(These scenarios are a series of narratives in which the technologies described in Swarm Troopers are seen in action, in situations drawn from recent events)
When the Ukraine turned against Russia and towards Europe in 2014, Russia annexed the Crimea, then supported the anti-government rebels fighting inside the Ukraine. It was a warning to other countries in the region of Putin’s aggressive new foreign policy.
It was no great surprise when Russia moved in to occupy an enclave in a former Soviet state a few years later, on the pretext of protecting a Russian-speaking minority population. As with the Crimea, NATO failed to take decisive action. The difference this time was that there was strong resistance from the local population, in spite of the overwhelming Russian military presence.
It looked like Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan all over again. Massed firepower faced a superior knowledge of the local terrain. As in Afghanistan, the Russians sought to neutralize the opposition with airpower. The same Mil-24 Hind gunships known to the Mujahedeen as ‘devil’s chariots’ appeared swiftly to punish any rebel forces who stayed in the open.
In Afghanistan, the US had supplied Stinger missiles to defeat the Russian helicopters. The situation was politically different here, and the guerrillas could not rely on American missiles. Instead, they made their own anti-helicopter weapon.
A few years earlier the Ukrainians had built up an unmanned air force, based on modified commercial and hobby drones, for scouting and reconnaissance. Now the same idea was taken a step further.
The Osa (Wasp) was a simple triangular drone, modified from a consumer version sold over the Internet. The main hardware change was the addition of a small but powerful explosive charge. The flight controls also had an additional mode. The sense-and-avoid app normally used to prevent collisions between drones was modified so that the Osa would seek out other aircraft and attempt to ram them.
Pilots had been warning for years about the danger of collisions with small drones; now the guerrillas would use that danger to defend themselves.
Hundreds of Osas were manufactured in garages and workshops. They cost a few hundred dollars apiece and took a few hours to make.
The first test was a complete failure. Half a dozen Osas rose up from the launch site and headed towards incoming helicopters. Their slow speed made interception difficult and they trailed after the faster vehicles. More disappointingly, when an Osa did finally hit its target, the tiny warhead proved too small to damage the Russian helicopter. The Hind gunships were heavily armoured and could shrug off anything less than cannon fire.
The guerrilla technicians were not deterred. They modified the guidance software, and a few days later the first successful action occurred when an Osa crashed into the jet intake of a Hind. The helicopter lost power and made a heavy landing in thick woodland. The crew abandoned their aircraft, which was blown up by guerrillas minutes later.
Further successes followed. Thousands of drones and components sent by international supporters were smuggled over the borders, sometimes in the parcel bays of larger drones. Designs evolved in a matter of weeks with information shared over the Internet.
The Russian helicopters shot down many Osas, but a few always got through. Radio-frequency jamming was useless because, once released, the drones guided themselves and did not rely on ground control. Protective grilles on the jet intakes had limited effectiveness. The helicopter pilots took to circling at high speed, or breaking off attacks when they saw the ominous black dots of Osas spreading out in front of them.
With the threat from the air fading fast, the guerrillas started using their Osas more aggressively. Special units were tasked with taking the drones as close as they could to Russian air bases; extended range versions could travel twenty miles or more. Air operations were virtually shut down as even a handful of Osas presented too much of a risk to fly through. Even Russian jets were forced to fly at high altitude to avoid the drones, making it hard to hit targets on the ground.
Countless thousands of Osa were lost: shot down, crashed or failed to damage their target. But those that succeeded were deadly. More and more replaced those that were lost.
Faced with rising casualties and an increasingly confident opposition, the Russians started to look at diplomatic solutions for the crisis. Arrangements were made for a face-saving peace deal, and there was an orderly withdrawal of Russian forces less than a year after the invasion.