Not a Fair Fight - F15 vs Drone
Roopinder Tara posted on February 12, 2018 |
What happens when an advanced fighter plane squares off against a drone? It’s complicated.

A political drama preceded a technological outcome in the skies over Syria last summer, between Russian and American fighter planes and an Iranian drone. (pictures courtesy of Wikipedia and Pakistan Affairs Forum (center).

When one of the most formidable weapons in the air, an F-15E Strike Eagle, went up against an Iranian Shahed 129 armed drone the morning of June 8 last year over Syria, the ending was far from certain. In fact, it was a rather tense situation for 90 minutes. The reason was not technology; it was politics. 

For the United States, a nation that has held that “war is too important to be left to the generals” initially stated by French politician Georges Clemenceau, it was the carefully mandated rules of engagement that prevented the F-15 pilot from instantly dispatching the drone with an AIM-120C advanced medium air-to-air missile.

The drone was equipped with two air-to-ground targets, similar to Hellfire missiles. The F-15 pilot had to wait to see if the drone had evil intentions. An air-to-ground missile in plain sight and circling coalition forces were not enough. Only after a missile was fired would the rules of engagement let the pilot proceed to the next step.

Another consideration was a Russian aircraft. A couple of Sukhoi Su-27 Flankers had materialized, and a shot at the drone could have been misinterpreted as hostile action toward them. Tangling with Russia, a Syrian ally, was out of the question. Russia and the U.S. are in a post-Cold War, an uneasy standoff. Who needs that headache?

The fighter was running low on fuel and had to refuel. Finally it got a clear shot, and the drone was dispatched. 

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