Drone Weaponization is Coming and We are not Ready for It

Video drones uses to attack Venezuelan president

Right now, there is no explicit law that gives law enforcement the power to monitor drones in an area and take down those they deem to be a security threat.

Of course the military has their own rules and can take down consumer drones flying near military bases.

But for local police departments, there’s little they can do to protect the public from rogue drones.

And that’s scary considering what just happened in Venezuela.

In the video you can hear an explosion rock through the air as President Nicolas Maduro is giving a speech. A second explosion sends the parade of soldiers scattering.

The drones missed their apparent target, the president, and instead slammed into an apartment building which caused the explosions.

While Venezuela is mired in their own deep political and economic problems that make such an attack not all that surprising, it’s not a far stretch to think of something similar happening here.

Drone Weaponization

Drones have already been used for all sorts of nefarious activities: jailbreaks, drug smuggling and surveillance on law enforcement.

So it’s only a matter of time before criminals become daring enough to strap a pound of C4 onto a drone and remotely fly it into a crowd or building.

ISIS has already done it.

And it’s not just bombs we need to be worried about. Think that a gun cannot be strapped onto a drone? Think again.

That’s a video from 2015 where a teen mounted a gun on a UAV and successfully shot three rounds. The kicker; it’s most likely completely legal.

Considering the gun problems we have in the US, it’s not hard to imagine someone borrowing that technique to cause mass casualties without even being at the scene.

How would the police even respond to such an incident? They are used to hunting down human shooters; a gun-bearing drone is a different matter altogether.

The fact that both drones and guns are easily and cheaply accessible in the US does not bring any comfort.

What about drones being used in biological or chemical attacks in highly populated areas?

Terrorists have already thought about that.

Drone Laws

The FAA is racing to create regulations that would offer more protection from drone weaponization.

Since they got the go-ahead to impose whichever rules they deem necessary on hobby drones, the agency has been working on new regulations to make the skies safer.

Those laws could give local law enforcement power to take down consumer drones and allow precise monitoring of drones flying around an area.

The laws may also be more explicit about attaching weapons like a gun onto a drone even if you legally own both.

But those regulations are still more than a year away. Let’s hope nothing happens between now and then.

Using Technology

DJI Aeroscope for tracking camera drones
DJI Aeroscope for tracking drones near sensitive locations such as airports

But it’s not just about laws and regulations. After all, many drone owners still break current regulations. Hence the rising number of near-miss incidents involving drones and airplanes.

That’s why law enforcement as well as drone companies are developing tech that would improve drone security around sensitive locations.

DJI, the biggest consumer drone manufacturer, has already come up with a drone monitoring system called AeroScope. It would transmit the registration number, speed, direction and other details from drones flying around areas like airports.

Law enforcement agencies like the military and the Secret Service also have their own tech that can jam transmissions between the drone and the controller.

This essentially causes drones to drop midair. While effective in stopping further ingress of the UAV, it can be a safety hazard in crowded places especially if the drone is armed with something like a bomb.

The Challenge of Drone Swarms

Perhaps the scariest part of this whole drone weaponization trend is the development of weaponized drone swarms.

A drone swarm consists of several drones, sometimes dozens of them, autonomously coordinating to perform an action.

We have seen them in several of Intel’s light shows but terrorists can also use them to stage attacks.

These kind of attacks are mostly common in military conflicts but could also happen in civilian areas in major cities.

And unlike single drones that law enforcement can shoot down or disable midair, trying to stop a swarm of a dozen or more drones is going to require much better tech than we currently have.