Civilian drones at risk of being used by terrorist and other hostile groups. Stricter regulation and countermeasures needed, new report finds
A new report, commissioned by the Remote Control project, has found that as ever-more advanced drones are available to the civilian market there is an increased risk of drones being used by non-state actors against British targets. As approximately 200,000 civilian-use drones are being sold worldwide every month, the legislation currently governing the civilian use of drones is struggling to keep up with the speed at which new drones are being developed and put to novel uses.
The report, The hostile use of drones by non-state actors against British targets by Open Briefing, examines the design and capabilities of over 200 current and upcoming unmanned aerial, ground and marine systems, providing analysis of the specifications that would affect their threat to potential targets, including payload, range and imaging capabilities. The report then goes on to assess known drone use by non-state groups, including terrorist organisations, insurgent groups, organised crime groups, corporations and activists, before outlining recommendations to mitigate these threats, including specific regulatory, passive and active countermeasures.
Key findings from the report include:
- A range of terrorist, insurgent, criminal and activist groups have deployed drones for attacks and intelligence gathering.
- Both armed and surveillance drones have been used by terrorist organisations, including Hezbollah (Ababil, Mirsad), Al Qassam Brigades (Ababil-1) and Islamic State (DJI Phantom).
- Drones are being used by individuals beyond authorised and accepted use. An FOI request to the Metropolitan Police Service revealed that between January 2013 and August 2015 20 suspicious drone related incidents had been recorded in and around London.
- There is particular concern that drones will be used as affordable and effective airborne Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), as well as concern regarding the decentralisation and democratisation of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities.
Recommended countermeasures include:
- Regulatory countermeasures: Stricter regulation limiting the capabilities of commercially available drones, GPS coordinates of no-fly zones installed by manufacturers and the licensing of drones capable of carrying payloads.
- Passive countermeasures: Development of commercial multi-sensor systems capable of detecting and tracking drones and the purchase – by police and specialist units – of early warning systems and radio frequency and GPS jammers.
- Active countermeasures: Development of less-lethal anti-drone systems, such as directional radio frequency jammers, lasers and malware, for use in urban environments.
Chris Abbott, lead author of the report, says:
The use of drones for surveillance and attack is no longer the purview of state militaries alone. A range of terrorist, insurgent, criminal, corporate and activist groups have already shown their desire and ability to use drones against British targets. Drones are a game changer in the wrong hands. The government needs to take this threat seriously and commit to a range of countermeasures that still allow for legitimate commercial and personal use.
Caroline Donnellan, Manager of the Remote Control project, says:
This report reveals the extent to which increasingly sophisticated drones have become available for use by non-state actors and the inherent risks associated with these ongoing developments. As the technology continues to advance and the use proliferates, the report highlights the urgency for states to plan in terms of regulation and having in place appropriate countermeasures to cover existing and new developments.
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The Remote Control project is a project of the Network for Social Change hosted by the Oxford Research Group. Remote Control examines changes in military engagement, in particular the use of drones, special forces, private military companies and cyber warfare. The project acts as a facilitator for the exchange of information and commissions and publicises work undertaken in the area, aiming to examine the long-term effects of remote warfare.
Open Briefing is the world’s first civil society intelligence agency. It is a unique non-profit social enterprise that provides intelligence and security services to aid agencies, human rights groups, peacebuilding organisations and concerned citizens. www.openbriefing.org.