Including suicide types, Drones fill the skies of northern Syria

Photography drone in Ahl al-Tah displacement camp, northern Idlib - June 18, 2022 (Ahl al-Tah camp/Facebook)

Photography drone in Ahl al-Tah displacement camp, northern Idlib - June 18, 2022 (Ahl al-Tah camp/Facebook)


Enab Baladi – Hassan Ibrahim

The skies of northwest Syria are bustling with various types of military and reconnaissance drones, turning the region into a stage and racetrack for these aircraft with their diverse affiliations. They are used for reconnaissance, attack, and media filming, with many being tested on Syrian soil.

Drone laboratory

During the years of conflict, Syria has transformed into a “drone laboratory” for various countries and armed groups, according to a report by the Dutch peace-building organization “PAX.”

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

The organization mentioned that Syria became a laboratory that allowed countries and armed groups to test new types of drones, and studied how their use could improve military tactics and strategies.

Over the past decade, the developed drones in Syrian airspace have shown how various military entities began a learning phase and enhanced their knowledge in terms of design and production.

Suicide drones

Since early 2024, locally manufactured suicide drones have entered the frontlines of northwest Syria and have become a heavily used weapon by Syrian regime forces and their allies.

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

He added that these drones are used by the Republican Guard, Division 25 (a special forces unit locally known as Tiger Forces), and the Fifth Corps. He noted that regime forces have been using suicide drones almost daily as a tactical weapon, after previously using them less frequently.

Abu Amin explained that the drone control distance reaches from 3 to 3.5 kilometers, with an altitude of 30 to 35 meters, carrying locally manufactured ammunition and explosives, targeting bunkers, vehicles, motorcycles, and any moving vehicle or fixed target within this range near the frontlines.

He mentioned that the use of these drones in terms of distance was done in two phases; the first was about 3.5 kilometers, and the second, since mid-February approximately, involved suicide drones being used over a range of 10.5 kilometers.

Iran’s use of drones in Syria is not new, dating back to 2012, but its efforts were more focused on securing the physical and human infrastructure for this weapon.

Jamming techniques

Drones used for photography face challenges such as jamming and crashing.

In northern Syria, drones—whether owned by journalists or hobbyists—cannot fly freely due to the large number of military points in the area that possess jamming devices and radars. Additionally, the presence of internet towers has a lesser effect on drones.

At the beginning of April, photojournalist Aref Watad said that he found his drone after losing it due to unsafe landing caused by jamming in Idlib, a situation Watad and his fellow journalists in northern Syria are accustomed to.

Abdel Rahman Kreij, a freelance media professional and a drone technician and programmer, told Enab Baladi that there are countless types of jamming devices, but three common methods in northern Syria differ in their danger to the aircraft.

GPS jamming is the most widespread, blocking the drone’s access to its location, which causes the owner to lose track of its place, speed, or distance in the air. Retrieval depends on the person’s experience and ability to visually locate it rather than through the camera (screen and control device). Although drones have an automatic return feature, without GPS, they will not return to their correct location.

The second type is control signal jamming, which interferes with the transmission and reception of commands to and from the drone, weakening the signal and preventing the owner from sending it to distant locations.

For example, a drone with a range of five kilometers exposed to this type of jamming might only reach one to 1.5 kilometers. If it goes beyond that, the signal weakens, causing the owner to lose the drone.

Kreij noted that this control jamming doesn’t necessarily come from a jamming device, as drones can also be affected by 5G internet towers and networks, especially in urban areas.

The third type of jamming is known as “Red Zone” or prohibited area, which tricks the drone into thinking it is flying over a restricted area. Drone manufacturers equip the aircraft with an internal system that forbids flying over certain areas, including security and military zones.

This leads to the drone being deceived into believing it is flying over a restricted area, and as soon as its internal programming system detects this, the drone descends very quickly, crashes to the ground, and breaks.

Maintenance costs

The owner of a drone repair shop, who chose to remain anonymous, told Enab Baladi that jamming has several causes, the most prominent of which is the presence of military bases and security points that disrupt all frequencies and signals in the air. He mentioned that most of the damage that drones suffer when the owner loses control and they crash are confined to the arms and the camera.

The military posts vary depending on the controlling faction, whether it’s the Syrian National Army (SNA) or Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), while Turkey maintains 125 military sites in the region, including 57 in the countryside of Aleppo and 51 in the Idlib area, according to the Jusoor for Studies center.

The owner of the shop mentioned that the arms, which hold the drone and its engine, are weak points in the body, hence they break upon crashing. The camera is also very sensitive and prone to damage.

As soon as the drone is damaged by a crash, the minimum repair cost ranges from $250 to $500, varying according to the type of aircraft. He noted that the drone does not completely go out of service after a crash (not all arms break, and sometimes the camera remains undamaged).


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