ISIS Is Building Bombs to Arm Its Drone Air Force

WIB airWIB front February 10, 2017 0

Conflict Armament Research photo Militants produce crude but effective munitions by NICK WATERS Islamic State commands a drone air force. The militant group has deployed small,...
Conflict Armament Research photo

Militants produce crude but effective munitions


Islamic State commands a drone air force. The militant group has deployed small, remote-controlled aircraft drones armed with an assortment of munitions — often to deadly effect.

ISIS is hardly the first group to use drones as an offensive weapon. This video reportedly depicts Jund Al Aqsa using a drone to drop some kind of improvised bomb on Syrian government soldiers in September 2016.

Another video from August 2016 appears to show a Hezbollah-owned drone dropping MZD-2 sub-munitions. Hezbollah has claimed to possess this kind of capability since September 2014, and was an early adopter of suicide drones during the 2006 Lebanon War.

However, ISIS is the first to use improvised attack drones on such a large scale. And now the group appears to be modifying existing ammunition specifically for unmanned warfare.

Note — the author uses the term “quadcopter” to refer to drones with the ability to hover, regardless of how many rotors they actually have.

ISIS appears to use a variety of different drones and release-mechanisms, ranging from dual under-wing releases to simple cup holders. Basic plastic tubes have been seen underneath captured quadcopters, and appear to be roughly the right size for 40-millimeter grenades, although the exact release-mechanism isn’t immediately apparent.

Basic cup-holding mechanisms on partially disassembled drones. Mitch Utterback photos

This video reportedly depicts an Iraqi unit capturing one of these modified drones — and one of its members holding a 40-millimeter grenade that the drone was armed with.

ISIS released a propaganda video in January 2017 that showed multiple drone strikes. Notable is a flying-wing-type UAV, reported to be an 8X Skywalker drone, which appears to carry two bombs at once in an under-wing configuration.

hese appear to drop simultaneously in the video. It should be noted that the forward movement of this kind of UAV makes it a poor platform for accurately dropping munitions, and it appears that every operational strike portrayed in this video was in fact from a hovering drone of some kind.

At left and center, an 8X Skywalker drone with two bombs under its wings. At right, the same wire mechanism on a different munition. ISIS captures

This kind of wire loop seen on the bombs above is also evident on the base of some other quadcopter-borne bombs, as can be seen in this still from the same video, suggesting a similar release-mechanism.

The below examples are still images of munitions from the video. It depicts 20 drone strikes which cause multiple casualties with often surprising accuracy, dropping bombs onto tanks or even into vehicles through their top-hatches.

Even considering that many other unsuccessful strikes would not have been included in the video, this indicates that ISIS has the ability to drop a small bomb with surprising accuracy anywhere within the range of its drones.

Bomb one appears to be a 40-millimeter grenade warhead with some kind of extension and tail. On bomb two, note the two fawn-colored bands highlighted by yellow arrows. These appear to be copper driving bands. Usually each round only has a single driving band, so the existence of two — with what appears to be tape between them — potentially indicates two rounds taped together.

Bomb three appears to be a 40-millimeter warhead with a tail. Bomb four is apparently a 40-millimeter warhead — possibly High Explosive Dual Purpose — with a tail. It seems bomb five is a 40-millimeter grenade with no tail. It possibly also has two driving bands.

Bomb six appears to be a 40-millimeter warhead with a tail. Bomb seven is an unidentified munition with a streamer tail. The eighth bomb appears to be a 40-millimeter warhead with a tail. Bomb nine is an unidentified munition with a streamer tail. The low quality of the video makes identification difficult.

Bomb 10 appears to be a 40-millimeter warhead with a tail. Number 11 is an unidentified munition with a streamer tail. The image includes two different shots of the same bomb. The 12th bomb appears to be a 40-millimeter warhead with a tail. Number 13 is a 40-millimeter warhead with a streamer tail. Bombs 14 through 20 appear to be 40-millimeter warheads with tails.

40-millimeter grenades are armed — as opposed to detonated — both by the spin imparted by the barrel of the launcher and the acceleration of being launched. None of the munitions depicted in the video appear to spin, and it’s doubtful that the acceleration from being dropped would achieve the force necessary to arm such a round.

Likewise, the fins on many of the bombs are straight and wouldn’t impart spin. So how does ISIS arm its drone munitions?


Many of the 40-millimeter rounds appear to be modified in some way. The appearance of bomb number-two, with its two copper driving-bands, even suggests that two rounds may have been connected. Many have something that isn’t a tail connected to their bases. Bomb number 19 shows this mostly clearly.

Many of the bombs with tails also have this feature, only in these cases it’s located between the warhead and the tail section. This intermediate section may be a design feature to overcome the arming problem. The image above from another source clearly shows this intermediate section.


This munition is notable for several reasons. Although it superficially appears to be a 40-millimeter HEDP round, it features two copper driving bands. It also appears to be lacking any kind of tail or intermediate section.


This bomb appears to have two driving bands and no tail. There’s also a wire loop at the base.

Seth Robson photo

This photo clearly depicts a plastic round, seemingly without any kind of warhead attached to it. Considering that the skill required to accurately drop a small bomb probably requires training and practice, it seems likely this could be some kind of inert practice round.


This image, which we saw earlier, again shows a warhead attached by blue tape to some kind of intermediate section that fits into the white plastic tailfin. The wire on the base of the tail is also notable, as most other bombs don’t appear to have this feature.


This munition is unidentified and, frankly, probably unidentifiable.


Here we see what appears to be an experiment with some kind of retarding parachute attached to a 40-millimeter round. It appears to be unique.


Note the wire loop on the side rather than the rear, suggesting that this bomb may have been released in a similar manner as those seen released by the X8 Skywalker.

This image, reportedly from ISIS’s operations in Iraq’s Anbar province, depicts a munition that is much more ball-like, with either a red wire or possibly a fuse extending from the main body.


Note that the bomb appears to be a hand grenade with fins attached to the base, indicating that 40-millimeter rounds are certainly not the only munitions ISIS has modified.


This image very clearly shows the fins that we have seen connected to many of the other bombs. The seam on the stem indicated by the yellow arrows indicates that it was manufactured using injection molding, not 3D printing as some have suggested.

The warhead also offers some clues. It appears to have a spigot base that slots into the tail-fin section. The construction of the warhead is also strange. Superficially it looks like a VOG 30 fuze, but appears to be too large, possibly meaning it’s some kind of mortar fuse.

Conflict Armament Research revealed that ISIS indeed produces 46-millimeter-diameter fuses for mortars, depicted at top. Note the basic safety pin. Strangely, there doesn’t seem to be any media showing these kinds of rounds being dropped by drones.

Nevertheless, these videos and photos suggest that ISIS is running a large-scale weaponized drone program involving a wide array of munitions and modifications.

Thanks to Abraxas Spa, Veli-Pekka Kivimäki and PurpleOlive for help with analysis and sources. Originally published at Bellingcat.

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