January 27, 2017
The Islamic State released a video on 24 January that for the first time displayed the group’s use of commercial unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to carry out attacks.
The UAV segment of the video began with two militants launching a fixed-wing Skywalker X7/8 UAV carrying an improvised explosive device (IED) under each wing that were then seen being released.
The video then showed 19 attacks filmed by UAVs as they dropped IEDs on groups of Iraqi security forces and their vehicles in the streets of Mosul. The devices appeared to inflict casualties on the soldiers.
While the video implied the first attack was carried out using the Skywalker, all the IEDs were released from directly above the target by unseen hovering UAVs. Had they been dropped from a Skywalker, they would have retained some of the fixed-wing aircraft’s forward speed and approached their targets from an angle due to their curved (ballistic)
The use of a fixed-wing UAVs like the Skywalker would allow attacks to be carried out at ranges of up to 50 km when fitted with the most powerful types of transceiver on the market compared with around 5 km of a typical commercial quadcopter. However, it would be extremely difficult to achieve the level of accuracy seen in the quadcopter attacks with a fixed-wing UAV. An accurate fixed-wing attack would require the UAV’s speed, altitude, and distance from the target to be known, along with meteorological data and a munition with a stable and predictable flight path.
The US-led coalition that is supporting Iraqi forces has already outlined the threat from Islamic State UAVs and said steps have been taken to neutralise it.