Loitering Munitions

FastCompany‘s write-up of the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh (Azerbeijan-Armenia) War, which I only dimly knew was even a thing, posits that autonomous “kamikaze” drones provided Azerbeijan with a comprehensive victory of Armenia.

That sent me down a Wikipedia rabbithole, until I arrived at the concept of “loitering munitions.”

“A loitering munition (also known as a suicide drone or kamikaze drone) is a weapon system category in which the munition loiters around the target area for some time, searches for targets, and attacks once a target is located. Loitering munitions enable faster reaction times against concealed or hidden targets that emerge for short periods without placing high-value platforms close to the target area, and also allow more selective targeting as the actual attack mission can be aborted.”

Although the FastCompany article might oversell the value of these drones to the 2020 war, the concept seems pretty Terminator-esque.

The canonical loitering munition appears to be the IAI Harop and IAI Harpy drones, from Israel, although Wikipedia lists about 30 countries that have designed some version of a loitering munition.

The idea of a drone that can silently hover in the sky and attack as soon as a person steps out of a bunker is pretty scary, but I suppose it’s not radically different than missiles or bombs or attack aircraft. War is awful.

Perhaps that saving grace comes in the last half-sentence of the Wikipedia quote. The more intelligent the drones become, hopefully the less likely civilian casualties become.

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