The New Face of War: Devastating Drone Attacks in Ukraine Have Implications for the US Military in the Middle East

March 1, 2022

Weapon Program: 

  • Military


Andy Milburn

Author's Title: 

Non-resident Senior Fellow


Middle East Institute

Related Country: 

  • China
  • Russia
  • Ukraine
  • Yemen

In dramatic video coverage currently going viral on YouTube and TikTok, Ukrainian drones are seen to destroy a Russian convoy, with startling speed — and total impunity. The story of how destructive such drone attacks are proving to be was picked up by several U.S. papers, and brought to light the capability of the Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drone — which seems perfectly designed for modern war. Despite its emergence as an inanimate hero of the Ukraine conflict, the story of the TB2, and its employment by various actors over the last three years, brings with it a dire warning for the U.S. military.

In January of this year, Houthi rebels — backed by Iran — launched two attacks, a week apart, against the UAE, using drones and ballistic missiles. Media attention focused largely on the second attack, which targeted the U.S. base at al-Dhafra, and was — according to the headlines — foiled by Patriot missiles. This is true enough, but misses a key aspect of the story. While the second attack relied on ballistic missiles, a threat that the Patriot system is designed to counter, the attack launched a week earlier used only drones that penetrated Emirati air defenses and caused civilian casualties. This incident, the latest in a series of increasingly sophisticated drone attacks directed against the UAE and Saudi Arabia, highlights the vulnerability of U.S. forces in the region, which have no defenses against such an attack. U.S. air defense systems such as the Patriot PAC-2 are simply not designed to defeat relatively slow moving, low flying threats, such as drones or cruise missiles.


Read the full policy analysis at the Middle East Institute.