The Dragon against the Snake: Conceptualising Drone and Motorcycle Warfare


    Falling Stars

    The skies are no longer exclusively ruled by jets and stealth. Innovations in drone and motorcycle warfare have bred a revolution in doctrine. Now, small countries that are usually militarily behind or not as technologically advanced can level the playing field in the skies.

    The most recent and surprising case of this instance occurred when Azerbaijan invaded Armenia. Azerbaijan had invested in Turkish and Israeli unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and these UAVs or “drones” in common parlance, effectively allowed Azerbaijan to inflict high casualties while keeping its low (Source). Azerbaijani drones effectively won the conflict against the Armenians. Ethiopia was also able to keep rebels from seizing Addis Abada with the help of Iranian and Turkish drones (Source).

    The Turkish Bayraktar Akıncı armed drone in 2019. (Source)

    Historical Cases

    Resonating with the Spanish Civil War’s cases of blitzkrieg tactics taught by the Germans and the equipment they provided, this conflict provides a look at how future wars may look. The great powers before World War II saw the SCW as a testing bed for new doctrines and equipment.

    Germany’s infamous Kradschützen Truppen motorcycle units served as a lynchpin of World War II movies post-war. An anonymous Allied trooper said this in a 1941 Motorcyclist issue on the effectiveness of motorcycle warfare.

    “The power of the motorcycle troops is due to the fact that they, to the highest degree, fulfill the fundamental requirements of the combat unit. In the first place they have speedy mobility and freedom of action and secondly they have terrific fire-power. The rider carries besides his pistol a complement of grenades, an automatic rifle and a submachine gun. If he has a companion in a side-car the armament is more than doubled.”

    Modern Cases

    The same could be said for Azerbaijan and Armenia, as larger regional powers gave the Azerbaijanis technology, but they were not able to produce it domestically.

    Drone warfare is clearly here to stay. However, it is no longer just the indiscriminate strikes from UAVs. Remember “Swarms” from Call of Duty: Black Ops 2? They are real and they are already here. Iran has released the drone system “Shahed-136” which is can be mounted on a pick-up truck and launch multiple drones that can drop ordinance or commit suicide strikes onto forces. The photos below show the Shahed system as well as the damage it wreaks. The importance of these drones is mainly their cost-effectiveness as well as their small size, making them effective in urban areas.

    Suicide drones present a threat to literally every target one can think of. Infantry, vehicles, aircraft, communications equipment, etc. It presents a unique challenge to infantry units since these drones can be launched quickly and move fast once in the air.

    Scythian Horse Archers

    The question that remains is how to combat these types of drones and the new forms of drone warfare. In terms of their mobility and speed, it needs to be matched. Luckily the answer may already be in use by insurgents and recon forces already: motorcycle units!

    Drone Warfare
    JNIM insurgents on their motorcycles during a press release. (Source

    Modern units have already adopted motorcycles as a vital part of their doctrine already, particularly in the Sahel. Malian SOF units use motorcycle warfare, as well as their JNIM-(Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin) insurgent counterparts (pictured above) effectively. Their speed and manoeuvrability are unparalleled in dense and rocky terrain. Their speed also allows them to disperse and hide from enemy aircraft quickly.

    Modern unconventional motorcycle troops, like Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM), who launch large scale hit and run attacks on villages and their enemies have mastered the mechanised art of warfare. Thereby, quickly overwhelming and outrunning enemy forces in the blink of an eye. Ground reconnaissance capabilities are heightened, and in daring situations, motorcycles can be used to mount large weapons as a firing position.

    Drone Warfare
    What appears to be a Chinese W85 HMG mounted to a motorcycle in a firing position against a wall in Syria. (Source)

    Recent developments in technology have led to motorcycles possibly being used in the recent war in Ukraine. The commander of the Georgian Legion, fighting on the side of Ukraine, told outlets that they are seeking electric motorcycles. (Source) The Eleek Atom electric motorcycle has reportedly been manufactured for Ukrainian troops already, as well as Delfast electric bikes. (Source & Source) The reasoning for this is to be able to move quickly and quiet, aided by an electric motor that is nearly silent. This presents a new arm of stealth and small motorised operations being used in tandem, and gives purpose to electric vehicles on the battlefield.

    Ukrainian SOF troops on a Delfast electric motorcycle and NLAW anti-tank guided missile system. (Source)

    The Unstoppable Force and the Immovable Object

    This new trend in steppe-style fighting has shown that it can be effective against drones for the aforementioned reasons. France has used drones against JNIM and other motorcycle-based insurgent groups for years and it has offered no concrete resolution of the hostility or shown any sign of diminishing motorcycle units’ effectiveness.

    Drone warfare, the black sheep of modern warfighting, has made immense headway in conflict alteration. Motorcycles, like Scythian horse archers, are great for quick, cost-effective, and hit and run style attacks and insurgencies. For the time being, using the Sahel as an example, they can “outwit” drones and their operators.

    Future of the Battlefield

    Warfare has obviously evolved from horses and bows, but not fully evolved away from physical battlefields. However, history has shown that conventional war is usually won through speed and fast manoeuvring. This is alluding to not only the individual soldier, but the command and support structure of the force.

    Both of these forces, drones and motorcycles, rely on speed and adaptability. When poised against a ground force with equal speed, anti-air support, (mounted HMGs) and increased manoeuvrability, drones may have trouble adequately dealing with motorcycle-based forces.

    Motorcyclists can hide in forests, cramped city blocks, or ride along a cliff face to avoid detection, and do so with speed. These factors will most likely see armies and insurgencies possibly adopt a more rapid motorcycle warfare doctrine to outmanoeuvre the growing army of autonomous drones.

    Wes Martin
    Wes Martin
    Wesley is an alumni of The Fund for American Studies and Ronald Reagan Institute in Washington, DC. He is currently in his senior year of his undergraduate degree at Southern New Hampshire University studying Law & Politics.

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