Why the Next Generation of Drones Poses a Threat to Densely Populated Areas

Why the Next Generation of Drones Poses a Threat to Densely Populated Areas

About 50 million people worldwide have been affected by urban warfare, according to a report by the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross. Radhya al-Mutawakel, Chairperson and co-founder of the Mwatana Organization for Human Rights, stated in January 2022: “Civilians in Yemen have been made victims by explosive weapons used in populated areas. Since 2014, 800 air strikes, 700 ground assaults, 300 mine explosions, detonations caused by explosive objects and the use of drones and ballistic missiles have killed 3,000 civilians and wounded 4,000 others, with many attacks having no military target.”

Consumer drones have been used in recent wars and urban warfare conflicts. Recently, videos from drones’ POV have been circulated on social media. The footage shows the attacks and the extent of the drone-inflicted damage. In the current war between Russia and Ukraine, consumer drones have been primarily used to target tanks and ground forces, but also in populated urban areas.

Readily available, consumer drones can carry relatively little weight, usually up to 20 kg. Nevertheless, drone attacks loaded with hand grenades, mortar shells, and other explosive munitions can cause significant casualties in densely populated areas. Furthermore, explosive device payloads carried by drones could include shrapnel, chemical, radiological, and biological hazards. As such, recent concerns of drone swarm attacks are considered to become the next weapon of mass destruction (WMD).

Countries in other parts of the world are also preparing for imminent drone threats against dense civilian populations. The US military has recently launched EDGE22, a joint project that will assess tactics, technologies, and systems to outpace the enemy on the battlefield using C-UAS. EDGE 2022 includes the Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) and the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA), as well as seven international partners and over 16 inter-service organizations. Its main objectives are to develop and gain effective systems interoperability, converge all network systems, increase reliability and availability, and demonstrate supremacy on interactive drone swarms with the advanced Future Unmanned Aircraft System (FUAS).

All major cities with primarily developed urban areas are vulnerable to targeted terror attacks. At a national level, public safety in densely populated areas can be protected as the first line of defence in detecting and identifying potential drone threats. A fully developed and deployed integrated command and control solution should be considered an essential component of every municipal and regional surveillance system, adding a critical mitigation layer to avoid potential harm to the civilian population.

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