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Eli Lake

How Iran Is Leveling the Drone Battlefield

An attack on a U.S. military outpost in Syria shows that the American advantage in unmanned weapons is receding. 

Iran now uses these more often. 

Iran now uses these more often. 

Photographer: -/AFP

For the first 15 years of the U.S. war on terror, one of America’s greatest advantages was the killer drone. With names like “predator” and “reaper,” these unmanned aerial vehicles delivered deadly strikes from the sky against suspected terrorists with no risk of a human pilot being shot down.

Things began to change during President Barack Obama’s final year in office. Houthi rebels in Yemen began using crude drones, whose parts were supplied by Iran, against Saudi Arabia. Unlike their U.S. counterparts, these low-budget drones were more akin to the Japanese kamikaze planes of World War II, crashing into their targets. In one of Iran’s most brazen attacks, these kinds of drones, combined with cruise missiles, devastated Saudi oil fields in 2019.