By Richard McClure
The age of drone warfare has introduced a new and terrifying opportunity for terrorist organizations, or lone wolf operatives. The Islamic State began creating drones to provide ‘eyes in the sky’ and destructive air support bombardment. Multiple sources claim that Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro’s life was almost taken via improvised drone attack. These examples show the rise of a new dynamic in warfare, namely new tactics for insurgency. Newer and more advanced commercial drones allow insurgents to launch strikes in ways they could not before. This new age introduces new ease with which attacks can be carried out, and thus new fears about high-tech attacks.
The self-proclaimed caliphate of ISIS created a new drone wing, called the “Unmanned Aircraft of the Mujahideen.” The advent of mass drone usage has allowed terrorist organizations to experiment with new and dangerous tactics. Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda have both been discovered experimenting with drone capabilities. Furthermore, several lone wolf plots involving drone bombings have been discovered and foiled by American authorities.
FBI director Christopher Wray warned that drones could be used by terrorist organizations to strike at civilian populations. Reinforcing his claim, ISIS released propaganda picturing a drone strike on the Eiffel Tower. The Christmas drone situation at Gatwick Airport highlighted the current vulnerability to drones. Although this drone was not armed in any way, it still managed to cause widespread chaos.
Nicolas Maduro supposedly faced an assassination attempt using drones. Officials claimed drones armed with explosives detonated near Maduro while he was giving a speech. People within the country have questioned the government’s story. Firefighters said that a gas tank in a nearby apartment caused the explosion. Maduro blamed the Colombian and U.S. governments for sponsoring these attempts. Regardless of what actually happened, this demonstrates that drones could be used to assassinate public figures. Professor Todd Humphreys at the University of Texas at Austin said, “the technical challenge of defending a head of state in a public venue against a small drone carrying explosives is much greater than that of building one.”
Recently, however, ISIS drones seem to have become more sophisticated, with signs pointing to more fixed wing drones of unknown origins. The developments seem to have also raised morale among ISIS sympathizers beyond the obvious military danger posed by sophisticated drones. This seems to suggest that even manufacturing drones from scratch will become feasible for non-governmental entities. These drones have also been used to target American special forces, disrupting their ability to call in airstrikes.
The immediate response from the Pentagon is to send anti-drone equipment to ground forces in these combat zones. However, much of this equipment involves jamming the drone’s signal, which can then disrupt communication between friendly forces. The most promising defense appears to be an American initiative called the Lethal Miniature Aerial Missile Systems (LMAMS). The most promising defense appears to be an American initiative called the Lethal Miniature Aerial Missile Systems (LMAMS). The weapons system seems to essentially place kamikaze drones, designed to hover above a battlefield until needed. These drones will then ram into an enemy drone once needed. The U.S. Army began experimenting with this in 2012, but the system has new relevance given the ISIS’s new drones. The U.S. military credits the newfound interest and innovations in this technology to ISIS, and their UAVs. At the same time, the U.S. Navy is researching swarm drones. These have taken on the form of small unused boats that the U.S. Navy reconfigured for remote operation.
The coalition against ISIS seems to have been largely successful in destroying ISIS drones and production facilities. Coalition airstrikes killed several ISIS drone specialists, hopefully crippling ISIS’s drone capabilities.15 American drones have been deployed to Libya, hunting remaining ISIS cells. ISIS forces have split across the region, where coalition forces are attempting to pursue and eliminate them.
For more mundane threats like the drone at Gatwick, signal disruption technologies have been deployed. Governments around the world began purchasing more anti-drone measures that stopped short of outright destruction. Beyond that, legal authorities around the world have been trying to intercept drone supplies sent to the Middle East. Danish police arrested two individuals for attempting to send drones to Iraq or Syria.
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2 Daniels, J. P. (2018, August 4). Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro survives apparent assassination attempt. Retrieved March 25, 2019 from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/aug/04/nicolas-maduros-speech-cut-short-while-soldiers-scatter.
3 Warrick, J. (2017, February 21). Use of weaponized drones spurs terrorism fears. Retrieved March 1, 2019 from https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/use-of-weaponized-drones-by-isis-spurs-terrorism-fears/2017/02/21/9d83d51e-f382-11e6-8d72-263470bf0401_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.241ad5ceab63.
4 Doffman, Z. (2018, December 27). Forget Gatwick, Why The Deadliest Terrorist Threat From Drones Is Not At Our Airports. Retrieved March 25, 2019 from https://www.forbes.com/sites/zakdoffman/2018/12/27/forget-gatwick-why-the-deadliest-terrorist-threat-from-drones-is-not-at-our-airports/#3c4749a05c6a.
6 Daniels, J. P. (2018, August 4). Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro survives apparent assassination attempt. Retrieved March 25, 2019 from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/aug/04/nicolas-maduros-speech-cut-short-while-soldiers-scatter.
7 Barrett, B. (2018, August 4). The Explosive-Carrying Drones in Venezuela Won’t Be The Last. Retrieved April 2, 2019 from https://www.wired.com/story/venezuela-drones-explosives-maduro-threat/.
8 Warrick, J. (2017, February 21). Use of weaponized drones spurs terrorism fears. Retrieved March 1, 2019 from https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/use-of-weaponized-drones-by-isis-spurs-terrorism-fears/2017/02/21/9d83d51e-f382-11e6-8d72-263470bf0401_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.241ad5ceab63.
9 Gibbons-Neff, T. (2017, June 14). ISIS drones are attacking U.S. troops and disrupting airstrikes in Raqqa, officials say. Retrieved March 12, 2019 from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2017/06/14/isis-drones-are-attacking-u-s-troops-and-disrupting-airstrikes-in-raqqa-officials-say/?utm_term=.a95816597f04.
11 Keller, J. (2019, February 3). The U.S. Military’s Next Wonder Weapon: Suicide Drones. Retrieved March 4, 2019 from https://nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz/us-militarys-next-wonder-weapon-suicide-drones-45372.
13 Carlson, S. (2014, October 27). Automated Swarm Boats Are Next Up In Drone Warfare. Retrieved March 12, 2019 from https://taskandpurpose.com/automated-swarm-boats-next-drone-warfare.
14 Watson, B. (2017, January 12). The Drones of ISIS. Retrieved March 1, 2019 from https://www.defenseone.com/technology/2017/01/drones-isis/134542/.
15 U.S. Department of Defense. (2017, September 29). Strikes Kill ISIS Drone Experts. Retrieved April 2, 2019 from https://dod.defense.gov/News/Article/Article/1329189/strikes-kill-isis-drone-experts/.
16 Schmitt, E. (2019, March 24). Its Territory May Be Gone, but the U.S. Fight Against ISIS Is Far From Over. Retrieved April 2, 2019 from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/24/us/politics/us-isis-fight.html.
17 Doffman, Z. (2018, December 27). Forget Gatwick, Why The Deadliest Terrorist Threat From Drones Is Not At Our Airports. Retrieved March 25, 2019 from https://www.forbes.com/sites/zakdoffman/2018/12/27/forget-gatwick-why-the-deadliest-terrorist-threat-from-drones-is-not-at-our-airports/#3c4749a05c6a.