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The Forward Observer Has Been Replaced by Commercial Drones

Published March 31, 2022

The future of warfare started when the first commercial drone took flight to spot mortar rounds in Syria and Iraq. Now, that SOP is being used by the Ukrainians to hammer Russian forces.


Forward Observation operations used to look like reconnaissance platoons, FIST groups, and Scout Snipers heading out ahead of friendly forces to get into high-up locations and hide sites to spot for mortar rounds. Their job was to visibly see the target and the impacts, then relay the adjustments back to the mortar or artillery teams so they could adjust their fires accordingly to get effective rounds down range. The problem with this line of work is that it was inherently dangerous and put the highly trained forward observers ahead of friendly lines to make the calls needed to get rounds on target.


Today, drones are fulfilling the role more effectively than any Forward Observer could ever hope to, and they're doing it at minimal risk to the observers who are able to sit back in relative safety near the gun-line. We first saw this technique utilized in Syria by the Islamic State and Free Syrian Army around 2014. Later they would further adapt these drones to not only carry out direct-strikes themselves, but also as a tool for commanders to direct their troops on the battlefield to counter every maneuver their enemy attempted. The Ukrainians are mimicking this SOP perfectly, and as a result the Russians are at a complete loss for what they should do to counter these tactics.


War colleges around the world will be studying this conflict for the foreseeable future. I expect we'll finally see meaningful technology developed and built to counter commercial drones on the battlefield, as opposed to the minimal effort we've seen put into this space in the past half-decade.


josh brooks

Published March 31, 2022

The future of warfare started when the first commercial drone took flight to spot mortar rounds in Syria and Iraq. Now, that SOP is being used by the Ukrainians to hammer Russian forces.


Forward Observation operations used to look like reconnaissance platoons, FIST groups, and Scout Snipers heading out ahead of friendly forces to get into high-up locations and hide sites to spot for mortar rounds. Their job was to visibly see the target and the impacts, then relay the adjustments back to the mortar or artillery teams so they could adjust their fires accordingly to get effective rounds down range. The problem with this line of work is that it was inherently dangerous and put the highly trained forward observers ahead of friendly lines to make the calls needed to get rounds on target.


Today, drones are fulfilling the role more effectively than any Forward Observer could ever hope to, and they're doing it at minimal risk to the observers who are able to sit back in relative safety near the gun-line. We first saw this technique utilized in Syria by the Islamic State and Free Syrian Army around 2014. Later they would further adapt these drones to not only carry out direct-strikes themselves, but also as a tool for commanders to direct their troops on the battlefield to counter every maneuver their enemy attempted. The Ukrainians are mimicking this SOP perfectly, and as a result the Russians are at a complete loss for what they should do to counter these tactics.


War colleges around the world will be studying this conflict for the foreseeable future. I expect we'll finally see meaningful technology developed and built to counter commercial drones on the battlefield, as opposed to the minimal effort we've seen put into this space in the past half-decade.


josh brooks

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