Unmanned Aerial Systems AKA Drones have been around for decades, but the last few years have seen a dramatic spike in consumer interest. Non-state actors and rogue regimes have also taken notice. ISIS, the Houthis, Hezbollah, and Hamas have developed sophisticated attack drone programs and carried out strikes on Syrian, Kurdish, Saudi, and UAE forces.
New Type of Threat
Drones pose a new type of threat. Capable of flying long distances and controlled by an operator from miles away, some models can carry payloads of over 26 .lbs. and fire missiles from up to 4.3 miles. Add to this the fact that drones weigh as little as 2.5 grams, and you have the ultimate killing machine that can wreak havoc on an entire country in a matter of seconds. Since multiple drones are much harder to counter, terrorists have started launching drone swarms to improve the chances of slipping past anti-drone defences.
There have been many documented cases (and more that have evaded the press) of fans at sporting events, paparazzi, and even kids succeeding to fly armed drones into stadiums and other sensitive facilities. With the FAA estimating that some-7 million drones will be operational by 2020 (compared to 23,600-39,000 airplanes currently in use) the threat of a terror group succeeding in penetrating counter-drone defences increases exponentially. Law Enforcement may become overwhelmed by such a large amount of potential threats.
Threats to Critical Infrastructure
Although the US has developed defence methods to thwart attacks against critical infrastructures such as nuclear power plants and water systems many of these have yet to be employed. Passage of the FAA Reauthorization Act on Oct. 5th, 2018 provides Law Enforcement greater maneuvering room for dealing with drone threats, but a lone wolf or insider attack by an American citizen would likely offset even the highest preparedness level. Regulations aside, many of the leading anti-drone systems available today still cannot be implemented due to regulatory restrictions.
Another issue for concern is a general lack of awareness. To ensure the best chances of averting at attack, thousands of employees not necessarily connected to security at public gatherings, sporting events, and critical infrastructure sites need to be informed of existing drone threats, and ensure that an emergency contingency plan is in place.
Outlook for the Future
Drone technology will continue picking up speed over the coming years. Governments, terrorists and everyone in between has picked up on their military prowess and unbridled potential by now. Drone defences will have to progress at an even faster pace to enable HLS to stay a step ahead. When it comes to critical infrastructure, HLS agencies have placed particular emphasis in this area and should continue doing so since these are the “power grid” of the nation.