Will small drones and “loitering munitions” mean the end of safety for American military forces on base? With inexpensive sensors and drone technology falling into the hands of adversaries, American forces must prepare for new threats to their protected zones. J. Noel Williams explains the rise of “lethal miniature aerial munitions” (LMAMs) at War on the Rocks.
Loitering munitions, also known as lethal miniature aerial munitions (LMAMs), are a form of unmanned aircraft system that incorporate a warhead and can be thought of functionally as an unmanned kamikaze plane. Given their plane-like attributes, LMAMs are able to stay aloft for extended periods – thus “loitering” over a target area. They are designed principally to deliver a kinetic, or explosive, effect.
The impact of loitering munitions will be revolutionary because they can attack pervasively throughout the breadth and depth of the battlefield. Many of the United States’ forward operating bases in use during the past two decades have been sanctuaries, safe from substantial attacks by adversaries. However, U.S. forces deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq are recognizing that they are losing sanctuary to armed quadcopters and other unmanned aerial vehicles. The United States is scrambling to develop defenses against these nascent loitering munitions that are difficult to detect and target. The coming ubiquity of sensors and smart weapons, especially loitering smart munitions, means combatants and non-combatants alike will have no sanctuary immune from detection or attack.
The low cost and availability of LMAMs means we should expect them from any future adversary and not just from peer competitors like Russia and China. Israel has been a leading innovator of LMAMs and countries as diverse as China, Turkey, Poland, and South Korea, see the potential and are developing their own versions….
It is remarkable that Israel leads the United States in LMAM innovation. U.S. military leaders, lawmakers and industry have been slow to recognize the potential of LMAMs, and Department of Defense investments are not what one might expect for such a promising capability.
LMAMs are a revolution hiding in plain sight. Perhaps we undervalue them because they didn’t cost billions of dollars to develop, but that must change, since we are already seeing adversaries appreciate their potential. It’s time to see the revolution and exploit it to our advantage.
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