AT­TACK OF THE DRONES

THE UNCHECKED PRO­LIF­ER­A­TION OF UN­MANNED AERIAL VE­HI­CLES (UAVS) AND THEIR USE BY STATE AND NON­STATE ARMED GROUPS (NSAG) ALIKE OPENS AN EN­TIRE NEW SE­CU­RITY PAR­A­DIGM.

Qatar Today - - INSIDE THIS ISSUE - BY STASA SALACANIN

The unchecked pro­lif­er­a­tion of un­manned aerial ve­hi­cles and their use by state and Non-State Armed Groups (NSAG) alike opens an en­tire new se­cu­rity par­a­digm.

Nu­mer­ous re­ports indicate that ter­ror­ists and armed mili­tia groups are al­ready ex­per­i­ment­ing and weaponiz­ing con­sumer drones and it is only a mat­ter of time be­fore they use them to carry out at­tacks in Europe.

In fact, Europe has al­ready seen an episode where a drone has been used for po­lit­i­cal pro­pa­ganda, caus­ing a ma­jor dis­tur­bance of pub­lic peace and or­der. In Oc­to­ber 2014, the UEFA Euro qual­i­fy­ing match be­tween Ser­bia and Al­ba­nia was aban­doned af­ter 41 min­utes as a drone flew over the pitch car­ry­ing a ban­ner with the im­age of Greater Al­ba­nia, re­sult­ing in chaos on the pitch and in the stands. Although this was not a ter­ror­ist at­tack and there were no hu­man ca­su­al­ties, many have come to the con­clu­sion that this oc­cur­rence could be a game changer. If a ban­ner can be car­ried, there's no rea­son why a bomb can't be if the de­vice is put in the wrong hands. Var­i­ous NSAG groups are al­ready ex­per­i­ment­ing with the po­ten­tial use of drones. Ac­cord­ing to a re­port in 2016 ti­tled “Hos­tile drones: Sup­ple­men­tary risk as­sess­ment” con­ducted by Open Brief­ing, the world's first civil so­ci­ety in­tel­li­gence agency, the over­all risk from the hos­tile use of drones by non-state ac­tors against Bri­tish tar­gets is as­sessed to be medium, though the threat from ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tions and in­sur­gent groups is as­sessed as high.

Hobby shop bombers

Daesh has al­ready used com­mer­cial off-theshelf drones equipped with 40 mm grenades in their at­tacks, killing and wound­ing Iraqi and Kur­dish troops, ex­plains Wim Zwi­j­nen­burg, a Hu­man­i­tar­ian Dis­ar­ma­ment Project Leader for the Dutch peace or­gan­i­sa­tion PAX and an expert in emerg­ing mil­i­tary tech­nolo­gies. He told us that since its rise in 2014, Daesh has used com­mer­cial drones for pro­pa­ganda videos in its first video from Fal­lu­jah. This fit­ted in with a wider trend of non-state armed groups ex­per­i­ment­ing with com­mer­cial and/or mil­i­tary drones. Hezbol­lah made var­i­ous at­tempts to equip drones with ex­plo­sives and at­tack Is­raeli tar­gets in 2009. It is be­lieved that Hezbol­lah, for

ex­am­ple, has a fleet of 200 UAVs.

In most cases so far, the use of drones has had lim­ited suc­cess as they were rel­a­tively slow and easy to shoot down. But de­spite tech­no­log­i­cal lim­i­ta­tions of non-state groups and their cur­rent drone fleet, the tech­nol­ogy is catch­ing up at an alarm­ing rate and it is only a mat­ter of time be­fore these de­vices be­come more ef­fec­tive.

So, how easy or hard is it to con­vert drones that are com­mer­cially avail­able into fly­ing bombs and how ef­fec­tive are these de­vices? Ac­cord­ing to Justin Bronk, Re­search Fel­low spe­cial­is­ing in com­bat air­power and tech­nol­ogy in the Mil­i­tary Sciences team at Royal United Ser­vices In­sti­tute (RUSI), it is ac­tu­ally easy to con­vert a com­mer­cially avail­able quad­copter drone which is ca­pa­ble of car­ry­ing a mod­est pay­load such as a cam­era into a weapon by at­tach­ing grenades or sub­mu­ni­tions from clus­ter weapons as Daesh and oth­ers have proven. “How­ever, the ef­fec­tive­ness of such im­pro­vised fly­ing bombs is lim­ited by the very small size of ex­plo­sive pack­ages that they can carry and by the in­ac­cu­racy of drop­ping such de­vices re­motely us­ing im­pro­vised means,” he said.

De­spite ob­vi­ous flaws, drones look like ideal weapons to carry out ter­ror­ist at­tacks in pub­lic. Although they are not that lethal on the large scale, they could still cause chaos and panic, trig­ger­ing neg­a­tive psy­cho­log­i­cal ef­fects and a sense of in­se­cu­rity. In ad­di­tion, drones are cheap, highly ac­ces­si­ble and highly portable sys­tems. Cur­rently there are around 200 types of drones avail­able on the streets or on­line, and ac­cord­ing to Open Brief­ing, con­sumer drones avail­able to­day are ca­pa­ble of de­liv­er­ing an ex­plo­sive pay­load equiv­a­lent to a pipe bomb (1-4 kilo­grams) or a sui­cide vest (4-10 kilo­grams).

Zwi­j­nen­burg notes that the Syr­ian conflict proved to be an ex­per­i­men­tal lab for NSAGs to test the op­por­tu­ni­ties for com­mer­cial drones in mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions. He said that it was only log­i­cal that these groups started to equip them with lethal pay­loads. It was just a mat­ter of find­ing out what type of pay­load works best. “For ex­am­ple, re­cent reporting from Mo­sul in­di­cates that Daesh has used the Chi­nese DJI Phantom drone as a plat­form of de­liv­ery,” he adds.

Ac­cord­ing to Bronk, so far the most lethal and dan­ger­ous use of com­mer­cial drones on the bat­tle­field is the role of ‘spot­ting' de­vices in di­rect­ing in­di­rect fire such as mor­tars and ar­tillery, pro­vid­ing even lightly equipped groups with the abil­ity to open in­di­rect fire on tar­gets us­ing re­al­time im­agery to ob­serve the dis­po­si­tion of en­emy forces and the fall of mu­ni­tions. In ad­di­tion, they are an ex­cel­lent tool for mak­ing pro­pa­ganda videos, some­thing that Daesh has al­ready ex­ploited heav­ily.

“What we wit­nessed from the videos com­ing out of Iraq and pro­duced by Daesh is that troops of­ten do not no­tice the drones. On the oc­ca­sions that they do, it's of­ten dif­fi­cult to hit a small tar­get at such a dis­tance, thus new counter-drone mea­sures are needed to pro­tect army units,” Zwi­j­nen­burg ex­plained.

This “ad­van­tage” could be eas­ily ap­plied in non-mil­i­tary zones as well, when at­tack­ing soft tar­gets in cities and at pub­lic events. Even more dis­turb­ing is the fact that cur­rent tech­no­log­i­cal lim­i­ta­tions are ex­pected to be­come ir­rel­e­vant very soon as the NSAG know-how is pro­gress­ing fast. Zwi­j­nen­burg told us that Daesh also proved to have a steep learn­ing curve when it comes to equip­ping drones. We might very well see home-made drones soon, so that the reliance on the im­port of com­mer­cial drones is not there any­more. More­over, they could carry larger pay­loads, or fly in swarms, so mul­ti­ple drones will carry out an at­tack. Open Brief­ing warned that if used in a swarm against a crowd at a ma­jor sport­ing event they would cause se­ri­ous in­juries and mul­ti­ple fa­tal­i­ties.

Zwi­j­nen­burg also raises concerns about armed groups dis­sem­i­nat­ing their knowl­edge through the in­ter­net, thus

IN 2016, FOR­MER UK PRIME MIN­IS­TER DAVID CAMERON EX­PRESSED DEEP CONCERNS ABOUT TER­ROR­ISTS US­ING DRONES FOR SPRAY­ING RA­DIOAC­TIVE MA­TE­RIAL OVER WESTERN CITIES.

mak­ing it eas­ier for ter­ror­ists in the West to use drones for car­ry­ing out at­tacks. “The only caveat is that in Western coun­tries it is quite dif­fi­cult to get ac­cess to mil­i­tary grade ex­plo­sives, thus mak­ing them less likely to be used in an armed at­tack.” But other means for at­tack with drones can be de­vel­oped as well.

Bleak sce­nar­ios re­fer to the pos­si­bil­ity of drones car­ry­ing dirty bombs con­tain­ing ra­dioac­tive ma­te­rial or other toxic sub­stances as well. The for­mer UK Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron warned of this pos­si­bil­ity in 2016, ex­press­ing his deep concerns that ter­ror­ists could use drones for spray­ing ra­dioac­tive ma­te­rial over Western cities. But at the mo­ment “the like­li­hood of such a sce­nario is rather low”, said Zwi­j­nen­burg, and ac­cord­ing to Bronk, their main lim­i­ta­tion as a de­liv­ery sys­tem is their small pay­load. “The dif­fi­culty for ter­ror­ist groups is not de­liv­er­ing dirty bombs or ra­dioac­tive agents. It is get­ting hold of such ma­te­ri­als in the first place and engi­neer­ing them into weapons with­out dy­ing of ra­di­a­tion poi­son­ing in the process. A truck bomb is a much more likely vec­tor for a dirty bomb at­tack on a Western city,” noted Bronk.

A hawk against a mis­sile?

So is there any ef­fec­tive pro­tec­tion from hos­tile drones? Bronk feels that there are var­i­ous meth­ods of pro­tect­ing ar­eas against com­mer­cial drones such as shoot­ing them down, us­ing high-pow­ered jam­ming or mi­crowave de­vices to dis­able them, and even train­ing hawks. The French Army and Dutch po­lice, for ex­am­ple, are teach­ing birds of prey to bring down re­mote­con­trolled drones when they en­ter a no-go ur­ban airspace. How­ever, he con­tin­ued: “The dis­ad­van­tage in a crowded ur­ban area is the high dan­ger of col­lat­eral dam­age – whether phys­i­cal from pro­jec­tiles or elec­tronic from jam­ming or mi­crowave de­vices – which might well out­weigh any dam­age a small drone could do on its own.”

Zwi­j­nen­burg noted that one step al­ready taken is to reg­is­ter com­mer­cial drones, in par­tic­u­lar the larger types that can carry heavy pay­loads (not the toy drones for kids), so there is some sort of con­trol and back­ground checks over who is ac­quir­ing drones. But all these mea­sures can be eas­ily cir­cum­vented. There­fore, ac­cord­ing to Zwi­j­nen­burg, no-drone zones would need to be set up and en­forced if there is a risk to the pub­lic. “There is a grow­ing in­dus­try that is de­vel­op­ing counter-drone mea­sures, and I think we are still at the be­gin­ning of dis­cussing how to deal with these threats.” He of­fered a sim­ple com­par­i­son with another tech­no­log­i­cal in­ven­tion which we needed to adapt to and reg­u­late. “Just as with the in­ven­tion of cars and in­creased reg­u­la­tions, we will need to go to­wards hav­ing a drone li­cence, drone traf­fic rules and reg­is­tra­tion of drones be­fore they can be used. But as we saw with cars, one can also drive a car into a crowd, so there will al­ways be risks of mis­us­ing the tech­nol­ogy of any kind.”

Open Brief­ing's re­port “How to re­spond to the threat from hos­tile drones in the UK” from last March pro­poses that the United King­dom adopts a hi­er­ar­chy of coun­ter­mea­sures – regulatory, pas­sive and ac­tive – which pro­vide a lay­ered de­fence. In short, regulatory coun­ter­mea­sures in­clude sale reg­u­la­tions, civil aviation rules and man­u­fac­tur­ing stan­dards and re­stric­tions. Pas­sive coun­ter­mea­sures in­clude early warn­ing sys­tems and sig­nal jam­ming. Ac­tive coun­ter­mea­sures in­clude ki­netic de­fence sys­tems such as mis­siles, rock­ets and bul­lets, and less-lethal sys­tems – pro­jec­tile weapons and net guns.

Over­all, Zwi­j­nen­burg be­lieves that it is mostly up to in­tel­li­gence agen­cies and law en­force­ment bod­ies to iden­tify any po­ten­tial threat and stop it, which is usu­ally the best way to pre­vent any ter­ror­ist at­tack. Rules and con­trols alone will not be enough

DAESH HAS AL­READY USED COM­MER­CIAL OFF-THESHELF DRONES EQUIPPED WITH 40 MM GRENADES IN THEIR AT­TACKS, KILLING AND WOUND­ING IRAQI AND KUR­DISH TROOPS, SAYS WIM ZWI­J­NEN­BURG, AN EXPERT IN EMERG­ING MIL­I­TARY TECH­NOLO­GIES.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Qatar

© PressReader. All rights reserved.