Qaeda To Emerging National Security Crisis For The West As ISIS Launches First Attack Drones,” MEMRI, February 21, 2017, Inquiry & Analysis Series No.1300, https://www.memri.org/reports/decade-jihadi-organizations-use-drones-%E2%80%93-early-experiments-hizbullah-hamas-and-al-qaeda#_edn135

[18] Justpaste.it/pm4r

[19] Justpaste.it/q47o

[20]Shamikh1.biz/vb/showthread.php?t=253023,Ia601506.us.archive.org/35/items/azmulkumah2/azmulkumah2.mp4

[21]Shamikh1.biz/vb/showthread.php?t=253858.Ia801507.us.archive.org/19/items/BangazeeAlThbat2/bangazee%20al-thbat%202.mp4

[22] MEMRI Cyber & Jihad Lab, “ISIS Engineers And Scientists Collaborate On Projects In Telegram Channel,” March 21, 2016, http://cjlab.memri.org/lab-projects/tracking-jihadi-terrorist-use-of-social-media/isis-engineers-and-scientists-collaborate-on-projects-in-telegram-channel/

[23] Justpaste.it/u80v

[24] Steven Stalinsky & R. Sosnow, “A Decade Of Jihadi Organizations’ Use Of Drones – From Early Experiments By Hizbullah, Hamas, And Al-Qaeda To Emerging National Security Crisis For The West As ISIS Launches First Attack Drones,” MEMRI, February 21, 2017, Inquiry & Analysis Series No.1300, https://www.memri.org/reports/decade-jihadi-organizations-use-drones-%E2%80%93-early-experiments-hizbullah-hamas-and-al-qaeda#_edn135

[25] Elizabeth Mclaughlin, “New Video Shows Intense ISIS Battle That Killed a US Navy Seal,” ABC News, May 5, 2016, http://abcnews.go.com/International/video-shows-intense-isis-battle-killed-us-navy/story?id=38896834

[26] Justpaste.it/ung5

[27] Bloomberg News, “Islamic State fighters using drones with IEDs and spy cameras, says Pentagon,” Telegraph, July 7, 2016, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/07/07/islamic-state-fighters-using-drones-with-ieds-and-spy-cameras-sa/

[28] MEMRI, “Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor (JTTM) Weekend Summary,” MEMRI, Special Announcements No.486, https://www.memri.org/reports/jihad-and-terrorism-threat-monitor-jttm-weekend-summary-215

[29] AlALAM, “Iraqi Army Targets ISIS Drone near Mosul,” ALALAM, October 03, 2016, http://en.alalam.ir/news/1868370

[30] MEMRI, “ISIS Video Documents Group’s Military Response To Campaign To Retake Mosul, Promises Resilience And Victory,” Jihad & Terrorism Threat Monitor, November 13, 2016, https://www.memri.org/jttm/isis-video-documents-groups-military-response-campaign-retake-mosul-promises-resilience-and

[31] https://twitter.com/memrijttm/status/805404027198590980?lang=en, December 4, 2016

[32] Twitter.com/memrijttm/status/806811378543493121, December 8, 2016

[33] Justpaste.it/e_makhmor, posted December 8, 2016

[34] Justpaste.it/11iqe, December 19, 2016

[35] Multimedia, “IS Video Shows Several Suicide Bombings in Ninawa Recorded by Drones, Execution of Spy by Drowning,” SITE Intelligence Group, January 03 2017, https://ent.siteintelgroup.com/Multimedia/is-video-shows-several-suicide-bombings-in-ninawa-recorded-by-drones-execution-of-spy-by-drowning.html

[36] https://vimeo.com/200866575/29d47a4f02

[37] BCNet Staff, “ISIS Dropping Bombs with Drones in Iraq,” Boston Commons High Tech Network, March 2, 2017, http://bostoncommons.net/isis-dropping-bombs-with-drones-in-iraq/

[38] Steven Stalinsky & R. Sosnow, “A Decade Of Jihadi Organizations’ Use Of Drones – From Early Experiments By Hizbullah, Hamas, And Al-Qaeda To Emerging National Security Crisis For The West As ISIS Launches First Attack Drones,” MEMRI, February 21, 2017, Inquiry & Analysis Series No.1300, https://www.memri.org/reports/decade-jihadi-organizations-use-drones-%E2%80%93-early-experiments-hizbullah-hamas-and-al-qaeda#_edn135

[39] S02.justpaste.it/files/justpaste/d389/a14419344/9.jpg

[40] S04.justpaste.it/pdf/1396s-justpaste-it-647309.pdf

[41] S04.justpaste.it/pdf/137uq-justpaste-it-638825.pdf

[42] MEMRI, “Private Pro-ISIS Telegram Channel Promotes Use Of Weaponized Drones Against Targets In West,” Jihad & Terrorism Threat Monitor, February 16, 2017, https://www.memri.org/jttm/private-pro-isis-telegram-channel-promotes-use-weaponized-drones-against-targets-west

[43] MEMRI, “ISIS Video Features Drone Footage Of Martyrdom Operations, Including Ones Carried Out By An Iraqi Man Who Returned From Europe And Two Yazidi Children,” Jihad & Terrorism Threat Monitor, February 14, 2017, https://www.memri.org/jttm/isis-video-features-drone-footage-martyrdom-operations-including-ones-carried-out-iraqi-man-who

[44] Steven Stalinsky & R. Sosnow, “A Decade Of Jihadi Organizations’ Use Of Drones – From Early Experiments By Hizbullah, Hamas, And Al-Qaeda To Emerging National Security Crisis For The West As ISIS Launches First Attack Drones,” MEMRI, February 21, 2017, Inquiry & Analysis Series No.1300, https://www.memri.org/reports/decade-jihadi-organizations-use-drones-%E2%80%93-early-experiments-hizbullah-hamas-and-al-qaeda#_edn135

[45] https://player.vimeo.com/video/205103463

[46] Anthony Kimery, “Identity Of ISIS Drone Engineer, Plan To Improve Drones’ Ability To Carry Explosives,” Homeland Security Today, April 04, 2017, http://www.hstoday.us/single-article/identity-of-isis-drone-engineer-plan-to-improve-drones-ability-to-carry-explosives/ba7f425aa5de23cdc850dac0a72de0ec.html

[47] Ahmet S. Yayla & Anne Speckhard (Feb 28, 2017) The Potential Threats Posed by ISIS’s Use of Weaponized Air Drones and How to Fight Back. ICSVE Brief Reports http://www.icsve.org/brief-reports/the-potential-threats-posed-by-isiss-use-of-weaponized-air-drones-and-how-to-fight-back/

[48] Tom O’Connor, “ISIS has no Air Force, but it has an Army of Drones that Drop Explosives,” NEWSWEEK, April 17, 2017, http://www.newsweek.com/isis-air-force-army-drones-drop-bombs-585331

[49] Brendan Mcgarry, “Drone-Killing Gun Spotted at US Base in Iraq,” Defense Tech, July 26, 2016, https://www.defensetech.org/2016/07/26/drone-killing-gun-spotted-at-us-base-in-iraq/

[50] Ben Watson, “The Drones of ISIS,” Defense One, January 12, 2017, http://www.defenseone.com/technology/2017/01/drones-isis/134542/

[51] Speckhard, A., & Yayla, A. S. (2017). The ISIS Emni: The Origins and Inner Workings of ISIS’s Intelligence Apparatus. Perspectives on Terrorism, 11(1). Retrieved from http://www.terrorismanalysts.com/pt/index.php/pot/article/view/573

[52] Almohammad, Asaad & Speckhard, Anne (April 3, 2017) Is ISIS Moving its Capital from Raqqa to Mayadin in Deir ez-Zor? ICSVE Brief Reports, http://www.icsve.org/brief-reports/is-isis-moving-its-capital-from-raqqa-to-mayadin-in-deir-ez-zor/

[53] Conflict Armament Research, “Tracing the Supply of Components used in Islamic State IEDs: Evidence from a 20-month investigation in Iraq and Syria,” Conflict Armament Research Ltd., London, UK, February 2016, file:///C:/Users/Asaad/Downloads/Tracing_The_Supply_of_Components_Used_in_Islamic_State_IEDs.pdf

[54] Rumiyah, “Just Terror Tactics,” Rumiyah, Issue 3, 2017, http://qb5cc3pam3y2ad0tm1zxuhho-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Rumiyah-ISIS-Magazine-3rd-issue.pdf

[55] Ahmet S. Yayla & Anne Speckhard (Feb 28, 2017) The Potential Threats Posed by ISIS’s Use of Weaponized Air Drones and How to Fight Back. ICSVE Brief Reports http://www.icsve.org/brief-reports/the-potential-threats-posed-by-isiss-use-of-weaponized-air-drones-and-how-to-fight-back/

[56] Don Rassler, Muhammad al-`Ubaydi, & Vera Mironova, “CTC Perspectives – The Islamic State’s Drone Documents: Management, Acquisitions, and DIY Tradecraft,” Combating Terrorism Center, January 31, 2017, https://www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/ctc-perspectives-the-islamic-states-drone-documents-management-acquisitions-and-diy-tradecraft

[57] Speckhard, A., & Yayla, A. S. (2016). ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate: Advances Press, LLC.

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D., is an adjunct associate professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine and Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE). She has interviewed over 500 terrorists, their family members and supporters in various parts of the world including Gaza, the West Bank, Chechnya, Iraq, Jordan, Turkey, the Balkans, the former Soviet Union and many countries in Europe. She is the author of several books, including Talking to Terrorists and ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate. Follow @AnneSpeckhard

Continue Reading
Comments

Intelligence

Central Asian Jihadists between Turkey and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham

Uran Botobekov

Published

on

Frustrated by Jihad Islamists looking for ways to the West

After the signing and implementation of the Sochi Memorandum on Stabilization of the Situation in Idlib between Turkey and Russia there is a noticeable anxiety among al Qaeda linked-Central Asian jihadist groups, who are fighting in the north-east of Syria against the Bashar Assad’s regime.Over the past two months, the military and propaganda activities of these Sunni Salafi armed groups have significantly weakened.Some militants turned the corner and moved to the territory of Turkey, and are looking for opportunities to return to a peaceful life

During a recent trip to Turkey, I visited the Zeytinburnu region in Istanbul, in which a large Uyghur diaspora from Chinese Xinjiang lives. As I was informed, one of the Uyghur militants of the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP), after moving to Turkey for fear of being discovered by the Chinese special services, is trying to migrate to Europe or the US under the guise of refugees from Xinjiang.But the problem is that during the fighting in Jisr ash-Shugur in northwestern Syria, he lost his passport, and today is in Turkey illegally.

Recently, a researcher known for his controversial ideological views, a fellow at the Middle East Forum Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi interviewed another TIP fighter from Tajikistan Abu Osaid, who wants to return to peaceful life and migrate to Europe. Abu Osaid, who was born in Tajikistan in 1988, believed in the ideology of al-Qaeda, made a Hijrah (migration) to Syria with his wife to conduct jihad against the kafirs and protect the values of the Islamic Ummah. He went through the hell of captivity, fought side by side with the Uighurs, then became disillusioned with jihad and is now looking for ways to migrate to Europe, where he hopes to get an education, get a job and become a legal resident among Christians.

These two episodes from the life of the two Salafis indicate a certain mood among the Central Asian jihadists in Idlib, who dream of going to the West.It turns out an interesting tragicomedy: some Central Asian Islamists want to wage a holy war for the “purity of Islam” and the establishment of a Caliphate in the Middle East, but they certainly want to live in the homeland of “crusades” in Europe or in the US. At the same time, there is a great danger that in the case of migration to the West, former members of al Qaeda will continue their jihadist activities and there is no guarantee that they will not commit a terrorist act on the orders of their religious patrons. Therefore, counterterrorism and religious extremism specialists should carefully monitor the movements of members of the Salafi-Jihadi groups from Syria to the West.

The al Qaeda’s crossroads

It should be noted that currently in the province of Idlib stationed such as foreign Salafi-jihadi groups from Central Asia’s Fergana Valley and the Chinese province of Xinjiang, Katibat al-Tawhid wal Jihad (KTJ), Katibat Imam al-Bukhari (KIB), the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP) and Katibat Ghuraba al Turkestan (KGT).The total number of Uzbek, Uyghur, Tajik and Kyrgyz militants are about 4-5 thousand.

KTJ and TIP coordinate all their military operations in Syria and conduct them under the leadership of the most powerful single insurgent organization Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), former al-Nusra Front. Practically they became an integral part ofHTS.Uzbek militants KIB have closer cooperation with the National Liberation Front (NLF) — a rebel coalition in Syria formed in May 2018 under Turkey’s auspices.But all of them are united by their belonging to the Salafi ideology of al Qaeda.

Despite the fact that al-Nusra Front and al Qaeda formally broke off their relations in 2016, the Central Asian groups did not withdraw from al Qaeda and consider his leader Ayman al-Zawahiri their ideological leader.This is a unique case in which they coordinate their military and religious activities with both al Qaeda and HTS. Thus, the Salafi-jihadi groups of Central Asia became the connecting bridge between al Qaeda and HTS after their quarrels.

Today there is double pressure on the al Qaeda-linked Turkic and Russian-speaking Salafi-jihadi groups from the former Soviet Union in Idlib: from the Turkish special services and his favorite rebel coalition NLF on the one hand, and HTS on the other.Each side is trying to pull them over to its side and use their armed potential in their own interests as the Idlib gambit.

As is known, in accordance with the Sochi Memorandum, Turkey is working to set up a demilitarized zone of a depth of 15-20 km in Syria’s Idlib region, the withdrawal of terrorist groups, including al-Nusra and heavy weapons from the buffer zone between rebel and government fighters and al Assad’s allied Iran-backed groups.As part of this operation, the Turkish intelligence services held talks with all armed groups of the Syrian opposition and al Qaeda-backed Salafi-Jihadi groups, including the HTS and his foreign fighters divisions from Central Asia.In this situation, the Uyghur and Uzbek jihadi groups are trying to keep the “middle ground” by not openly opposing the Turkish initiative, but at the same time not breaking off their close relations with the HTS to please Ankara.

Despite the double pressure, the Central Asian Islamists managed to maintain their ideological loyalty to al Qaeda, who after the fall of the Islamic state became the leader in world Salafi-Jihadi Movement. Therefore, none of the Central Asian militant groups in Idlib made an official statement over the Sochi Memorandum. Only the leader of the Imam Bukhari Jamaat, or KIB, Abu Yusuf Muhojir wrote on Telegram under the pictures of the presidents of Russia, Iran and Syria that “Jihad is not commerce since the honor of Muslims is not for sale. The enemies of Islam will not succeed in destroying the religion of Allah.”

There are several factors that the Uzbek groups KTJ and KIB, as well as the Uighur militant units TIP and KGT will not be able to openly conflict with Ankara.

First, thanks to the common religious, linguistic and cultural identity of the peoples of Central Asia and Turkey, the Islamists of the Fergana Valley and Chinese Xinjiang received the hidden support of Ankara when crossing the Turkish-Syrian border. Erdogan’s Turkey allowed more than 20,000 foreign fighters from Russia, Central Asia, Caucasus and China to pass through her borders to join Salafi-Jihadi terrorist organizations in Syria and Iraq from 2013 to 2016.In the event of the capture of Idlib by the Bashar al-Assad army and the fall of the last stronghold of the Syrian opposition, the Turkish territory remains the only transit zone for the Russian-speaking foreign fighters to leave Syria. Therefore, they do not want to burn bridges that will serve them in the future.

Secondly, at the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011-14, Turkey considered jihadists from Central Asia as a pro-Sunni force capable of fighting to remove Bashar al-Assad from power. The Turkish authorities have allowed wounded fighters from Central Asia to be treated in the hospitals of Turkey. In 2014 the leader of KTJ Abu Saloh was wounded in the eye in fighting against the Syrian government forces and then was treated in Turkey.

Thirdly, still act the logistics infrastructures of the TIP in Turkey among Uyghur’s diaspora, where collect financial aid from its businessmen for those who are on the Hijrah. The favorable attitude towards the Uighurs is also due to the position of Turkish President Erdogan, who said that “Eastern Turkestan is not only the home of the Turkic peoples, but it is also the cradle of Turkic history, civilization, and culture. The martyrs of Eastern Turkestan are our own martyrs.”

Considering all these factors, Erdogan’s security services today are trying to influence the leaders of the jihadist groups of Central Asia in order to pull them under the NLF’s umbrella.As we already know, Ankara uses the armed potential of the NLF not only fight against the al-Assad regime but also to fight the Kurdish military unit YPG along the Turkish-Syrian border.On November 6, 2018, the Ebaa news agency reported that Turkey called on the NLF members to prepare for the battle in the Eastern Euphrates against the Kurdish YPG units.NLF already participated in the military operation “Olive Branch” to liberate Syrian Afrin from Kurdish groups in February-March 2018.Pro-Turkish Jaish al-Sharqia, one of the NLF’s major factions, has declared its readiness to fight the Eastern Euphrates with Kurdish groups. Therefore, it is possible that in case of joining the NLF, the Uighur and Uzbek jihadists will have to conduct fight against the Kurdish troops. According to religious and ideological views, Central Asian jihadists have always been against Kurdish Communists.

It should be noted that with the help of financial and military leverage, Ankara managed to rally around 30 Sunni Islamist rebel groups around the NLF, including Ahrar al-Sham and Nour al-Din al-Zenki. Today, the total number of NLF fighters is about 100,000, a third of whom are associated with al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. According to Daily Beast, Turkish National Intelligence (MIT) has been deeply involved with the al Qaeda affiliated groups. Therefore, joining the NLF will not cause any ideological differences for al Qaeda-backed TIP, KTJ and KIB.

However, Central Asia’s Salafi-Jihadi groups are also under pressure from HTS, which does not intend to release them from its control.The military wing of the HTS said to Ebaa news agency that those who leave ribat (guard service at the border for the protection of Dar al-Islam), will give up arms or violate the bayat (oath of allegiance to an emir) will be considered traitors and will face severe punishment in accordance with Islam.

In its statement on the Sochi Memorandum, which is titled, “The Syrian Revolution Will Not Die”, HTS thanks all those who have supported Syrians and appreciate who saved liberated areas, including Central Asian Mujahideens who have “emigrated to join us.”HTS seeks to reassure the foreign fighters who have traveled to Syria, implying that they won’t be sacrificed to meet the demands of international actors.HTS refused to surrender heavy weapons and promised to continue jihad against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, Russia and Iran.Thus, HTS became a serious obstacle to Ankara’s ambition to create its autonomous protectorate in the north of Syria and reduce Kurdish influence in the border area.

Because of the intransigence of its leaders, the HTS today has made many enemies. The tension between pro-Turkish groups and HTS has reached such a level that the NLF Ninth Division is ready to launch an offensive.The al-Assad army and Iranian-backed Shia militias consider HTS to be their main enemy that is spreading terrorism and preventing the establishment of peace in Syria.

Despite the Sochi Memorandum, armed clashes between HTS and the Syrian Army occur every day. In this situation, the Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi groups became hostage to the ambitions of Abu Mohammed al-Jolani.

Idlib’s Trap

Today the financial position of TIP, KIB and KTJ has deteriorated markedly.External sponsors from Arab countries substantially reduced their economic assistance. The internal resources of these groups are at the verge of exhaustion. The influx of new militants from the Caucasus and Central Asia has almost stopped. The work of recruiting new jihadists from among labor migrants in Russia, Fergana Valley, and Chinese Xinjiang are not being conducted. In this situation, some deserters who managed to escape from their commanders and cross the Turkish-Syrian border are trying to leave for the West.

In October 2018, the leader of al Qaeda-backed Junud al-Sham group, ethnic Chechen militant Muslim Abu Waleedal-Shishani (Murad Margoshvili) made an appeal to the World Muslim Ummah. He acknowledged that the Salafi groups from the post-Soviet space in Idlib are going through a difficult period, some Mujaheeds have come back, closing the doors of a holy Jihad. Therefore, he asked them not to hurry to leave Sham, because all is not lost.He called on the World Muslim Ummah to make donations for “the lions of Allah who migrated to Sham and protect the honor of Islam. “The desperate appeal of al-Shishani witnessed the nervous situation among Salafi-Jihadi groups from Russia, Central Asia and China in Syria.

Today Central Asian jihadists are in Idlib’s trap, where NLF and Turkish special services breathing down their necks, the al-Assad’s army, Iranian Shia militias and the Russian air force attack in front, and a Khawarijis(al Qaeda uses the term “Khawarij” as a synonym for ‘extremist’ to describe members of the ISIS)of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi strike from behind.

Turkey’s flirting with al Qaeda

The prospect of the continued presence of the Central Asian al-Qaida branches in Syria depends on the future actions of regional players – Russia, Turkey and Iran on the Idlib scene. In any case, they all understand perfectly well that the Sochi Memorandum is temporary. Moscow and Ankara declare that it was necessary to find a political solution to the Syrian crisis. But for Damascus the deal in Idlib was necessary to gather strength and al-Assad will try to seize the last stronghold of the opposition by force. And then, to protect not only Idlib but also to retain control over the Syrian border region by Ankara, the military potential of al Qaeda-linked Central Asian jihadists will be required.

But as al Qaeda’s Afghan experience and September 11 tragedy showed, flirting with this global Sunni terrorist organization and using its forces to achieve situational gains can lead to serious religious and political upheavals in the Middle East and Central Asia in the future.

Continue Reading

Intelligence

Three Groups of Threats from Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems

Published

on

Using autonomous technologies, artificial intelligence and machine learning in the military sphere leads to the emergence of new threats, and it is crucial that we identify them in time.

Over the last decade, the development of technologies that can provide conventional weapons with unique capabilities typical of “killer robots” has been accelerating. The UN has given these types of weapon the designation of lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS). This is the name for weapons that are capable of hitting land, air and water targets without human participation.

AI-based LAWS create threats that can be divided into three groups:

1.The first group comprises risks associated with removing human agents from the decision to use weapons, the so-called “meaningful human control problem.” The global public (NGOs such as Stop Killer Robots, Article 36, the International Committee for Robot Arms Control, businesspersons and scientists, in particular, Steven Hawking, Elon Musk and Steve Wozniak) believe it highly probable that fully autonomous weapons will not be able to comply with international humanitarian law and human rights and will create a problem of identifying the persons to be held liable in case of illegal acts by autonomous units. “Killer robots” are accused of being incapable of sympathy, i.e. a human feeling that often acts as deterrent to the use of weapons. Another argument against LAWS is that their use contradicts the principle of humaneness and the demands of public conscience.

2.The second group of threats is related to breaches of strategic stability. Elements of autonomy and AI are appearing in all areas of military confrontation. In the nuclear sphere, high-precision tactical nuclear bombs and hypersonic devices with new nuclear warheads are now appearing. In outer space, it is unmanned space drones, low-orbit surveillance and satellite communications systems. In the area of missile defence, there are new surveillance and tracking systems linked with communications and control systems. And in the cyber sphere, cyber weapons and automated hacking-back cyber systems are emerging. Some of these weapons, for instance, hypersonic missiles and cyberattacks, could serve as instruments of tactical deterrence along with nuclear weapons. That is, even non-nuclear countries now have the capability of sharply increasing their deterrence and attack potential. These trends entail a series of risks:

— the risk of one country establishing technological and military global superiority;

— a new arms race;

— increased regional and international tensions;

— reduced transparency of military programmes;

— a disregard for international law;

— the spread of dangerous technologies among non-state actors.

Based on the experience of using military and commercial drones, researchers conclude that the manufacturing technologies of LAWS, as well as their components and software, will proliferate abundantly, which will give rise to another arms race resulting in instability and escalation of various risks.

Some experts believe that maintaining strategic stability in the coming decades will require a revision of the foundations of the deterrence theory in the multipolar world.

3.The third group of threats stems from the drastically reduced time allocated for making strategic decisions within the Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance (ISR) and military Communications, Command and Control (C3) systems. The principal drawback of a human compared to a machine is that the human mind requires too much time to assess the situation and make the right decision. An entire series of military programmes in the leading states (in particular, the Pentagon’s Maven, COMPASS, Diamond Shield) aims to have supercomputers take over the work of analysing various data and developing scenarios for the political and military leadership.

That entails, as a minimum, the following risks:

— The shortage of time to make meaningful decisions.

— Insufficient human control over the situation.

— Making strategic decisions on the basis of mathematical algorithms and machine learning systems, not human logic.

— The lack of mutual understanding between the machine and the human. Neural networks are thus far incapable of explaining the regularities of their work in a human language.

To be fair, it should be noted that globalization and the development of cross-border projects, social networks, transnational corporations, international cooperation, surveillance satellites and radio-electronic surveillance equipment have made the world more transparent. The world now has a huge number of sensors that report new threats before they even materialize.

Let us consider these three groups of threats in more detail.

The Meaningful Human Control Problem

In December 2016, the Fifth Review Conference Fifth Review Conference of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) weapons adopted the decision to create a Group of Governmental Experts authorized to “explore and agree on possible recommendations on options related to emerging technologies in the area of LAWS.” Commentators believe that, despite various obvious terminological discrepancies, those who attended the conference agreed that the use of force should always take place under “meaningful human control.”

Some experts see four components in the problem:

  1. The risks that LAWS carry for civilians.
  2. The risks of human rights and human dignity violations.
  3. The inability of LAWS to comply with the laws of war.
  4. The uncertainty concerning legal liability for intentional and unintentional consequences of using LAWS.

It would be a mistake to think that the emergence of LAWS laid bare certain gaps in international law that need to be filled immediately. States and their citizens must comply with the norms and principles of international law in effect, and these norms and principles contain an exhaustive list of rules and restrictions in warfare.

International humanitarian law (IHL) was designed to protect human values, and a number of experts believe that some of its documents have direct bearing on the LAWS problem:

The Martens Clause: the rule formulated by the Russian lawyer and diplomat Friedrich Martens in 1899 stating that even if a given provision is not included directly in the articles of the current law, in situations of military hostilities, the parties will be guided by the principles of laws of humanity and the dictates of public conscience.

The “Laws of humanity” stemming from the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Article 36 of the 1977 Protocol Additional I to the 1949 Geneva Conventions on new weapons.

— Various documents constituting the law of armed conflict with its basic principles:

  1. The distinction between civilians and combatants.
  2. The principle of proportionality (commensurability) of the use of force.
  3. The principle of military expediency.
  4. Restricting the means and methods of warfare (prohibition of excessive destruction or causing excessive suffering).

Since the international instruments that are currently in effect place give national governments the responsibility to interpret their obligations, international experts fear that the latter will interpret them in their own favour while neglecting moral concepts and human dignity. From this, they conclude that there is a need for a more detailed elaboration of the IHL norms as applied to LAWS.

Whatever the case may be, the latest consultations on the future of LAWS held on August 27–31, 2018 in Geneva at the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) resulted in the approval of ten potential principles that could serve as a future foundation for the international community’s approach to LAWS. The key principle is that all work in military AI should be conducted in compliance with international humanitarian law, and liability for the use of such systems will always lie with a human. The final decision on the future of the Group of Governmental Experts will most likely be made on November 23, 2018 at the conference of CCW signatory countries.

LAWS and Strategic Stability

At the Washington Summit held between the Soviet Union and the United States in June 1990, the parties made a joint declaration on nuclear and space weapons. In it, they outlined the theoretical foundations of strategic stability, which was defined as a state of strategic relations between two powers when neither has the incentive to deliver the first strike. The parties distinguished two notions within strategic stability: crisis stability and arms race stability. Crisis stability was taken to mean a situation in which even in a crisis neither party had serious opportunities or incentives to deliver the first nuclear strike. Arms race stability was determined with regard to the presence of incentives to increase a country’s own strategic potential.

The principles of strategic stability enshrined in the 1990 Declaration were considered the guidelines for weapons control. Later, the notions of “first strike stability” and even “cross-domain strategic stability” emerged.

Military AI has the potential to breach stability within any concept. Some high-ranking Pentagon strategists have already made statements that autonomous robots could ensure global military dominance. They believe that combat drones will replace nuclear weapons and high-precision munitions and will make it possible to implement the so-called “third offset strategy.”

Obviously, machine learning and autonomy technologies open new opportunities for using nuclear munitions (for instance, a high-precision reduced-capacity B61-12 nuclear bomb) for tactical missions and vice versa. Strategic tasks can be handled using non-strategic weapons.

For instance, the development of hypersonic vehicles with high defence-penetration capabilities leads to a lower nuclear conflict threshold.

The Boeing X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle and XS-1 Spaceplane space drones or the X-43A Hypersonic Experimental Vehicle hypersonic drone will change the model of confrontations in space. Combining the Space Tracking and Surveillance System (STSS) with the Command and Control, Battle Management, and Communications (C2BMC) system demonstrates entirely new strike capabilities of ballistic missiles. The strategy of neutralizing missile systems at launchers by using cyber and radio-electronic Left-of-Launch devices opens up a new roadmap for missile defence. The QUANTUM programme and the automated hacking-back cyber weapon can set destructive software into “fire” mode.

The rapid spread of drone technologies throughout the world and the budding competition for the global market between major manufacturers of strike drones are causes for alarm. Today, the United States has over 20,000 unmanned vehicles, including several hundreds of combat strike drones. Small strike drones that in the future may deliver strikes as an autonomous swarm distributing functions without an operator’s input are now in development in future. China is not officially disclosing the number of drones in service of the People’s Liberation Army; however, some experts believe that it is roughly equal to the number in service of the Pentagon. China both manufactures and actively exports strategic drones capable of both intelligence and strike missions. Following the United States with its MQ-25 Stingray programme, China is developing ship-based drones and unmanned vehicles capable of interacting with manned aircraft.

The United Kingdom, Israel, Turkey, Iran and Japan also lay the claim to a place among the world’s leading drone manufacturers. Military strategists of small and large states believe that, in future, unmanned vehicles will form the backbone of their air force. Back in 2015, United States Md. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said that the F-35 will likely be the last manned strike fighter, and unmanned systems will be “the new normal in ever-increasing areas.”

C3ISR Outsourcing and Strategic Time Pressure

Using artificial intelligence (AI) in the military area is gaining momentum. As a rule, a programme of automatic data collection and analysis opens up possibilities for new projects in related areas. The use of the so-called artificial intelligence in the military sphere will probably increase exponentially moving forwards.

AI will also be a reason for the emergence of new weapons and related army units in the near future, such as cyber command, missile defence, AI-based intelligence, information warfare, electronic warfare (EW) systems, laser weapons, autonomous transportation, robotics units, drones, anti-drone weapons, hypersonic aircraft, unmanned underwater drones and aquanaut teams.

In future, conventional army service branches will change shape, forming different combinations to use the advantages of new AI-based systems. Studies have demonstrated a twofold increase in the effectiveness of air and missile defence working in conjunction with EW systems.

Using AI in the military sphere will result in the gradual introduction of robotics and automation in every possible sphere, in materials and logistics in the first place. Logistics of the future is capable of seriously affecting strategic stability through the high automation of logistical processes up to the autonomous delivery of munitions to the battlefield.

Information exchange between service branches will develop both vertically and horizontally, from aircraft pilots in the air to platoon leaders on the ground and vice versa, and AI will filter information so that each party will only receive data that is useful to them, with information noise being removed. That is the idea behind the Diamond Shield air and missile defence that is currently being developed by Lockheed Martin. Data collected on land, in the air and in space, including through the Pentagon’s MAVEN programme, will be processed by neural networks and distributed in real time to commanding officers of all levels. AI will conduct the actions of military units, creating so-called algorithmic warfare.

AI will track clandestine action in times of peace, too. The COMPASS (Collection and Monitoring via Planning for Active Situational Scenarios) programme is one such example. The goal of COMPASS is to analyse a situation and its participants’ behaviour in a “grey” zone, which is understood as a limited conflict on the border between “regular” competition among states and what is traditionally deemed to be war. Strategic time pressure will lead to assessments of national threats and the use of weapons also being automated and outsourced to AI-based command and analytical systems.

The symbiosis of analytical and command programmes on the basis of neural networks increases the risk of the Human-Machine Interaction model, leaving little room for humans, who will have just one button to press to approve decisions made by machines.

The configurations of AI-based analytical and control systems will be highly classified, thereby causing additional concerns to the public.

Allegorically speaking, human civilization is standing in front of the door into a world where the military handles its objectives using AI and autonomous “killer robots.” Thus far, we do not know for sure how dangerous that is. Maybe our worst expectations will not come true. However, in the worst-case scenario, that world will open Pandora’s box, letting out fears and suffering. Preventing such a scenario in advance is the proper course of action.

First published in our partner RIAC

Continue Reading

Intelligence

The China/Russia Space Threat: Is Star Wars Far Away or On the Horizon?

Dana Ogle

Published

on

In world politics, using force, blatantly offensive force in particular, rarely comes without costs.–Gil Merom

Space – The Final Frontier?

The space race from the 1950s until the end of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States eventually ended in a tie.  Maybe not totally a tie, but the advent of the International Space Station (ISS) and the amount of training performed at Star City just outside of Moscow by both Russians and Americans in preparation for their missions give the appearance that the former rivalry is now a cooperative event.  Over the last few years, space is becoming the focus of many nations from a security perspective.  Merom’s succinct summation of the cost of using offensive force is a driving reason for the new focus on space either from the standpoint of dominance or of countering other nations’ use of it.This time, instead of claiming dominance by planting a flag on the moon, the idea of controlling a domain that is still not truly understood provides a level of security impacting many areas, like the Global Positioning System (GPS), Positioning, Navigating, and Timing (PNT), and Satellite Communication (SATCOM) (Harrison et al. 2018; Weeden and Sampson 2018).  And it is China and Russia that are currently leading the charge of attempting to operationalize and weaponize space to project power.

Power Projection

Countering the threat of the United States is a purpose both China and Russia cite as a reason to develop space and counterspace capabilities, but that is almost the default/de facto motive for any action they take.  Achieving space superiority is not on par with becoming a nuclear power in terms of international recognition, but China and Russia both see gaining the upper hand in space as a way to set their nations apart from the rest of the international community.  China recently declared space as a military domain. That allows China to expand its military doctrine “that the goal of space warfare and operations is to achieve space superiority using offensive and defensive means in connection with their broader strategic focus on asymmetric cost imposition, access denial, and information dominance.”( Weeden and Sampson 2018, xi). Based off of this statement, the Chinese view space as another avenue to project military power. And space, like cyberspace, is much harder to counter due to the difficulty in attribution.

Russia’s efforts to regain counterspace capability also provides a method for projecting power and is another area to show that they are back as players on the world stage.  President Putin laid out four ideas for a 21st century Russia, “(1) the strong, functioning state; (2) the state-guided market economy; (3) the welfare state with attendant safety net; and (4) the state-safeguarded foreign and security policy position that provides Russia a Eurasian – and even global – leadership position.” (Willerton 2017, 211) Pursuing a program of space and counterspace options ties directly into the first and fourth idea presented by the President and could tie into the second and third if Russia is able to export technology or intellectual capital to assist other nations.  The Russian perspective sees “modern warfare as a struggle over information dominance and net centric operations that can often take place in domains without clear boundaries and contiguous operating areas.” (Weeden and Sampson 2018, xii) Space falls within this definition so, if by leveraging space to conduct cyberspace or space-enabled information operations, then that provides an even larger platform that Russian targets must defend. After all, Russia has “extensive operational experience from decades of spaces operations.” (Harrison et al. 2018, 13) Although some areas of the Russian space program have atrophied since the end of the Cold War, Russia and the U.S. have maintained a partnership with civil space missions to the ISS. (Harrison et al. 2018, 13)

GPS, PNT, and SATCOM

Most nations widely use GPS and PNT for navigation and the geo-tagging of locations for official and unofficial uses.  For China, GPS is how Japan maintains situational awareness in the East China Sea. (Horowitz et al. 2016, 30) If China were able to achieve control over GPS satellites, the advantage it would have over other nations would be hard to quantify.  Aside from blinding or manipulating what the Japanese see in the East China Sea, commercial and military pilots rely on GPS, as do many other peoples for navigation via ships, cars or phones.  Unmanned Aerial Systems, or drones, are also dependent on GPS, and many military operations use drones for communication relays.  If China or Russia manipulated or jammed the link between a ground control station and the drone, then the drone could pose a threat to any airplanes or helicopters in the area. If a weaponized drone, then that capability could be used against unauthorized targets (a rogue drone) or cause chaos due to the lack of communications.

A vast majority of communications today are done by SATCOM.  To control or have the ability to deny, degrade, disrupt, destroy, or manipulate any combination of GPS, PNT, and SATCOM gives a nation a huge benefit and should be cause for concern by all.  Most systems were built and launched into orbit before cybersecurity became an issue.  The distance from Earth to the satellites’ respective orbits provided an inherent level of assumed security, so many measures that are standard on systems today are not on satellites currently in use.  Knowing the exact amount of cyber-attacks on satellites or their ground stations is unlikely as the number is either classified or nations and companies are unwilling to admit they were victims publicly.  What is known is that both China and Russia are capable, competent cyber and signals intelligence(SIGINT) actors and attacks of this nature are not beyond their abilities.

A 2014 Crowd strike report linked the “People’s Liberation Army General Staff Department Third Department 12th Bureau Unit 61486 – that subset of what is ‘generally acknowledged to be China’s premiere SIGINT collection and analysis agency’ dedicated specifically to ‘supporting China’s space surveillance network.’” (Weeden and Sampson 2018, 7-7) That level of attribution is impressive in such a nebulous environment.  Although not an official attribution by the United States Government, Crowd strike and other commercial threat intelligence providers’ identification and designation of threat actors are generally universally accepted as accurate.

A Russian Criminal syndicate, known as Turla, exploited satellite links to hack other targets according to Kaspersky Labs. (Weeden and Sampson 2018, 7-7) The Russian Government can claim Turla was a criminal act and not supported by Russia, but in 1998 Russian hijackers gained “control of a U.S. – German ROSAT deep-space monitoring satellite, then issued commands for it to rotate toward the sun, frying its optics and rendering it useless.”(Weeden and Sampson 2018, 7-8) These few examples demonstrate China and Russia maintain both the intent and capability to conduct operations in space.

Weaponization

Both China and Russia are “developing the ability to interdict satellites both from the ground standpoint and from the space standpoint” according to the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. (Tucker 2018) The idea of weaponizing space is enticing and terrorizing.  For those nations that are able to develop and deploy technology to disrupt other satellites, a huge advantage exists. Iran, India, and Israel are among other nations seeking to develop a space or counterspace program.  (Harrison et al. 2018; Weeden and Sampson 2018) None of these nations, however, is at the level of the space/counterspace programs of China, Russia, or the United States. Nor are they likely to refocus the bulk of their economies and militaries to concentrate solely on space. Much like the alliances developed as nuclear powers emerged, nations that desire space superiority or, simply wishing that the United States not be the dominant space power, may put their efforts toward aligning with a power they feel they can benefit from, even if other strategic objectives do not necessarily align.  The threat presented by space does not produce the mass panic that nuclear war does, but when considering that space is the domain where missiles and communications could be jammed or re-directed resulting in an inadvertent nuclear crisis, the legitimacy and severity of threats from space become apparent.

China and Russia launched a 200 million dollar venture in 2015 whose purpose was to innovate technologies. (Harrison et al. 2018, 6) In July 2018, China sent a delegation to Russia to explore potentially building a jointly-run station based on Russian knowledge in an area China is deficient. (Russia, China 2018) Interestingly, in 2013, the European Space Agency considered making China its primary space partner, instead of the United States, “as China’s global ‘rising power’ status now extends to space.” (Johnson-Freese 2015, 91)

China’s messaging that it is serious about becoming a space power resonates with other nations and they appear ready to broker the relationships needed to achieve the goal.  Russia has the technical knowledge and perhaps the upper hand in that it is a key partner on the ISS with several other nations, including the United States.  If Russia and China continue with either joint ventures or Russia supplying China with expertise, it is unknown how the United States will react, since it vehemently opposes China’s inclusion on the ISS. (Johnson-Freese 2015, 95) In February 2018, the United States Director of National Intelligence identified “Russia and China as continuing to launch ‘experimental’ satellites that conduct sophisticated on-orbit activities, at least some of which are intended to advance counterspace capabilities …some technologies with peaceful applications—such as satellite inspection, refueling, and repair—can also be used against adversary spacecraft.” (Tucker 2018) The issue is on the United States radar at a high enough level that the threats presented by China and Russia were included in the 2018 Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community from the Director of National Intelligence. (Coats 2018, 13) To what extent the United States will go to deter either China or Russia in space is still unknown at this time, however.

Space Law

The United Nations maintains an Office for Outer Space Affairs that, among other roles, assists with space law “associated with the rules, principles, and standards of international law appearing in the five international treaties and five sets of principles governing outer space, which have been developed under the auspices of the United Nations.” (United Nations 2018) In addition to the space laws adjudicated by the United Nations, individual states have their own laws regarding the use of space.  China and Russia are among those that develop national space laws.  China’s 2015 National Security Law made China’s defense of interests in space legally binding and a white paper in that same year stated, “threats from such new security domains as outer space and cyberspace will be dealt with to maintain the common security of the world community.” (Weeden and Sampson 2018, 1-20).  Russian National space laws listed on the United Nations website include areas covering space activity, management structure, licensing space operations, Russian Space Agency regulations, and an agreement between the Russian Federation and Cabinet Ministers of Ukraine about technical safeguards on the use of outer space. (United Nations 2018) The bulk of the Russian laws listed were written in the 1990s, with the exception of the Ukrainian agreement which is dated 2009. So, the possibility exists that these laws do not represent what the Russian Federation follows today as a national space law.

One area under that is a potential loophole for any nation is the dual-use nature of most satellites.  Unless a country scrutinizes a satellite before launching it into orbit, determining the use is strictly for a defensive or offensive purpose is difficult to prove.  Again, the tyranny of distance comes into play trying to establish the true nature of space-related activities.  Intelligence collection methods possibly can gather the required information to identify a weapons system or counter-weapons system on a satellite schematic, but for a communications, GPS, or PNT satellite, proving its ultimate use for something more than just supporting commercial or regular military communications and navigation services is not so easy.

What’s Next?

International and national laws are in place to ensure the freedom and safety of space for all nations. But those laws only help nations that can afford to operate in space to a certain extent.  As China and Russia expand their independent efforts at becoming dominant nations in space, where Chinese-Russian joint ventures go is worth watching. How far these two nations are willing to collaborate and even become true partners in space will have lasting consequences on how other countries will or can react. The space threat is real even if it is difficult to quantify based on it being mostly an amorphous threat today.  That does not mean nations are not trying to exploit seemingly ambiguous space as a domain for their own national advantages.  Thus, there is no excuse for international organizations like the United Nations to be caught unaware if sometime in the near future a major power shows it has successfully turned space into a domain for waging war or projecting power.

Continue Reading

Latest

Tech8 hours ago

Deloitte Unveils 2018 North America Technology Fast 500™ Rankings

Deloitte today released the “2018 North America Technology Fast 500,” an annual ranking of the fastest-growing North American companies in...

Culture9 hours ago

Culture – the “X Factor” for Building Back Better after Conflict and Disasters

Culture is the foundation upon which cities are built.  Cities are not just a collection of buildings but are people,...

Reports10 hours ago

Despite increasing trade tensions business confidence in Asia Pacific remains high

Business leaders across Asia Pacific remain confident that their companies revenues will grow over the next 12 months despite increasing...

Green Planet11 hours ago

Why This Planet Is Becoming Uninhabitable

There are now overt indications that this planet is becoming uninhabitable. Not only are increasing numbers of humans migrating from...

Americas11 hours ago

Donald Trump and America’s People

The American mid-term elections in the current situation can be considered one of the most sensitive elections in American history;...

Southeast Asia12 hours ago

Letter to heaven: An eulogy to Luang Poo Boonyarith Bundito

Everyone knows him as a great monk who was an exceptional teacher of meditation. From the royal family to a...

South Asia12 hours ago

Pakistan PM’s Saudi affair likely to backfire

Pakistan’s relations with Saudi Arabia flourished during the previous government headed by Nawaz Sharif, primarily due to his personal business...

Trending

Copyright © 2018 Modern Diplomacy