Note: the author is aware that the word “drone” has been expanded by popular usage to include any unmanned vehicle whether remotely or autonomously guided.
“Drone” attacks are not new. From my upcoming book, THE BOMB BOYS:
“Chinese described using the fire pheasant about 1,000 years ago. The idea was to capture pheasants in enemy terrain and, when needed, attach incendiaries to the pheasants then release them to fly home.”
Imagine the advertisement from a thousand years ago:
Introducing the DJI Phantom Phire Pheasant with retractable landing gear. No batteries necessary. (Pheasants are too small to carry Baghdad Batteries.) Recharges on a handful of grain and seed. The Phire Pheasant produces havoc, eggs, and is fully edible.
Through the centuries, many sorts of animals and mechanical methods were used to deliver weapons to targets.
Human drones have been especially useful, attacking endlessly, such as on 9/11. The process can be simple: Recruit. Feed. Brainwash. Arm. Point at enemy. Stand well back.
Machines have come a long way in leaving animal and human drones unemployed. All attempts by jihadists to form unions to resist the machine have ended suddenly.
In 1895, Italian Guglielmo Marconi harnessed radio waves. By 1899, Marconi signaled across the English Channel, and only 70 years later in 1969, we heard, “That’s one small step…”
Inventors quickly weaponized the new power.
From my upcoming book, THE BOMB BOYS:
“In 1913, son Theodore Edison was interested in a floating bomb. Nikola Tesla, one of the most accomplished scientists and inventors ever, had worked for his father Thomas Edison. Tesla also worked on a remote-controlled bomb boat. It is unclear if Tesla and younger Edison were aware that bomb boats had been in use for at least a thousand years.”
Austrians tested wire-controlled balloons in 1849. Stories are endless, including Steven Spielberg’s father working on a radio-controlled bomb called the AZON when he was in the Army Air Corps in World War II in India, trying to blow up the Japanese bridges in Burma and Thailand.
During the 1980s, my US Army unit in Bad Tölz, Germany, was warned of intelligence that German communists planned to attack our unit with radio-controlled airplanes. We were a priority target for the Communists. Some of us appreciated that endorsement coming from communists. The threat was legit: Over 600 people were killed and wounded in terror attacks in Germany during the 80s.
Even by the 1980s, when spacecraft already were zipping around the solar system and men had long since personally stabbed six flags into the moon, radio-controlled retail aircraft did not have cameras to livestream video to an operator. GPS was still taking baby steps. Big computers were slow. Attacks on us using small RC machines would have to be line of sight, or at least more sophisticated than 8-track cassette players.
Between 9/11 and this writing, US and British unmanned aircraft have killed thousands, many of which happened before my eyes across Iraq and Afghan battlefields. Our current military drones –actually unmanned vehicles, not fully autonomous killers – have reached expert level with intelligence gathering and killing.
The al Qaeda attack on 9/11 is largely to thank for our incredible military drone killers today.
The long march toward retail drones capable of cheap, easy, precise attacks has blossomed with increasingly sophisticated circuits and tiny, fast computers.
Recently, small drones have made news after use in Syria, Iraq, and more. DJI in particular has often makes the jihadist military video club. Due to DJI quality and prices, their drones have been weaponized and can easily attack castles bearing weapons heavier than a coconut.
Should DJI start marketing drones under the name African Swallow Heavy Lift, we’ll know the Chinese are reaching into an unexploited market, while carrying on a millennia-old Chinese tradition of droning.
So many bombs were being dropped by DJI models, such as the Phantom 3, that DJI programmed large swaths of Iraq and Syria into no-fly zones.
After a long march and a great leap forward, Chinese have come far since the first DJI Phire Pheasant.
Some drones are designed to drop small munitions, then return to base for reload. Others go kamikaze.
In 2017, a Ukrainian ammunition facility is believed to have been destroyed by nothing more than a small drone with a thermite grenade. The attack was spectacular and caught on video by another drone.
Bottom line: animal, human, mechanical, and internally or remotely-guided methods have been in use for a long time and have recently reached a level of convenient destructive potential at affordable prices.
The future is vast. Affordable and increasing capable drones likely will achieve amazing ranges, such as by perching on remote powerlines where they are unlikely to be seen, and recharging batteries before continuing mission.
Just a week or so ago, in Venezuela, a possible assassination attempt on President Maduro was made using drone(s). In the near future, such attacks could be launched from hundreds or even thousands of miles away using affordable autonomous or semi-autonomous drones that can refuel or recharge along the way, and even park in seclusion near a target wait for an attack command.
Just a few months ago in Southern Thailand a drone was used as an aerial spotter for an insurgent with a grenade launcher to shoot into a secured compound. A few years ago, a drone reportedly hot with radioactive material landed on Prime Minister Abe’s house in Japan. Drones are only going to be used more and more in crime, terrorism, and dangerous mischief.
The Thais are lucky in one way. Last year, they had a drone lane at Ravens Challenge, the giant annual EOD event, that looks like it has grown into more things anti-terrorism than just EOD. Anyway, the Thais learned all about commercial and improvised drone capability and what they can do to protect themselves (as much as you can) from drone attacks like those in Syria, Iraq, and now Venezuela.
Interestingly, only two companies were confident enough to put their anti-drone equipment up for the test at Ravens Challenge: Steelrock from the UK, and the Thai’s very own T-Net. They demonstrated and tested drone jammers against basic drone attacks.
But that wasn’t enough.
This year, I am told by the organizers of Ravens Challenge, that they will host a mini-competition in the middle of Ravens Challenge just for drones.
Drone Challenge will be a “put up or shut up” moment for the drone defender companies.
Remember, Thailand had a problem with foreign companies selling broken or useless equipment to them, so Ravens Challenge will help to filter those out.
No American company is coming Raven’s Challenge, though the US military and many others will be there. A golden chance is slipping away.
Two videos of interest:
DJI Phantom 3 dropping bombs: https://vimeo.com/233271166
More DJI in combat: https://www.defenseone.com/technology/2017/01/drones-isis/134542/