Drone Warfare- Before Predator

Old folks, people my age, remember just how bizarre it was that Predator drones in Afghanistan and Iraq began carrying and using Hellfire missiles to target high ranking terrorists. It seems pretty revolutionary to conduct remote control warfare.

But it isn’t as though the idea had never occurred to anyone before.

During the Vietnam War, one of the most challenging, dangerous missions was that of the Wild Weasels. Tasked with suppressing the radars and missile launchers of SA-2 Guideline SAM batteries, modified F-105F and F-105G fighter bombers played a deadly game of cat and mouse with the radar operators of the People’s Army of North Vietnam.

The losses among Weasels were always high, and bright minds wanted to find a way to reduce the risk to aircrews. Someone in the Air Force noticed that Ryan Firebee drones routinely had to be augmented with radar reflectors and thermal flares to accurately portray fighter sized aircraft, in terms of radar returns. It made sense then, that if these features were removed, it would be somewhat difficult to actually track the Firebee drones, say, by the Vietnamese. Firebee drones had routinely been used as reconnaissance assets over North Vietnam. The next logical step was to arm them to attack SAM batteries, thus keeping Weasel crews out of the worst of the danger, while still suppressing the SAMs enough to allow the main strike packages to reach their targets.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L9JIZa_meVU]

There’s a couple of nice splodeys in there.

To the best of my knowledge, this capability was never used operationally. But ever since Vietnam, there has been intense interest in less conventional methods of suppressing enemy air defenses. One wonders what secrets in the field are still to be revealed.

3 thoughts on “Drone Warfare- Before Predator”

    1. The real change the Predator brought was the satellite control. That meant that operations could be conducted by a small launch/recovery team, but the on station time was controlled by a team located anywhere. Early drones either flew a simple autonomous pre-programed flight path, or had to be controlled by a platform within the line of sight for radio link. Mind you, from something like a DC-130, that could still be a couple hundred miles.

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