Drone Terrorism: Only A Matter Of Time

News Image By PNW Staff May 30, 2018
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The IDF announced that an explosives-laden drone flown over the border from the Gaza Strip was discovered in Israeli territory last week.

The army said the drone camera was found in the northern Negev, "several days ago," and that it was flown over the border from Gaza with the intention to injure Israeli soldiers patrolling the area.

The army said the drone was recovered whole, and an investigation into the incident had been opened.

This incident serves as a reminder that drone terrorism is real and probably just in it's infancy as terror groups and individuals discover how lethal they can be.

The Prospect of Drone Terrorism

Imagine a situation in which a weaponized drone equipped with miniature turrets or an explosive device attacks innocent people enjoying an afternoon in a public park or sports stadium. The drone is subsequently taken down by our military forces. 

The origins of the weaponized drone are tracked to Russia, China or North Korea. The offending government either denies involvement or claims the drone malfunctioned due to mechanical failure. 

What then? This is the question on the minds of our military brass and top federal government officials. Our leaders are also tasked with the challenge of preventing such attacks in the first place with the use of counter-drone measures.

The drone is the "natural evolution of terror attacks," said Northeastern University terrorism expert Max Abrahms.

"There's a growing threat that the terrorists are going to be lethal from the sky and this is a natural evolution of where we are headed technologically in the world," Abrahms said. "I can imagine, especially in cases where we try to harden soft targets like stadiums, where people instead of going through an X-ray machine can just fly in there."

Potential Targets of Weaponized Drones

Sporting events are undoubtedly one of the top targets for a drone attack. Upwards of 100,000 people attend college football games. Open air stadiums used for football, soccer, baseball and other sports are more vulnerable than domed stadiums as the crowd, players and coaches are not protected by a shield above. 

Music concerts are another easy target for weaponized drones. Even large public parks and other spaces where the masses gather on weekends and holidays will eventually be targeted by evil-doers operating drones from hundreds, thousands or even tens of thousands of miles away. Terrorists and morally repugnant state leaders will go so far as to target passenger aircraft with this emerging technology.

At the moment, anyone can purchase a drone if he or she has enough money. Low-cost drones make the prospect of the aforementioned attacks that much more likely. A malevolent individual or state authority merely has to connect a gun or explosive to the drone, fly it to the target and unleash fire and fury on the masses below. Even a mentally ill individual with some engineering prowess can weaponize a drone and terrorize innocent individuals.

Any number of existing drones could carry enough nerve agent to cause mass casualties. It doesn't take much. In the 1995 Tokyo subway Sarin attack; 1.3 liters of Sarin was used. It killed 12 people, severely injuring 50 and causing temporary vision problems for nearly 1,000 others. 

Although this was originally planned as an aerosol attack, it wasn't possible with the tools available to the terrorists at the time. As a consequence, countless lives were saved.

Possible Counter-drone Technology

It is unreasonable to ban all drones from the sky out of a fear of a potential attack. However, it is possible to prevent the nightmarish situations described above without infringing on the rights of responsible drone owners. 

The question is whether our counter-drone technology will beat the malevolent drone operators to the punch. Technology that jams guidance signals disables drones by launching a net that hinders rotor functionality. 

This is just one example of possible counter-drone measures available at large sporting events and other places where the masses congregate. The question is how effective such measures would be when the time comes to take down a weaponized drone.

The French air force has developed quite the creative drone interception technique by training eagles to latch onto weaponized drones with their talons. Some argue this is a flawed approach as a weaponized drone could simply shoot the eagle. 

Geo-fences are also helpful for blocking radio signals to prevent drones from reaching targeted areas. Laser weapons are currently in development to shoot down weaponized drones. Some argue the best approach is to fight weaponized drones with a series of drones that drop large nets to thwart the pending attack. 

Time will tell if our counter-drone measures prove capable.

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