Suicide drones: Regime’s weapon to change military equation in Idlib

A Ukrainian soldier launches an "FPV" drone armed with munitions (Militarnyi)

A Ukrainian soldier launches an "FPV" drone armed with munitions (Militarnyi)


Enab Baladi – Hassan Ibrahim

Locally-made suicide drones have entered the front lines in northwest Syria, becoming a heavily used weapon by the Syrian regime forces and their allies since the beginning of 2024. This new approach poses a threat to people’s lives, destroying their means and ways of subsistence.

The Syria Civil Defence teams documented 13 attacks by armed suicide drones by the regime forces, Russia, and Iranian militias on areas in northwest Syria, since the beginning of this year until the 22nd of February.

This new weapon has been introduced at the contact lines, which have not calmed down despite the “de-escalation” agreements, leading to questions about the reasons for the recent resort to drones carrying explosive munitions and their importance in targeting Idlib areas and their impact in changing the balance of the battle.

A tactical weapon, Regime boasts about it

Out of the 13 attacks documented by the Syria Civil Defence rescue agency, the northern Syrian areas were subjected to six suicide drone attacks in a single day, and their teams responded to the attacks targeting civilian environments, all of which resulted in the injury of seven civilians, including two children.

The six attacks were concentrated around al-Ghab area in the northern countryside of Hama, while the Syria Civil Defence warned of a serious threat faced by civilians with the use of suicide drones, a tactic that threatens the lives of innocent citizens and destroys their means of survival and livelihood due to the systematic nature of the attacks.

“Observatory 80” (Abu Amin), which specializes in monitoring military movements in the area, told Enab Baladi that the suicide drones are “FPV drones,” locally manufactured under Russian-Iranian supervision, and used by the Syrian regime forces.

He added that the Republican Guard, the 25th Division (special tasks locally known as Tiger Forces), and the Fifth Corps are the ones using these UAVs, noting that the regime forces have started using suicide drones as an almost daily tactical weapon, after previously using them sparingly.

“Abu Amin” explained that the control range of the drone reaches from 3 to 3.5 kilometers, at an altitude of 30 to 35 meters, carrying locally-made munition and explosives, targeting bunkers, cars, motorcycles, and any moving equipment or a fixed target within this range near the contact lines.

Al-Watan newspaper, which is close to the Syrian regime, said that the suicide drones have become a new qualitative weapon in the hands of the Syrian army, enabling it to kill those it describes as “terrorists” in the “de-escalation” zone in Idlib and the adjacent areas, hindering their movements and disabling their supply routes, creating a new equation that has confused the “terrorists and their operators,” as it described.

On February 14, the newspaper reported that most of Idlib’s areas are now covered by the suicide drones of the Syrian army, and social media pages and figures interested in military news circulate video recordings celebrating the regime forces’ possession of suicide (FPV) drones, with a promise to target more goals.

What is “FPV”?

“FPV” drones are named so because they are controlled through the “first-person view” function. This is a real-time video transmission function from the camera mounted on the front of the drone. The operator controls the drone with a remote control device and can see the surrounding area of the aircraft in real time with the help of special glasses, as if he were sitting in the aircraft itself, similar to a pilot, according to the Ukrainian “Militarnyi” site for covering combat and military industries news.

“FPV” is not military equipment and is used in civilian life for entertainment such as sports racing, for example. It can carry loads, but at the same time, it does not have an autopilot and flies without a Global Positioning System (GPS).

“FPV” drones display exceptional maneuverability and the ability to change direction quickly, which requires the operator to have strong skills and training levels as he has to manually control all flight operations.

The characteristics of the drone depend on the specific (advanced) model, and it has the ability to reach speeds of more than 100 kilometers per hour or more, can carry different types and weights of munitions, and fly into trenches and windows of buildings. It is also capable of falling into holes and doors of enemy equipment, and such aircraft allows the striking of enemy targets at distances up to ten kilometers and perhaps more.

The use of “FPV” drones in the war between Ukrainian and Russian forces has radically changed the pattern of modern warfare, as the successful use of one or more of these aircraft can destroy equipment worth millions of dollars.

The advantages of “FPV” drones include their price and high precision, as the value of the best models reaches 1000 US dollars, and they can carry an explosive charge, and if successful, they can hit and even destroy an enemy armored fighting vehicle or tank worth several million dollars, according to the military site “Militarnyi.”

A Ukrainian soldier carrying an "FPV" drone armed with munitions (Territorial Defense Brigade)

A Ukrainian soldier carrying an “FPV” drone armed with munitions (Territorial Defense Brigade)

Directed by the IRGC and Hezbollah

On December 16, 2023, the Syrian regime forces began training a group of their elements on the use of drones in a closed military course lasting 65 days, according to what the Political Keys news platform reported quoting “special sources” it did not name.

The course was organized inside the “Mechanization” school in the city of Taldou in the northern countryside of Homs, which has been used by the Syrian regime forces as a military barrack for many years, and included about 100 elements with significant loyalty to the Syrian regime and Iran. The aim of the course was to train specifically in controlling drones, studying their programs, and how to develop and maintain them, in addition to education on radar devices that track drones remotely.

The elements are trained theoretically and practically on disassembling drone systems and working on them inside the school, and then they are moved to the desert of Palmyra in the eastern countryside of Homs for practical training on launching drones and controlling them.

The training comes under the direct supervision of military experts from the Lebanese Hezbollah and officers from the Air Intelligence Directorate and the Military Security Branch affiliated with the Syrian regime, as well as the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). It is directed by Hezbollah leaders “Hajj Abu Sadiq” and “Kamal Abu Haydar” and three other leaders, according to the platform.

The platform mentioned that four officers from the regime forces are involved in the training to protect the area and secure the necessary supplies for training, including the head of the Air Intelligence Directorate in Homs, Brigadier Shafiq Sarem, and the head of the Military Security Branch in Taldou, Major Qusai al-Hassan.

The elements are trained during the course on “Ababil-3” type drones, which are capable of carrying guided bombs, and their program carries a high precision encryption system, and “Qasef-1” type drones. Both types are attack drones developed at multiple stages by experts from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps inside Iran.

A Ukrainian soldier carrying an "FPV" drone armed with munitions (Heroes Ukraine)

A Ukrainian soldier carrying an “FPV” drone armed with munitions (Heroes Ukraine)

Iran flaunts its power

Former Colonel Mustafa Bakour, a pilot in the regime forces, told Enab Baladi that Iran is trying to send a message to the world that it is using high-precision weapons. Therefore, it resorted to suicide drones as a precision weapon, despite the fact that the victims of these attacks were innocent civilians.

Bakour mentioned that Iran wants to test this weapon on Syrian land, noting that these types of drones have proven their effectiveness in Ukraine in terms of targeting accuracy and economizing ammunition. He also warned of a significant negative impact with an increase in civilian casualties, as the military personnel are usually fortified, if the scope of their use expands on the Syrian scene.

Iran’s use of drones in Syria is not new and dates back to 2012. However, its efforts have focused more on securing the material and human infrastructure for this weapon. Until 2022, it relied heavily on Russia to provide air cover for its militias. After the war in Ukraine began, this reliance decreased, and Iran turned more to drones as Russia reduced its military effort in Syria, according to a report prepared by the Jusoor for Studies Center.

According to the center, Iran wants to remind Turkey of its ability to create a new field reality that can undermine the fragile stability that the region has witnessed for almost three years, in addition to pressuring Turkey due to its continuous refusal to withdraw its forces from Syria, which Iran proposed in September 2023, then the Syrian regime renewed the demand during trilateral and quadrilateral meetings sponsored by Moscow.

Ultimately, by intensifying the use of drones in Syria, Iran aims to demonstrate power and threaten to destabilize the northwest and east of the country, and influence the fate of Turkish and American forces there, according to the center’s report.

Syria “a laboratory for drones”

Throughout the years of conflict, Syria has become a “laboratory for drones” for various countries and armed groups, according to a report by the Dutch peace-building organization ‘PAX’.

The report, issued in November 2022, stated that the United States, Russia, Iran, Israel, Turkey, and the Syrian regime forces used 39 different types of drones during the ongoing conflict since 2011.

The organization noted that Syria has formed a laboratory that allowed states and armed groups to test new types of drones and studied how their use could improve military tactics and strategies.

Over the past decade, drones developed in the Syrian airspace have demonstrated how multiple military parties began a learning phase and how they enhanced their knowledge in terms of design and production.

Enab Baladi’s correspondent in Idlib, Iyad Abdul Jawad, contributed to this report.


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