Video Above: US Sends Drone Boats to Ukraine
The successful “drone strike” on Ayman al-Zawahiri offers an interesting window into two distinct, interwoven trajectories, because it reminds Americans that the threat of terrorism and Al Qaeda remains both persistent and quite serious and also that the US has not lost its intensity and vigilance when it comes to the counterterrorism fight.
Ayman al-Zawahiri - Drone Strike
This is quite an accomplishment, given the growing urgency of great power competition, yet the Pentagon and most likely the intelligence community have retained a razor sharp focus on hunting and killing terrorists who threaten the US.
The terrorist threat seems to have a timeless quality, as terrorists may even use time as a weapon of war to plan strikes when they are less expected. However, this is precisely what the US counterterrorism strategy seems to understand, which is why drones, surveillance planes and Special Forces units remain engaged in non-contested, yet terrorist friendly environments. Simply put, the Pentagon and the intelligence community do seem to understand that the war on terror is actually never ending and requires ubiquitous, persistent vigilance and resolve.
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While the type of aircraft, weapons used and tactical specifics of the al-Zawahiri strike are not likely to be available for security reasons, the successful hit does reinforce the importance of retaining some medium-to-large-platform armed, yet less stealthy large drones.
Reaper and Global Hawk Drones
Certainly budgets for large drones such as the Reaper, Global Hawk and other platforms deemed less survivable in a contested, great power war environment have been the subject of great debate, yet their continued value is clearly understood as well.
Higher-resolution, longer range sensors and guided weapons, along with a growing ability to extend missions at higher altitudes makes larger, long-endurance drones attractive to commanders who need to blanket high-threat areas with surveillance. This can help build intelligence over time by establishing “pattern of life” variables as well as enemy movements and windows of vulnerability. The Reaper, a larger drone which has been extremely successful in the war on terror, now operates with a much larger weapons arsenal to include AIM-9X air-to-air weapons and even air-dropped bombs along with various kinds of rockets and RF and laser-guided missiles.
Although certain armed drones are by no means thought of as stealthy given their shape and size, they can become more survivable by varying flight patterns and routines, employing longer-range, high-resolution sensors and firing long-range, precision weapons from safter stand-off distances. Also, given the pace of advancement with AI and computer processing, some of these larger surveillance drones can function as flying aerial nodes able to gather and organize time-critical data at the point of collection, before then transmitting relevant information.
Kris Osborn is the President of Warrior Maven - Center for Military Modernization and the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.