Like terrorist operatives, drones are relatively cheap and expendible.
But unlike terrorism, which seeks to grind away at the enemy's resolve, this kind of attack attempts to deprive an enemy of the money needed to fund its operations.
Like terrorism, even the threat of loss of key infrastructure can have consequences (e.g, the interest rate a country is forced to pay as risk premium). Also as ub terrorism, the targets are "soft" and therefore difficult to defend.
It looks like there's something new here that could serve as a model in other conflicts. The most vulnerable players are those who have put all their economic eggs in one basket.
While it's unwise to apply moral analysis to military conflicts because of the potential for both self-deception and ideological excess, this incident strikes me as richly deserved.
We are on the wrong side this time, folks.
I'd say the analogous technology is really the musket. On the battlefield it gave an advantage over knights, cavalry, and swordsmen, but it also gave that advantage to unskilled groups of militia rather than organized fiefdoms that could field large numbers of mounted knights and the support staff needed for them. The result was the Renaissance and birth of nationalism, as local, commercial organizations gained power over the feudal empires that had governed them.
It seems relatively straightforward to deliver drones via any kind of existing global scale transit available today (on the one end, C130s, or on the other end, ICBMs?). A predator drone (not the latest tech) weighs ~5000 lbs and the MIRV Mark 5 SLBMs can launch 8x ~800 lb "W88" warheads, for a combined payload weight of around 6400 lbs. (I'm not super familiar with any of this and might be missing something; just skimmed wikipedia to see if I could make the ICBM math work out.)
You mean defensive. Where American firepower at the hands of Saudis completely fucking up your country can be finally challenged with a response that might make them reconsider war. Where it was just a beat down like America is using to doing.
Who knows maybe this thing spirals out of control and destroys all of Saudi Arabia, when you are dealing with these sorts of political realities you reconsider things like destroying the entire country of Yemen because you don't like the politics of its majority or its rebel government.
These changes are always really, really interesting. One of my favorite moments similar to this is the Battle of Nicopolis  between the Ottomans led by Bayezid I and a Crusader force which included many Western cavalry forces. The much more mobile and easy-moving Ottomans were no match for the Western (especially French) forces who were accustomed with using their heavy armor during battle:
> The French knights thus continued up the hill, though accounts state that more than half were on foot by this point, either because they had been unhorsed by the lines of sharpened stakes or had dismounted to pull up stakes. Struggling in their heavy armor, they reached the plateau on the top of the slope, where they had expected to find fleeing Turkish forces, but instead found themselves facing a fresh corps of sipahis, whom Bayezid had kept in reserve. As the sipahis surged forward in the counterattack sounding trumpets, banging kettle drums and yelling "God is great!", the desperation of their situation was readily apparent to the French and some knights broke and fled back down the slope.
The battles are an interesting echo through history. Perhaps the lesson is simply "hold the high ground".
One could think so, but then about 150 years later the Hungarian chivalry (and pretty much the Hungarian kingdom itself) was annihilated by the same Ottomans at the battle of Mohacs, where there was no "high ground" involved. From the wiki page :
> Hungary built up an expensive but obsolete army, structured similarly to that of King Francis I at the Battle of Pavia and mostly reliant on old fashioned heavily armoured knights on armoured horses (gendarme knights).
By that time the Ottomans had already started making heavy use of artillery (which is also one of the main reasons they had taken Constantinople back in 1453):
> The Ottoman army was a more modern force built around artillery and the elite, musket-armed Janissaries. The remainder consisted of feudal Timarli cavalry and conscripted levies from Rumelia and the Balkans
If my understanding is correct, the existence of gendarme knights was deeply entwined not only with the concept of nobility in Europe, but with the economic foundations of Feudalism. The structure of which was primarily focused on a how a unit of population could field a single knight into battle. In short, a different army would require more than just additional training or logistics, but an underlying societal shift. Just as Feudalism rose because Martel recognized the effectiveness of armored cavalry, it would take the adoption of gunpowder, which specifically made armored cavalry ineffective, before there was need for another restructuring: one that led to professional armies and eventually nation states.
It would be pure hubris to believe we're done with these sorts of societal shifts. Just as nuclear weapons made large-scale warfare between nation states pointless, we may find that drones, and other weapons that allow cheap, asymmetrical force projection, may make even smaller engagements an exercise in mutually assured destruction. And that could challenge the entire nature of the American military-industrial complex and its global facsimiles.
Similarly, once can disrupt (peacefully - no deaths) civil aviation, e.g. use of drone in Heathrow airport. , 
Um, the Houthis are under a multi-year campaign of strikes by Saudi Arabia. It's an actual war. This was definitely a military strike. It also levels the playing field. If you are a "tribal" with no money, you can go against vastly wealthy countries hellbent on your destruction who are actively slaughtering your people.
It's a hell of a lot better approach than the other low cost tribal defense, which is biological weapons.
The only difference here is that the relatively much weaker combatant found a unique chokepoint in Saudi infrastructure that was easy to exploit. You couldn't, say, cut off an entire country's food supply with drones in this way. My suspicion is that it won't be too difficult for the Saudis to harden their defenses against this particular kind of attack.
Given that SPOF, one can't help but think of the IRA's threat to Margaret Thatcher :
"[...] we only have to be lucky once – you will have to be lucky always."
"The petroleum sector accounts for roughly 87% of budget revenues, 42% of GDP, and 90% of export earnings."
Anecdotally, I met far more Saudis when I lived in Seattle than I did when I lived in Houston. I wonder if that was part of the diversification effort.
It went from being an oil town to an energy town a few decades ago.
It has massive investments in the medical sector, with 60 institutions generating $25 billion annually.† That's bigger than the GDP of Iceland coming out of just one neighborhood.
NASA Mission Control is still there, and it's the headquarters of NASA's manned spaceflight programs. Though I know there was disappointment that a lot of the Mars stuff went to Alabama.
Shipping has been huge there since the early 1900's. It's the #1 port in America for foreign cargo, #2 in overall cargo, and #16 in the world.†† The Port of Houston also added a cruise ship terminal that seems busy.
I know insurance was becoming a large sector there at one time, but I haven't looked into it lately.
One thing it never really got a handle on was tourism. I think that's because it has a lot more locally-born residents than many large American cities, so it's very inward-looking. But even that is growing. The museums alone logged something like seven million visitors last year.
Overall, it seems to be doing well. To put it in perspective, New York is the only city in America with more Fortune 500 headquarters. The only thing Houston has to worry about is hurricanes.
In the context of a military conflict, which is what is going on, this was a bone fide target.
Economic strangulation is a military goal. In fact, most other military goals are merely methods of positioning better for economic strangulation, which is pretty nearly the ultimate military goal.
These kinds of targets are also really hard to defend and comparatively easy to destroy. Hell, you could probably drive around tossing copper wires over power lines and inflict gigantic economic damage that way. (You would also probably die)
What Iran is demonstrating here is that they can put the squeeze on oil supplies. The wars in the middle east are fundamentally oil centric. It's about who gets to supply oil to the world in exchange for vast amounts of dollars. The ideology gets the headlines usually but if you follow the money, you end up in Riyad, Teheran, Moscow, Washington, and Tel Aviv. Iran is making a very basic point here: we can shut down your oil any time we want.
It's a clever move since it puts everybody on the spot economically. In related news, Trump is planning to meet Rouhani. I'm guessing they have a lot to discuss.
Now that the sanctions are in place that former arrangement no longer keeps the peace. Iran wants in on the action and if they can't have it, they'll go after the Saudi's. They've been putting their ability to do so on display with not so subtle actions.
The US has two options here: 1) go to war with Iran. 2) find a way through diplomatic channels to make this go away. It looks like Bolton (aka. option #1) is out and Rouhani is meeting with Trump to discuss option #2.
And there is simple rationale to it. The power of people in power lays in hands of other powerful people serving them. And as a rule, the powerful people don't obey to ones they see as weak.
And this is more apparent in the regime states than anywhere else, when generals/ministers/big shot advisers and fixers risk far more than just their political entitlement if their patron is about to loose it out.
Instead, they jump right to Mike Pompeo (on Twitter, no less) denouncing Iran and concluding that there's "no evidence" the Houthis are responsible.... ridiculous.
I won't hold my breath though. I know that America is in the grips of war profiteers who will stop at nothing to get yet another heinous, evil, illegal war started for their profits.
Eventually cheap drones, anonymous assassination markets, etc. will make commercial flying a thing of the past.
Written summary of podcast - https://podcastnotes.org/2019/03/20/after-on-naval-01/
No amount of jamming helps you here, this is radio control off, GPS off, entirely visual "guided missile" approach.
And this approach scales, with 20 drones, 2 drones assigned to each engine, you can engage 5 taking off planes in a row off a busy airport. And you can pick the direction which will make the planes crash in the nearby city.
With a "hire people to do stuff for bitcoin" project (there are several) you can prepare this in a bunch of countries (you just tell them you need some drones setup for an aerial shooting/light show or something).
The future is scary.
where this works really, really well is with boats. Iran did this with 15m RHIBs.
I work on these problems directly. Its scarey but mostly because we're not thinking about it, not because it's something we can't prevent. Don't get me started on all the truly horrifying things commercial drones are capable of even worse than airline terror.
Yes we should find ways to defend against new kinds of attacks on common infrastructure that causes asymmetric levels of worry, but so recognize humanity has always had the potential to do damage.
In other words, the real life will be as scary as the internet.
I agree with you that this is a high touch attack, a kind of "drone 9/11", versus other low hanging fruits like dropping drones on peoples head.
Let alone it must hit the inside of the engine to do more than become a scratch on the paint.
Still, takeoff and landing maybe ... But still this kind of visual detection, tracking, and maneuvering is harder than you think.
That or may be people can try diplomacy for once.
Exactly as Neal Stephenson predicted in Diamond Age.
Modern turbofan engines are designed to contain a total blade failure. I'm not aware that they're designed to mitigate a charge detonated within compressor or turbine stages.
The term for that is maser. That term came before laser which was derived from it.
And now we have come the full circle and are calling masers microwave lasers instead of lasers ”maser but for visible light”
And now we all have pocket sized supercomputers...
I think, if we can ensure that the panopticon is self-reflexive, we may force ourselves into a kind of Golden Age (or Gilded Cage depending on one's attitude, eh?)
Mrs. Grundy as omniscient tyrant.
From memory, here's what happened in Yemen:
1. The Arab revolt of 2011 led to the fall of the long time dictator, Saleh.
2. In 2012, a conference in Ryad, organized by the powerful neighbor Saudi Arabia, appointed a new president Hadi. He was supposed to rule 1 year, until a democratic vote elects a new president.
3. In 2015, a large part of the population was fed up with the lack of change, especially with Hadi extending its reign. The Houthis, a religious minority from the North of Yemen, overtook the capital. Hadi resigned.
4. Six month later, Hadi went to Saudi Arabia. He claimed he was still president. SA and United Emirates invaded Yemen. Supporters of Saleh joined with Houthis against the invading troops and Hadi's supporters.
5. Yemen has fallen into occupation and civil war. People suffer from hunger and lack of medicine. Saudi bombings destroyed hospitals, factories, historic sites… According to the Guardian, at least 40% of Saudi bombings had purely civilians targets. Houthis have requested help from Iran, so the war is regional.
The notion of terrorists as uneducated goat farmers is more a manifestation of western biases than it is an accurate representation of the truth.
I think the American public/media likes to paint everyone from the non-West as extremely backwards, when in reality I feel like everywhere in the non-West has "West"-like pockets of extreme affluence and then just huge amounts of inequality and rural poverty.
Its just the same 4,000 year old story of nomads wandering the middle east wishing they had a nation, “as it was foretold”.
Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the world and presumably their engineering capital is presumably not huge. The Houthis are backed by Iran. Iran (which has far more engineering capital and was accidentally gifted a US military drone several years ago) has military drones.
It sounds far more plausible to me that Iranian support is how the Houthis obtained these drones.
Star Wars makes a good fictional counterpoint as well.
The required range is vastly smaller than 1000km.
The Houthis capabilities for anything short of deploying regular military forces is essentially ide identical to Iran’s since they.are actively supported by Iran including deployment of the Iranian Republican Guard to aid, train, advise, and support them.
Saying the Houthis are too poor for this kind of drone attack is like saying the Mujahideen in Afghanistan were too poor to have had shoulder-launched SAMs.
Also, arguing whether it was the Houthis or Iran based on capabilities that Iran could have easily supplied to the Houthis is kind of silly given the nature of the conflict.
Now guess how hard it must be for the Houthis. Either Iran did it directly or had so much involvement it's practically the same.
For a 1000km range, sure, maybe they didn't do it themselves, but nothing stopping them from just ordering slightly larger off-the-shelf drones from China. But lots of small drones is cheap and easy, and harder to stop.
Source: I work in the commercial drone industry.
Edit: here's an off-the-shelf drone with 1000km range, costs $4.5k: https://www.muginuav.com/product/mugin-4450mm-uav-ht-tail-pl...
The Houthi models are jet powered, cruise at 450mph, and can fly for 2 hrs on 500 lbs of jet fuel, which requires a 10 cubic foot volume fuel tank. The interior of the fuselage has around 70 cubic feet of capacity, which is more than enough for the fuel (even enough for a 900 mile each way round trip if desired), the controls, and the payload. They have a solid fuel rocket booster on the back as they are sled launched. Once up to flight speed the jet takes over and the rocket element drops off. They are really cool drones and within the scope of what the serious amateur community in the US and elsewhere is experimenting with. Some guys even are building their own jet engines from scratch.
The guidance systems are a done deal. Can DIY or can buy off the shelf. My kids build drones and program the guidance systems on them themselves (one started at age 8). It's fun and there's even online classes telling you everything you need to know. Ours currently use inertial guidance and GPS and have no problem getting somewhere with great accuracy. We've also got a celestial navigation system under development which works even when there is no GPS.
Houthis mentioned they have local assist at the end of the flight which makes sense to deal with GPS jamming. The region they hit contains significant Shia populations who hate Saudi Arabia and have even revolted against the Kingdom in the past. Once you're at the last mile if for any reason there's a question about the target, local observers can and do provide guidance assist.
People saying Houthis are too dumb or primitive to make drones are warmongering anti-Iranians, IMHO. Houthis have systematically and incrementally been developing this technology for years now to defend their homeland and have shown off their drones. There's no question the Houthi drones have the capabilities we are seeing.
I am not "war-mongering" - the only warmongers here are the people who blow up stuff.
Also if the drones were launched from Yemen then they've probably flown ≥700km, so I'd be surprised if they're commercial octocopters.
The "mercenaries" claim is wrong (at least in Yemen) though.
"Iran has supplied drone technology to the Houthis fighting the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, a panel of experts reported in January 2018 to the United Nations Security Council.
United Nations investigators say the Houthis have since obtained a more advanced drone than those cited in that report, with a range of 930 miles, The Associated Press reported."
So it's not clear if the source of the recent, more advanced drones is the same as the previous ones that the UNSC reported.
Or am I missing something else from the article?
The Saudis are blockading Yemen, a nation that needs to import most of its food to survive. They are directly and intentionally causing a humanitarian catastrophe there. There is not need to blame Iran for this.
The Yemeni rebels are cornered and as any cornered people they will take any help they can, including Iran. But this is not the cause of this. The cause is the Saudi led war and blockade.
And what kick started the war in Yemen? That would be a daddy's boy prince wanting to prove he could win his own war without daddy's help (that went well).
None of which would happen if we didn't really enjoy selling guns to the Saudis, on account of all the money they've taken from us when they sold us oil.
And we'd still be happily selling arms to the Iranian King we installed if they hadn't got sick of it and thrown us out.
So this is on us. All of it.
>The attacks come as Saudi Arabia, the world's leading crude exporter, steps up preparations for a much-anticipated initial public offering of Aramco.
I wonder if this was timed by the rebels, or if there were outside influencers who had a vested interest in this.
There's numbers.. Systems using missiles can be zerged with disposable decoy drones until they have no ammo or tricked if using thermal tracking. Gun based ones can have a hard time tracking/predicting if the drones randomize movement around their attack vector and/or randomize speed.
The environment and the approach will matter as well. They come in low, tracing the terrain or snaking through it, will make keeping lock hard. What if it's rush hours and they come in just above car height along a crowded street.
Then, of course, you can just have them semi-adapt. If they see a bunch of explosions in the air around them maybe switch to pre-programmed mission #2?
Defending against drone swarms is going to be tricky. Here they only had a few low tech ones and had a significant impact. I wonder how one would go about designing a system that should go for a target but be in no rush to get there though..
Authorities warn of severe prison sentences if they catch some doing this.
"U.N. investigators said the Houthis' new UAV-X drone, found in recent months during the Saudi-led coalition's war in Yemen, likely has a range of up to 1,500 kilometers (930 miles). That puts the far reaches of both Saudi Arabia and the UAE in range."
If you apply a more realistic standard (no actual evidence including footage, no way to guide it, no facilities in Yemen to even test it), it's obvious this is an operation by a state, and only Iran can fit the bill.
Note that it isn't even clear Iran has this range, the foiled attack on Israel suggested they don't, otherwise they'd have launched from further away.
The Houthi claim is that it was done with assistance from sympathizers in Saudi Arabia. That vastly reduces the required range, no matter whether it was the Houthis, Iran, or the Easter Bunny directing the attack.
* (A) believes the Houthi claims.
* Ergo argues they have drone X.
* People repeat they have drone X based on (A), despite the only actual source being the Houthis themselves.
They are in power merely 4 years, no evidence of any tests in Yemen (so they developed this without testing at all?), all this time being involved in a war, barely any imports etc.
Sorry, but arguing they have these capabilities requires just a bit more proof.
> He said Saturday's attack was one of the biggest operations the Houthi forces had undertaken inside Saudi Arabia and was carried out in "co-operation with the honourable people inside the kingdom".
Once we understand better what happened, we'll know if and how to act in response.
Not really; everyone who is paying any attention know that the civil war in Yemen is an Iran vs SA proxy war, and that the Houthi claim of responsibility is equivalent to notice of escalation of that war (with the implication that SA deescalating in Yemen is key to undoing the escalation.)
Whether the Houthis are actually operationally involved in the attack is immaterial to its significance.
I've been surprised for years that infrastructure wasn't more effectively attacked. It seems to me that a ton of mayhem could erupt just from a guy with a Barrett 50 cal.
I'd much rather try to design an anti-carrier missile than design a carrier that was missile proof.
If you're into that sort of thing, you should go check them out as they're hiring a lot of folks
feels wrong to say middle east... arab world... don't want to box them in by religion either.
The Middle East is no more warlike than the west. Remember is only been a couple generations since World War 2, and sectarian violence has been around within the last two decades in the west.
We can find non-racist explanations for the violence disparity without forsaking reason.