The views expressed herein are a collation of expert opinions, and rigorously researched and referenced analysis, and unless or otherwise stated, do not necessarily represent the views of this author nor those of Criterion Quarterly.
*The author is a geo-strategist, a senior management consultant, a development sector director and an international journalist. Twitter follow @ozerkhalid and e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
(This article will, primarily, attempt to define, verify and assess the security and counter-terrorism challenges that hostile drone-based terrorism poses to our global world order – with a specific emphasis on Pakistan. In addition, this paper will highlight counter measures, recommendations and risk mitigation that can be undertaken to prepare for such emerging and evolving threats. – Author)
On the 4th of August, as President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela gave a speech in Caracas, celebrating the 81st anniversary of the National Guard, two explosions rocked Av Bolívar. Mr. Maduro was swiftly escorted off stage by security protocol. The event had been targeted by Drone-Borne Improvised Explosion Devices (DBIED). DBIED`s are now likely to become the weapon of choice for unhinged extremists seeking to terrorize not just “high-value targets” but also “soft targets” like civilian spaces.
When dual drones 1 (remote controlled unmanned aircraft 2 ), each containing a kilogram of potent C4 explosives, were deployed to assassinate Nicolás Maduro, it ushered in a lethal new era—that of “terrorism from above”, remote terrorism by joystick or what this Criterion author coins as “drone based terrorism” (DBT)™.
For better or for worse, we are on the cusp of a life-changing UAV era. The drone attack perpetrated in Venezuela is likely to be replicated – instigated by “copy-cat” attacks via militants the world over – especially in Pakistan and an increasingly combustible South Asian region, where extremist elements are rampant.
Commercial mini-drones are readily available, setting dangerous precedent. Increasing the evergrowing possiblity of targeted precision strikes on sensitive installations (energy grids, oil pipelines, networking operating centers (NOC`s) and nuclear sites are points of vulnerability, despite robust command and control structures and verification protocols in place). The result of drone-based terrorism (DBT)™ could potentially kill thousands.
As the barriers to operating UAVs fall before our very eyes, we will witness an upsurge in commercial development, catalyzing greater accessibility for individuals and businesses. Unfortunately, such growing availability will also make UAVs more attractive to vengeful radicalized actors seeking them for nefarious purposes, thus eliminating the “barriers to entry” into the ravaging realm of aerial terror by remote control. The relatively low cost of UAVs render them a pertinent delivery mechanism for terrorists. In July 2018, the environmental justice advocacy entity, Greenpeace, crashed a Superman-shaped drone into a French nuclear plant just to illustrate its vulnerability to attacks 3.
The ubiquity, mass commercialization and weaponization of drones represent a high-level red-alert as they can dangerously end up in the hands of “lone wolves”, non -state actors, militant miscreants and rabid radicals – some acting as proxies for enemy nation-states.
Drones are/can be further weaponized with near future autonomous artificial intelligence. Present and future UAVs/UASs/drones will come equipped with wide field cameras, advanced tactical sensors and facial recognition features and with smarter ways to mount shaped explosives; therefore situational readiness and preparedness is key.
From a remote distance the drone operator (or pilot) is alarmingly able to characterize a target victim (by zooming in on their facial features), and release a swarm of micro-drones, empowered with vast swathes of data. Such mini-commercial drones of today can very easily become hostile drones operated by militants of tomorrow.
These mala fide actors who have proven themselves to be tech and social media savvy, can very easily operate such non-military grade civilian mini-drones. Due to these UAVs extremists will have, at their fingertips, high quality GPS real-time data analytics and navigation, accelerometers, gyroscopes, flight control software, command and control capability of the drone with 4G wireless internet access, telemetry with radio control route markers and could target individuals by digitally mapping the target`s face via advanced digital imaging technology, thereby, simply killing with a click of a button.
Today`s most basic of commercial UAV comes equipped with an informative Graphical User Interface (GUI) screen that can empower “bad actors” with high -quality real- time GPS data analytics as well as exact latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates for precise geo-locationing.
Drone based terrorism (DBT)™ today being a sordid reality in Venezuela is no more merely a concern for our future, but a counter terrorism policy predicament for our violent volatile present.
My research will, primarily, attempt to define, verify and assess the security and counter-terrorism challenges that hostile drone-based terrorism poses to our global world order – with a specific emphasis on Pakistan. In addition this paper will highlight counter measures, recommendations and risk mitigation that can be undertaken to prepare for such emerging and evolving threats.
To date, research accentuating the threats from UAVs highlighted large-scale UAVs that represented internal and external threats to global security or on national-level operated UAVs that threatened citizen privacy.
Previous assessments in security journals did not account for the commercial ubiquity and accessibility of UAVs that our world has witnessed owing to rampant commercialization, predatory pricing drops and mass accessibility. This study, however, will cautiously demonstrate that the use of UAVs in terrorist attacks can no longer be dismissed or swept under proverbial carpets of denial, either in South Asian operation theatres or further afield.
This particular research piece represents a marked departure from other research, in that it takes stock of the most recent up-to-date events, such as the military parade attacks in Venezuela, a UAV crashing on the White House lawn and UAV sightings in Japan (with radioactive material), etc. —bringing core focus to the utilization of small UAVs and the impending counter-terrorism and national security risk they represent.
There have already been multiple “close encounters” with drones as exemplified via statistics issued by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) alone between 2012-2014 (over the most recent years this statistic has significantly increased).
The specter of drone based terrorism™ insidiously intensifies as Unmanned systems proliferate (Federal regulators now allow drone air flights for instance 4) and commercial off-the-shelf over-the-counter technology is easier to acquire and is very difficult to limit 5, representing a clear and imminent terrorism threat.
Many eminent security analysts, such as Scott Stewart, VP at Stratfor (a global security consulting firm) are short-sighted when they myopically mention the limits to the likely impact of any drone attack launched by Non-State Actors (NSA`s) 6. Whilst military ordnance or military-caliber drones are, admittedly, still tougher to obtain, and even though homemade explosives are typically far less lethal, such analysts overlook the fact that the asymmetric “psychological damage” of small but successful attacks by commercial UAV`s (even slightly weaponized with explosives) could far outstrip the actual “physical damage”; accomplishing the goal of spreading terror that many militant groups such as the so-called Islamic State and al Qaeda have made their life`s mission.
“Psychological damage” is, after all, an over-arching strategic objective (and a tactical component) of 5th generation asymmetric warfare and terrorism per se.
Naïve customers should awaken themselves to a bitter reality that Amazon, sadly, is not the sole organization interested in using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to deliver packages. Terrorists are now likely to increasingly deploy UAVs for diabolic intent. Our world has witnessed a burgeoning commercial UAV revolution. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations have limited commercial employment of UAVs within the US; however, this is ever-changing with newly implemented FAA guidelines.
As the regulatory impediments to using UAVs in the US (and the world per se) for commercial purposes continue to decrease, commercial demand will increase, and UAV technology providers will develop more capable and user-friendly UAVs and control systems.
Unfortunately, client-centric user-friendly features greatly facilitate the lives even of the most amateurish radicalized lone wolves, who will be lured towards the explosive-laden drones which can inflict immediate harm in a violence-obsessed video-game world of “war by joystick”.
UAVs today are infinitely more attractive as a delivery method for terrorist attacks, and policy makers should consider different courses of action to combat this egregious emerging ever-evolving threat 7.
No serious counter terrorism or security analyst worth their salt can ever again discount the very potent possibility that terrorists may choose an accurate delivery method capable of circumventing perimeter defenses to strike at a high-value personality thereby generating a high degree of momentum, attention, recruitment drive and infamy in an age of digital warfare.
Threat inventories by intelligence agencies indicate that fifth generation asymmetrical explosive-laden drone warfare might alarmingly become the “new normal”. That the drones were able to gain such deadly proximity to a Head of State (Nicolás Maduro 8 who blames the Colombian state for the attack) at a public outdoor speech and military parade in Caracas, Venezuela, illustrates just how easy drones are to gain and utilize—and how difficult they are to defend against, especially since they are able to carry payloads of lethal explosives while sneakily remaining under surveillance radars.
Drones are much easier to acquire and transport as compared to conventional weapons. The hideous menace of such a life-threatening prospect as hostile terror drones hovering over us like dark clouds dampen the prospects of international security and stability.
So-called “quadcopters” – drones with four rotors – that can easily be operated from more than a mile away and can fly for more than twenty minutes on one charge cost less than $1,000 to buy online. Such availability and tumbling prices make it enticingly cheap for extremists to lay their grubby hands on these potentially deadly aerial weapons. This represents a clear and present danger to us all and to our coming generations.
Militant death cults like ISIS and their cancerous incarnations have notoriously (mis)used drones to spearhead attacks by dropping grenades or crashing into crucially sensitive and key infrastructure in Iraq/Syria back when Raqqa and Mosul were their territorial strongholds.
The drone attack on Nicolás Maduro was no exception. Nor was this an isolated event. In January 2015, a drone crashed onto the White House lawn 9 after its operator lost control, prompting concerns that the U.S. president’s home could be vulnerable 10. In February 2016, Yasuo Yamamoto, protesting against Japan’s nuclear policy dropped a Phantom 2 drone carrying radioactive sand from the Fukushima nuclear disaster onto the prime minister’s office 11, the amount of radiation was minimal.
In April 2018, Saudi Arabian security forces shot down a “recreational toy drone” which buzzed past a royal palace, briefly prompting speculation of a coup attempt 12. Social media`s noisily chaotic echo chamber of Twitter platform was further (mis)used to mount frenzied speculation that the Royal Palace was under siege and that a full-fledged coup was underway while most of the Royal family were under “house arrest” at the lavish Ritz hotel.
The Saudi example illustrates how the metaphorical Molotov mix of recreational drones and social media interact to create mass panic and hysteria. In the end, just like the toy drone, the story of the coup plot was also “shot down”. In an age of information warfare, extremists will unleash disinformation polluting our minds and the World Wide Web 13.
An Imminent and Ubiquitous Danger of Drone-Based Terrorism (DBT)™
The proliferation of unmanned systems and commercial off-the-shelf UAV technology has been catapulted due to the dropping prices of drones, which have now become alluringly cheap. Whereas in 2011 a small civilian UAV would cost around $10,000 to $15,000 in 2018 the price of a small-scale drone including a remote pilot`s license now costs less than USD $ 1,000 14.
Such accessible prices imply lower overheads. You do not need to be a large terrorist outfit with deep pockets to acquire such stealthy airborne weapons, hence the possibility of smaller terror cells or lone wolves represent a mounting threat.
Commercial drones have since long become cash cows for many organizations 15 characterized by intense competition with prices rushing head-long in a race to the bottom. The fever to cash in is now a pitched battle for break-neck business, as prices to collect airborne data have plunged amidst a flood of competition.
The mainstreaming of commercial mini-drones is already alive and kicking. Cheap, hi-tech aircraft that practically fly themselves represent a field day for unhinged terrorists who now have ample opportunity to conduct affordable inspections, reconnaissance, intelligence and counter-intelligence gathering missions “under the radar” as drones become smaller, less noisy and harder to detect, especially small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS).
All this catalyzes what Michael Porter 16 strategically referred to as “barriers to entry” which have perilously lowered for mala fide actors to gain insidious and immediate access to commercial off-the-shelf UAV technology that can lethally be used to terrorize and target innocent civilians, individuals, groups, rival sects and ethnic/religious and racial minorities, who most unfortunately commonly bear the brutal brunt of terrorism.
Lone wolves or sleeper/active cells of terrorists, criminals, or insurgents can efficiently leverage the tactical maneuverability of a small 17 drone to wreak chaotic havoc, including, but not limited to, utilizing a drone to divert, destroy and take down political convoys, commercial airlines and buildings.
Tacit state sponsorship of terrorism augments the possibility of deadly drone attacks, since states can offer the requisite equipment, know-how and training; ensuring that terrorist attacks featuring weaponized drones is a fait accompli in the near future.
Hezbollah 18 and Houthis utilized UAV`s to ram Saudi air defenses in Yemen. A multitude of insurgents are mastering drone technology without the help of state sponsors. In Syria, ISIS used drones to mount surveillance and reconnaissance as well as conducting offensive actions like dropping a grenade on an adversary’s military base.
ISIS weaponizing UAV`s becomes all the more worrisome especially given the “re-surfacing” of Al-Baghdadi (previously claimed to be dead and dusted) and as their South Asian chapter ISKP (Khorasan) becomes increasingly active in 7 Eastern provinces of Afghanistan. They have claimed recent terrorist attacks, in August 2018, in Mastung and Dalbandin, Balochistan.
Since the number of states now utilizing armed drones in combat has increased the chances for sophisticated drone technology getting into the wrong hands increases exponentially.
If a terrorist entity steals or procures a drone from a pariah rogue state or corrupt military or intelligence officials, then they could rely on the myriad of online videos posted that essentially demonstrate how these unmanned systems could be used to conduct high-impact high-casualty attacks.
Pakistan: Drone-Based Terrorism™ , UAV Capability Evaluation & Threat Assessment
Pakistan has, since long, developed indigenous drone/UAV/UAS/ sUAS capabilities and has deployed them against militants, especially in the insurgent populated FATA 19 (prior to the KP merger) region.
Many security analysts argue that India, a provocative nuclear rival, often illegally sends “spy drones” over to Pakistan, especially in the disputed hot-bed of Kashmir, violating the heavy militarized Line of Control (LoC). 20 Pakistan therefore needs to further intensify drone capabilities for intelligence and surveillance purposes.
In 2015, India had infamously used a Chinese made DJI Phantom 3 21 to violate the LoC. The DJI Phantom 3 has a limited operating range of 2 km used for aerial filming and intel reconnaissance.
In March 2015, the Pakistani military announced it had tested its own drone 22, named the NESCOM Burraq. 23 This was an unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) developed and equipped with a laser guided air-to-surface missile named Barq 24 which was decisive in several battles against militants 25.
Over the past few years, in Rawalpindi as well as in Islamabad, indigenous unmanned aerial vehicles and systems are increasingly being locally designed, assembled, prototyped, manufactured, flight tested including all their air, ground, remote, sensor, support and auxiliary system components. This includes wireless control, GPS navigation, telemetry kits that send back UAV video and positioning information. These turnkey UAV`s are being offered to both the public and private sectors.
Indigenous entities have matured drone/UAV command and control systems, data links, payloads, Accelerated Processing Units (APU) Central processing units (CPU) and Graphics Accelerator Units (GPU) for UAV`s with high micro-processing prowess, battery management systems, launch and recovery systems along with state-of-the-art pilot (operator) training and certification.
Pakistani entities are routinely adding to their range of military as well as civilian unmanned systems and these include USV (Unmanned Surface Vehicles) and UGV’s (Unmanned Ground Vehicles) to tackle and pre-empt anti-terrorism and law-enforcement requirements.
USV`s and UGV`s in Pakistan are utilized for electronic news gathering, police surveillance, border and coastal patrol. Coastal patrol becomes pre-eminently important, especially at Gwadar Port, to preserve and protect strategic assets from “external threats” – such as RAW, ISIS/ ISKP, BLA – seeking to thwart/disrupt the multi-billion dollar CPEC project.
For a balanced perspective, it is important that our analysis note here that drones also serve important civilian, technological and scientific purposes. In an agrarian economy like Pakistan`s, UAVs can positively also be utilized for insecticide spraying on crops. This would cost significantly less than deploying conventional aircraft and could cover wider surface areas – immensely beneficial for Pakistan’s agricultural-dominated debt-strapped economy.
INGO`s/Non Profit Organizations (NPO`s) also took great advantage of drones through aerial film to evaluate and monitor the rehabilitation of the life-shattering summer floods of 2010.
Future drones might prove very useful for the Pakistan Army as well as the National Disaster Management Association in terms of search, rescue and relief operations, especially as certain drones (such as the X100) are extremely useful for reporting on fires, floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes—just about any situation where it is prohibitively dangerous to fly a manned aircraft.16 Such utility was amply evidenced in the aftermath of the U.S. Hurricane Harvey, whereby the FAA issued authorizations to fly commercial UAVs in support of recovery efforts, helping local authorities assess damage to homes, roads, bridges, power lines, oil and gas facilities, and office buildings. 26
Commercial civilian UAV`s can help Pakistani industry in multiple manners. They can capture high-resolution aerial photography, thereby, providing entire industries with “intelligent inspection” for the power, rail, telecom, aviation, mining and oil-and-gas industries, to name but a few. Commercial drones can offer low-cost inspections for critical infrastructure like mobile-phone towers, wind and solar farms and power transmission lines.
GUIDELINES AND SUGGESTIONS TO PAKISTAN AIR FORCE, NACTA, CIVIL AVIATION AUTHORITY, DEFENCE AND INTERIOR MINISTRIES
Current drone laws in Pakistan
Drone use is permitted in Pakistan, but there are several drone laws that need to be followed when flying in the country. Operators must ensure that they follow these drone laws when flying in Pakistan:
- Do not fly your drone over people or large crowds
- Respect others privacy when flying your drone
- Do not fly your drone over airports or in areas where aircraft are operating
- You must fly during daylight hours and only fly in good weather conditions
- Do not fly your drone in sensitive areas including government or military facilities. Use of drones or camera drones in these areas are prohibited
- Avoid flying around cities as a foreign tourist – security services are suspicious of foreigners flying drones within the cities, and may give you trouble for doing so 27
The above clearly need to be further defined, explained, amended, elaborated and elucidated – with more specificity and technicality. Pakistan can amend and update the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) Act 2016 (to further detail safety integration measures for unmanned aircraft), develop detailed Drone Ordinances, UAV licensing protocols, training manual guidelines, operational restrictions and registration requirements and tighten the NoC (No Objection Certification) regime especially those surrounding small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS).
In Pakistan, as in other countries, it is a matter of time before terrorists rush to carve out turf and expertise in UAV`s in our technologically-crazed world convulsed by fast-paced breakthroughs in sensors and robotics which outpace and out-smart regulators who are throttled by snail-paced regulation focused on keeping the skies safe.
Many countries are unable to effectively counter the malicious use of drones owing to stifling laws and hampered by regulations during the years before the current UAV/UAS technology was available for commercial and consumer use.
It is tremendously arduous to monitor and regulate small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS). Pakistan`s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA), Pakistan Air Force (PAF), Air Weapons Complex, along with the expertise of the Defence and Interior Ministries and major intelligence agencies would be well advised to swiftly intensify and further detail global best practices gleaned from the Federal Aviation Administration, IATA, TSA and other global aviation regulators on matters pertaining to drones. “Anti-drone systems” must develop in the indigenous Pakistani market, aimed at either detection or interdiction.
Globally, much of the contemporary sUAS traffic operates in uncontrolled airspace 28, in areas where other types of air traffic do not operate, and in unpopulated areas. Although such traffic is not contemporarily being managed in any organized institutional manner, operators worldwide are immensely interested in reducing risk by using systems to monitor, track and control such traffic.
It is clear that if the current Air Traffic Control (ATC) system or a system modeled along the current ATC protocol were deployed to manage sUAS traffic, the cost would most probably be exponentially higher and ripe with technical challenges that would limit sUAS traffic density.
The Government of Pakistan (GoP) needs to align closer with industrial/civilian manufacturers and the CAA/Traffic police to develop more comprehensive UAS traffic management (UTM) rules and systems.
The current regulations for controlling conventional aircraft are expensive and contingent upon human system monitoring coupled with tactical monitoring and control. A similar yet more sophisticated, flexible, automated system should be initiated to manage sUAS/UAV/ UAS traffic with an emphasis on the monitoring, vetting and strategic management of traffic flows rather than merely copy and paste the system used to manage conventional aircraft.
Further development, evolution, planning and thought is a pre-requisite prior to promulgating regulations of civilian/commercial mini-drones/UAV/UAS/sUAS traffic management systems (TMS) and before such “pilotless hawk” aircrafts are allowed to fly over densely populated areas, higher-altitude airspace, or in areas where conflict with other forms of air traffic is a high probability.
Before the skies become more saturated with drones, action is swiftly required from the GoP, sUAS manufacturers and operators to guarantee public safety. Such developments can spawn innovation in the sUAS/UAS/UAV space, in a similar manner with which the federal government action/CAA promoted civil aviation in its infancy.
Given the multiple uses/applications for UAV/UAS/sUAS technologies, I recommend a “tiered” system when it comes to licensing and certification; the sUAS/mini-drones designs that meet the highest quality and safety standards can be granted access.
Certification standards could be defined in terms of risk rather than in terms of specific equipment requirements. Risk-based standards appear promising, because of their flexibility. Further research is needed to identify a defensible and transparent methodology for estimating risk as a function of UAV/UAS/sUAS design.
More selective and stringent background checks need to be conducted by the PAF/CAA/Interior Ministry prior to issuing UAV pilot/operator certificates/licences.
Over the next coming months, Pakistan will need to further evolve, mature and institutionalize regulations for UAVs/UAS/sUAS design, encompassing aircraft certification and airworthiness standards with innovatively novel yet flexible risk-mitigation initiatives. Leading academic institutions like UET, NUST and GIK might partner up with the CAA/PAF/AWC to carry out quantitative and qualitative forecasts on the possibilities of specific sUAS components failing in different ways, and of the resulting risk to people and property.
Contemporary Threat Assessment of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to Global National Security
Terrorists will seek to get their hands on UAVs because of their significant potential “quick” benefits. Terrorists use “violence as communication”, and they comprehend all too well that you do not need to kill many to send a “message”. UAVs provide the ghastly ability to breach defensive perimeters, allowing terrorists to strike high-risk personnel or events, which spark an immediate fear frenzy and outrage further sensationalized by a news cycle unhealthily thirsting for ratings and approval.
Drone based terrorism (DBT)™ is likely to negatively nurture itself from live media coverage and exemplify the weakness of governments and the erosion of the state`s writ, for it`s sheer inability to protect future valuable and vulnerable targets.
Piloting a hostile UAV offers a “degree of safety” for the terrorist by enabling him/her to be farther away from the target location – allowing the terrorist to conduct simultaneous subsequent attacks before being caught.
UAV`s are increasingly likely to become alternative attack modes, just as vehicles (Nice, German market, Westminster bridge attacks), RPG`s, IED`s, vest bombs, shoes (Richard Reid), car bombs, and mortars currently are.
The objective and tactical outcome of extremists will be to inflict maximum individual or collective harm by using advanced facial recognition systems (integrated within the UAV`s/UAS systems) to ensure that targeted individuals are severely injured or killed and property (hard military installations as well as soft targets like schools 29 and parks 30) damaged and destroyed. State activities and crucial projects such as BRI, CPEC and strategic pipelines and transmissions, TAPI and CASA 1000 31 could be disrupted by militant weaponized commercial drones.
Smaller UAV`s are now becoming tactically more optimized: their engineering is getting more sophisticated, warheads are becoming more effectively lethal (as measured by weight of payload), the types of ordinance delivered are increasing and their accuracy is improving. Furthermore, the larger the payload that can be delivered, the less accuracy needed to attain tactical terror objectives.
Smaller UAV`s now provide operational maneuverability, and are dangerously successful at by-passing perimeter defenses, attacking from outside national borders (e.g. India`s spy drones in Kashmir), staging multiple simultaneous attacks (dual drones in Venezuela) and sustaining protracted terrorist campaigns.
A growing number of UAV`s 32 no longer even require “piloting” skills. Hence ISIS or al Qaeda can trigger disgruntled homegrown “lone wolves.” Smaller UAVs are very easily transported (most comfortably fit in the back of a vehicle), are hand-launchable and equipped with a high resolution camera to virally record and disseminate attacks across social media and visually trigger/entice an increasingly angry, alienated and adrenalin-fuelled youth.
Human supervisory control is a foremost advantage of UAV technology, allowing those with minimal training to control such potentially lethal aircraft. Modern commercial drones are remotely controlled by a tablet or laptop with built-in digital mapping features. A militant simply needs to touch a screen and direct the drone where to fly—again, no piloting skills required whatsoever.
We live in a post-modern terror-laden dystopia where widely accessible UAVs practically fly themselves to sensitive destinations with basic human intervention, without the operator having to know the first thing about aerodynamics, engineering and aviation. This is most worrisome. By means of evidence, at present, where drones are being used for “positive social impact” e.g. engineers, surveyors, search, relief and rescue and others who operate UAVs can simply go through very minimal training and operate the aircraft themselves, just like mastering a joystick on a video game or a touchpad on a tablet.
In one of Cummings’ experiments with human supervisory control, micro-aerial vehicle visualization of unexplored environments (MAV VUE), researchers had an operator in Seattle controlling a micro-UAV in an open field in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The controller used an iPhone connected to the internet via a wireless hotspot while the UAV communicated with a ground-station, also connected to a wireless hotspot. The operator had two levels of control—waypoint 33 control and nudge control. Using waypoint control, the operator simply clicked on a digital map to instruct the UAV the route upon which to fly.
Using nudge control, the operator, with the help of a forward-facing view from the UAV’s camera, flew the UAV by tilting the iPhone in the direction she wanted it to go. The researchers also selected random passers-by to control the UAV to demonstrate how a minimally trained operator could easily operate a small UAV. Test subjects received a mere four minutes of instruction and were able to successfully control the UAV and perform tasks like identifying people through the video feed sent to the iPhone from the UAV’s camera – a vivid example of how smart phones practically fly mini-drones 34.
Such technology allows operators to move away from traditional “command and control” systems that require them to micro-manage the behavior of the vehicle, and to concentrate instead on the more relevant aspects of the mission. 35
“Hobby shop drones” or “toy drones” are now widely available; they can be sinister, and are small 36, lightweight, and relatively easy to tactically maneuver after some basic training and practice. Military-style drones, on the other hand, are heavier and carry a greater payload.
Exemplifying the surging accessibility of UAVs is the hobbyist website DIYDrones.com . DIYDrones.com is a platform where drone aficionados share ideas, insights and information about how to build and operate drones.
Through the site, an aspiring operator learns to build a UAV equipped with high-definition (HD) cameras, telemetry, ground station and control systems. These hobby-built UAVs 37 can be assembled with highly advanced gyroscopes, accelerometers, full telemetry kit and autopilot for a cost of USD $2,000–$6,000.
Obviously if your average person can build a UAV, so too can a terrorist, tweak it a bit, weaponize it, and the $2,000– $6,000 price range 38 falls well within the historical costs of many terrorist attacks 39.
Worryingly, there are even social media platforms such as Slideshare, where a step-by-step, point-by-point, easy-to-follow guide is available for those seeking to build their own drone.
As mini-drone technology becomes cheap, customer-centered, available online, and user friendly, media and tech savvy radicalized misfits will figure it out in no time. Companies are also chomping at the bits, often hurriedly biting off more than they can chew, to seamlessly integrate UAVs into their operations, especially to help in automation and reduce human errors.
Recommendations to Counter Drone Based Terrorism™
Military and intelligence “joint doctrine” 40 emphasize both “defensive” and “offensive/active” methodologies for countering aerial threats. 41 Conceptually and contextually adapting this strategy, we will analyze both “active” and “passive” anti-drone terrorism aerial strategies, coupled with a more pro-active methodology utilizing intelligence-led law enforcement operations to pre-empt and deter potential drone attacks.
Active defense consists of “direct defensive actions taken to destroy, nullify, or reduce the effectiveness of hostile air” threats, while passive defense includes measures “taken to minimize, mitigate, or recover from the consequences of attack…” 42 Finally, intelligence and law enforcement operations can be initiated to seek out, pre-empt, deter and apprehend terrorists even before they strike.
Active Defense Measures to Counter Drone Based Terrorism
UAVs do not constitute a traditional air defense threat as they are generally smaller than manned aircraft (especially mini-drones) and fly significantly lower and slower, making them harder to detect, naturally complicating the role of “active defense”. Hand-held anti-drone launchers, lasers, small missiles predator drones and counter drones are some stealthy ways to deter hostile drones.
Aerial surveillance radars are another “active defense” counter-drone measure, however such radars can only detect objects within their direct “line of sight”, and the lower an object flies, the shorter the possible detection range due to being masked behind trees and buildings. Also note that radars can easily be jammed or spoofed. For example, enemies can radiate interfering signals toward legitimate radars, blocking the receiver with highly concentrated energy signals. The two major methods of achieving this are noise techniques 43 and repeater techniques.
This conspicuous shortfall in Pakistan’s low-level aerial surveillance capabilities might have been one of the reasons why (from a technical perspective) the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) was unable to detect the entry of U.S. helicopters (stealthy Blackhawks) into Pakistani air space in May 2011, when American special forces operatives (Seals) found and killed Usama bin Laden in Abbottabad.
The PAF can further update it`s low-level sensors and airborne surveillance systems by leveraging it`s extensive rapport with Lockheed Martin, to acquire their TPS-77 line of products. However, other options worthy of consideration are the Turkish firm Aselsan, which manufactures the Kalkan 44 low-level radar (up to 100km in range) and/or the Finmeccanica/Selex Sistemi Integrati RAT 31 DL/M Radar systems or KRONOS low-level radar, procured by Qatar in July 2015.
The small size of UAVs truly complicates detection even with the most sophisticated of low-level and low-range aerial radars. Premised on an Army Research Lab intelligence report, a mini-drone might possess an estimated radar cross-section (RCS) of -15 dBsm (decibels referenced to a square meter), which is a logarithmic measure of how much a specific object will reflect electromagnetic energy. 45
This is comparable to a large bird (-20 dBsm), whereas, a large commercial airliner could have an RCS of around 40 dBsm and a small jet might be in the 1–2 dBsm range. 46 Therefore, even if a UAV/mini-drone is detected on radar, it might dangerously be disregarded as a bird due to their similar size, altitude and speed.
To complicate things further, even if a UAV threat is identified, the viable options for diligently dealing with the threat are restricted. Firstly, in urban environments (where attacks are likelier) law enforcement agents/the army/PAF will be averse to shooting UAVs down as any projectile used for a kinetic attack is likely to cause civilian casualty/ collateral damage when it hits the ground. For instance, “Quadcopters” are more prone to kinetic fires owing to their reliance upon multiple motors to maintain air lift.
Many commercial/mini-drones would likely be tough to shoot down due to their agility. UAVs made of Styrofoam, fiberglass (or similar ballistic/bullet-proof materials) could sustain several strikes and still stubbornly remain operational unless a critical component is damaged— such as the engine, navigation, or receiver.
The use of a highly targeted explosive ordinance may help mitigate this terror threat, but it will arouse justifiable concern owing to unacceptable civilian casualties and collateral damage.
A kinetic model for defending a target in an urban environment may necessitate multiple systems with skilled operators to be in place along likely air avenues of approach to comprehensively secure the perimeter. This multi-pronged active defense model will significantly heighten the cost of defending against UAV threats, perhaps prohibitively so, which is one of the reasons why several aviation defense experts and defense procurement/logistics teams shy away from the development of a resilient “active defense” system for drone threats.
A type of “active defense” that does have potential is the utilization of “jamming” technology to block the command channel and/or telemetry of UAVs/UAS`s. Jamming could prove especially effective to counter hobby-grade UAVs as their command frequencies are regulated; therefore, anything purchased “off-the-shelf” will be within a frequency range that can be anticipated in advance. By jamming the most common frequencies (HF, VHF, UHF etc) one could effectively eliminate the ability of a terrorist UAV operator to conduct accurate targeting within the denied/restricted area.
Furthermore, unlike kinetic fires, jamming would not necessarily need the same type of tracking precision to (dis)engage the threat. Jamming can be omnidirectional, thus only requiring the threat be detected within a certain proximity range. This allows the use of non-traditional methods of detection, such as acoustic and radio frequency detection. Pakistan`s Frequency Allocation Board (FAB) can play an instrumental role in regulating this ever-evolving threat arena.
There are three fundamental factors to analyze while trying to jam a UAV command channel 47 or its telemetry data:
- Transmit power of the control station and the drone
- Antenna acquisition/gain capability of the transmitters
- Radio-frequency (RF) noise level in the environment
For a terrorist to conduct highly specific targeting, the control station and UAV must communicate. By inhibiting this communication, an attack may be thwarted or, at the very least, it may result in a loss of precision in targeting, which is crucial – given the small payload of these UAVs.
Theoretically, radio waves (by which the ground station and UAV communicate) travel infinitely; however, as they travel, they disperse, thereby, weakening their signal by means of the square of the distance they travel.
This fundamental rule of physics, mathematics and aerodynamics is termed as “the inverse square law of propagation.” 48 It is the major determinant of the range in which a UAV control station initiates contact with a receiver. Antenna capability also affects this distance; the more powerful the antenna the further the usable signal will travel.
The signal needs to overcome the Radio Frequency (RF) noise level in that specific location. Once the signal can no longer be distinguished from the noise, it becomes unusable.
Jamming tactically operates by effectively increasing the RF noise level, averting an effective transmission from reaching the receiver on the drone/UAV. As the drone approaches the defended asset and collocated jammer, the harder it becomes for the transmitter to overwhelm the RF noise of a given signal jammer.
To overcome the signal jammer, a cunning terrorist would then need to alter frequency bands, enhance transmission power, or get closer to the vulnerable/targeted area, none of which are logistically that simple. Altering the frequency band or increasing the power output of the transmitter would require specialist know-how of electrical and radio frequency engineering.
Additionally, forcing the terrorist to move closer to the target heightens the operational and tactical risk for the terrorist since he/she can be detected, pre-empted, observed and interrupted mid-operation, thus negating some of the operational advantages of UAVs 49.
One of the demerits of utilizing jamming against drones, however, is that there are multiple users of the electromagnetic spectrum, and jamming may disrupt legitimate users of the spectrum. In the U.S., for instance R/C aircraft and UAVs are solely authorized to utilize certain frequencies: 27 MHz, 49 MHz, 50 MHz, 53 MHz, 72 MHz, and 75 MHz for single channel use and 2.4 GHz for spread spectrum use. 50
Additionally, telemetry kits that send back video and positioning information can usually be found in the 433 MHz, 900 MHz, 2.4 GHz, and 5.8 GHz ranges. While single-channel control frequencies would not be particularly problematic to jam, the 433 MHz, 900 MHz, 2.4 GHz, and 5.8 GHz ranges are part of what is known as the industrial, scientific and medical bands (ISM), and jamming them may create unwelcome and objectionable interference.
In Pakistan, such frequency based intelligence debriefing sessions can be given to NACTA, the PAF, AWC and Pakistan`s Frequency Allocation Board which can further investigate, counsel and promulgate the required frequency spectrum allocations, restrictions and regulation.
Everyday smart devices that utilize the 433 MHz, 900 MHz, 2.4 GHz, and 5.8 GHz band ranges might include Bluetooth devices, cell phones, wireless internet protocol networks, etc.
Furthermore, a complicating component in the utilization of jammers is the use of mobile cellular networks to control UAVs. To extend the range of UAVs and the telemetry they send back, terrorists could try to utilize mobile networks by integrating smartphones and other wireless mobile devices into their UAV design, as witnessed in the micro-aerial vehicle visualization of unexplored environments (MAV VUE) experiment.
Jamming such signals would require interrupting cellular services within a given area. Pakistan`s Telecommunications Authority (PTA) can be debriefed and consulted in such mission-critical endeavors.
Realistically speaking of course, everyday mobile users are likely to disapprove of continuous, unnecessary interruptions of cellular services and other wireless functions in protected areas 51. Thankfully, there are methods to help mitigate undesired interference.
Active and passive detection systems—aerial radars, acoustic sound detection sensors, multi-signal scanners 52 and RF detectors— can help mitigate interference with the general public use of mobile services and the industrial, scientific and medical bands (ISM) by authorizing jamming only when a hostile drone is detected within restricted airspace.
Radars optimized against small, low, and slow UAVs—such as those using new holographic and micro-Doppler radar 53 technology—may be effective at detecting and identifying UAVs operating in restricted airspace 54.
Additionally, non-traditional detection methods such as acoustic and radio frequency sensors could prove beneficial in both detecting UAVs and distinguishing them (to a certain extent at least) from other objects. Acoustic systems detect the relatively unique audio signature that UAVs produce from their propellers, while RF detection involves creating a mesh network of receivers 55 “that can triangulate moving transmitters.” 56
Therefore, once a hostile drone is detected entering restricted airspace or getting close to a high-risk event, jammers can then be switched on to deter the threat, thus, minimizing the interruption of mobile services and the life-saving ISM bands and allaying public apprehensions.
Interrupting mobile operator service, GSM signals, wireless networks, and Blue-tooth devices (often done in Pakistan during high-octane conferences the arrival of political delegations, or on sensitive days such as the 6th of September which is Pakistan`s Defense Day) should not be taken lightly; however, when faced with the tentative choice of expending live ordinances over a population center in order to disable a threatening UAV, the course of action to use jamming makes sense.
The use of a warning network—radar, acoustic, sound detection/ motion sensors, and RF detectors—to detect drone threats coupled with Radio Frequency jamming of UAV command and telemetry systems bears the potential and promise to deter/contain what this author classifies as Drone-Based Terrorism (DBT)™.
Passive Defense Measures to Counter Drone Based Terrorism™
A highly effective method of minimizing a UAV terrorist assault is via resilient “passive defense”. Passive air defense measures encompass early warning and detection systems, camouflage and concealment (5th generation warfare), deception, and hardening.
One obvious passive method for deterring hostile drone attacks is to host high-risk events indoors (even though a lot of “hobby drones” are often seen at wedding halls in Pakistan). Most indoor building structures possess perimeter security and some may soon have chemical (i.e. explosive) detectors and significant physical protection—or hardening—from the warheads that mini-drones may be able to carry, roughly 1–5 kilograms. By merely hosting high-risk events indoors, organizers can truly minimize the eventuality of being terror targeted. The Maduro military parade in Venezuela was held outdoors and therefore was infinitely more vulnerable to attack.
While it is possible to fly a UAV inside a structure, it becomes undesirable due to a lack of mobility, maneuverability, difficulty in route planning/optimization and a high probability of losing RF signals indoors.
In case of an outdoor event, passive defenses can still be conducted. By utilizing early warning systems (EWS), high-risk personnel can be transported to a sheltered area (such as a bomb blast resistant panic room) if a drone were to enter into a restricted area. Since small UAVs cannot carry a large payload, this shelter could also include an armored vehicle (Kevlar or steel reinforced). For outdoor events on a covered stage, geo-fencing and deployable netting could prove effective at preventing a UAV from getting close to an intended target.
Passive defense acts as a deterrent against terror attacks as terrorists might be led to believe that their assault weapons may not be able to reach the intended target.
Lastly, traditional methods of operational security can safeguard high-risk personnel from being targeted by UAV attacks. Such measures include basic but highly effective measures like using unpredictable transport routes and varying the times that high-risk personnel arrive and leave events, the workplace and residences, etc.
These measures generally make it tougher for terrorists to target high-risk personnel using any method of attack, not just UAVs 57.
Intelligence Led Defense Measures to Counter Drone Based Terrorism™ 58
At present, most of the technology pertaining to hobby-grade radio controlled (R/C) aircraft and UAVs is widely accessible, and it would be nearly impossible to circumvent/entirely regulate/import restrict the proliferation of this technology. 59 It is, however, possible to discover organizations who are manufacturing UAVs that are operated beyond visual range.
The one distinction between UAVs and R/C aircraft is navigational control. Navigational control is bifurcated into two separate pieces of technology—Global Positioning System (GPS) 60 receivers and autopilots. Whereas GPS receivers are commonplace, the “autopilot” (as opposed to flying manually) fulfills a highly specialized role, as it is only procured by individuals operating aircraft or building UAVs.
Because the development and use of a UAV require this highly specialized piece of technology, law enforcement, and intelligence agencies now have something they can specifically look for in screening and monitoring potential terrorist threats. 61
If law enforcement and intelligence operatives and assets acquire the capability to vet and monitor purchases of autopilots, they can subsequently cross-reference/benchmark those purchases against other suspicious indicators of terrorist activity, such as links to militant groups or the purchase of chemicals that are used in making explosives.
Similarly, the purchase of any commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) UAV that has an autopilot and is able of holding a 1–5 kilogram payload (or more) could be monitored.
It is highly advisable that the necessary measures analyzed in this paper be implemented and rolled-out so that counter terrorism departments (CTDs), NACTA, law enforcement and the relevant intelligence agencies take urgent remedial actions and counter-measures to contain and curtail hostile drone based terrorism (DBT) ™ looming over the horizon.
Future Threat Assessment of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles
The future role of mini-drones/commercial drones can be positive and not entirely a Cassandra-like doom-and-gloom scenario. However, simultaneously, hostile drones with ordinances can explode and cause serious damage to critical infrastructure, from WAPDA energy and power grids, telecom towers, lorries carrying critical goods, to sensitive storage tanks carrying flammable products, petrol or chemicals, mass transit and transport systems (bridges or busy roads) to sensitive office buildings causing massive casualties.
Many security analysts (at times overlook) the harsh reality that counter-drone systems, no matter how effective – such as the radio-frequency “jammers” discussed at length in this paper intended to sever the link between an operator and a vehicle – may be difficult to deploy in “non-combat zones” because of the risk that they could interfere with crucial communications like commercial aircraft or law enforcement channels, according to Dan Gettinger, co-director of the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College (CSD) 62.
In Pakistan, as in many other countries, existing legislation does not adequately safeguard against possible crimes using unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS.
The trend of “super-empowered” individuals will likely be further intensified with the weaponization of commercial over-the-counter everyday drones. It will be simultaneously stoked and exacerbated by forthcoming technological evolution with the ability of individuals, insurgents and small groups to cause wide-scale, long-term and irreversible disruptions to society—through cyber-attacks, malware, hacking, ransomeware, electronic information warfare and commercial drones which get weaponized. Moreover, individuals and small groups can easily be used by nefarious state sponsors as proxy actors in ongoing conflicts.
Other countries have now woken up to a grim and alarming reality and are now taking commercial-based drone terrorism very seriously. An instructive case in point is the U.S. Department of Defense, which seeks to spend USD $1 billion for counter-drone measures in its proposed 2019 budget.
Individuals and small terror cells now have the wherewithal to deploy a myriad of innovatively emerging technologies, including drones, virtual crypto currencies, block-chain, encrypted communications, augmented reality, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to inflict terror upon unsuspecting masses.
Future technologies such as additive manufacturing, or 3-D printing, have already been used by individuals to print workable firearms 63. An example is the U.S. based Defense Distributed which designed a 3D printable AR-15 type rifle lower receiver (capable of lasting more than a lethal 650 rounds 64) and a variety of ballistic magazines, including for the AK-47 65.
In May 2013, Defense Distributed also completed design of the first working blueprint to produce a plastic gun with a 3D printer. However, the United States Department of State demanded a removal of the instructions from the Defense Distributed website, deeming them a violation of the Arms Export Control Act.
There is a steady drumbeat of legitimately justifiable concern over the potential utilization of specific technologies by non-state actors which will only grow in intensity with the further democratization and accessibility of technology.
However, it is never simply the use of technologies in isolation that represents the most dangerous challenge going forward, but rather a hybrid combination of all these technologies merged and meshed—as evidenced in the Saudi scenario, where a drone was used in conjunction with a deliberate disinformation campaign on social media`s angst-provoking Twitter.
With the intensified evolution of Machine Learning (ML) 66 and artificial intelligence, drones may soon become programmable, scalable and smart enough to be used without any human guidance.
One nightmare scenario universally feared by law enforcement, counter-terrorism, intelligence operatives and security services is the (mis) use of a small drone to deliver a truly toxic Biological or Chemical (NBC) agents. It is well-known that al-Qaeda, ISIS and other militant misfits have long aspired to devilishly engineer a spectacular attack in our world using weapons of mass destruction.
The high probability that drones could be the delivery mechanism used to disperse deadly agents or viruses over concerts (Manchester Arena Ariana grande concert, Paris Bataclan), a sports stadium or public gathering place is a horrifically harrowing possibility. Even if a drone attack fails to spark large fatalities, the attempt could still achieve an attacker’s goal of perpetuating the “psychological” dimension of terrorism.
Terrorists have been, are, and always will be, highly adaptive, ever evolving and innovative. They will carry on finding new ways to spread fear and chaos, and wreak havoc. Hostile weaponized drones only amplify such ghastly opportunities.
Laws, policies, intelligence and counter-measures governing drone use need to be developed before an attack takes place, not in its aftermath.
Pakistan needs to internalize and institutionalize the principle of “Joint doctrine” whereby fundamental principles guide multiple interlocutors in coordinated and seamlessly integrated action toward the common objective of minimizing UAV/drone based terror in Pakistan. There is a growing priority to promote a common perspective from which to plan, train, and conduct CVE and military operations.
The Government of Pakistan (GoP), Pakistan Air Force (PAF), Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), Air Weapons Complex (AWC), National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA), Frequency Allocation Board (FAB), Defence and Interior Ministries and major intelligence agencies need to closely align, share intelligence and build broad-based coalitions with local industry and Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) to develop more comprehensive and resilient Drone-Based Terrorism (DBT)™ counter-systems.
The timely and momentous aforementioned suggestions have to be a concerted multi-stakeholder holistic approach where collective mentality must be sieged, workshops held, realistic plans of action and deadlines/timelines launched to tackle Drone-Based Terrorism (DBT)™.
Let us not forget that drones can also be deployed to mount conventional attacks, cyber-attacks, narcotics distribution and illicit smuggling. As a result other interlocutors such as the Anti-Narcotics Department might also need to come on board for added perceptive, policy formulation, counsel and advisory services.
All these measures, implemented in holistic totality, could significantly bolster Pakistan’s C4ISR [command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] capabilities.
In a wider context, it is apt to note that a myriad of emerging technologies, from crypto-currency to block-chain to artificial intelligence to commercial UAV`s have inescapably diffused, democratized and diverged power, rendering it available to the lowest levels of society. Whilst this can be empowering, it also poses immediate threats which we would be ignoring at our own peril.
The precarious predicament remains that though drones are often used for countering terrorists and taking out “high-value” militant targets, they inevitably dehumanize and radicalize entire generations as has been witnessed in Waziristan, Pakistan and many other pockets of our planet.
Drone warfare has and will remain a highly contested topic. Wider perceptions on the appropriateness and effectiveness of “remote warfare” by means of drones to counter terrorism is highly controversial.
It is hoped that whilst taking essential ethics and morality into careful consideration, the testimony and evidence revealed in this research paper sheds light on the pernicious, thorny and toxic threats that “drone based terrorism” (DBT)™ or “remote electronic warfare” pose to our already vulnerable terror-stricken society at large.
The severe “psychological” toll that future terror victims of drone operations may be subject to far outweigh the “physical” devastation.
The use of drones by terrorists is not a distant mirage, a figment of our imagination or a far-off threat. Venezuela, France`s nuclear sites, the White House lawn, Japan and the Saudi royal palace are eerie reminders of how effective UAV-based “terror from above” can be.
Risk management can be mitigated through active and passive counter UAV defense measures. Radar assets can be brought to bear to detect these threats, offering time-sensitive early warning systems. Jamming can be activated to deter and disable UAVs as soon as they are seen entering into a restricted area. Finally, by closely vetting those who purchase autopilots and COTS UAVs that have built-in autopilots and a certain payload capacity can help law enforcement and counter terrorism and intelligence operations discover, ahead of time, those who could potentially launch UAVs to harm our collective civilization and coming generations.
Unfortunately, the bitter reality today remains that UAVs complicate matters exponentially for intelligence, security and defense planners.
Small-scale UAVs are and will remain. Like all other technologies, they are a cataclysmic curse and a benevolent blessing – a malignant and malicious menace and an opportunity to soar.
Resources are limited in an “austerity driven,” cost-cutting “Naya Pakistan”. The Government must, nonetheless, provide adequate resources and be resolute in protecting the vast number of potential targets from this new potential menace of drone-based terrorism.
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ATC – Air Traffic Control (ATC) system
APU – Accelerated Processing Units
AWC – Air Weapons Complex
BRI – Belt and Road Initiative
CAA – Civil Aviation Authority (Pakistan)
CASA 1000 – 1000 Electricity Transmission for Central Asia and South Asia
CID – Criminal Investigation Department
COTS – Commercial off-the-shelf (UAV`s or mini-drones)
C4ISR – command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance
CPEC – China Pakistan Economic Corridor CPU – Central processing units
DBT ™ – Drone based terrorism (coined & copyrighted by Ozer Khalid)
DBIED – drone-borne improvised explosion devices
dBsm – decibels referenced to a square meter
FIA – Federal investigation agency
GPU – Graphics Accelerator Units
GIP – Geographical Information Systems
GoP- Government of Pakistan
GUI – Graphical user interface
IB – Intelligence Bureau
IED – Improvised explosive devices
ISM – Industrial, scientific and medical bands (frequency)
FAA – Federal Aviation Administration (USA)
FAAR – Forward Area Alerting Radars
MAV VUE – micro-aerial vehicle visualization of unexplored environments
NACTA – National Counter Terrorism Authority (Pakistan)
NBC – Nuclear, biological and chemical (threats and attacks)
NCMC – National crises management cell
NOC- No Objection Certificate and/or Networking operating center
NSA – Non State Actors
OEM – Original equipment manufacturers
PAF – Pakistan Air Force
R/C aircraft – Radio controlled aircraft
RCS – Radar cross section
RPA – Remotely piloted aircraft
RPG – Rocket propelled grenade
RPV – Remotely piloted vehicle
sUAS- Small Unmanned Aerial Systems
TAPI – Turkmenistan-Afghanistan–Pakistan–India pipeline
UAV – Unmanned aerial vehicle
UA – Unmanned aircraft
UAS – Unmanned aerial system
UTM – UAS traffic management
Taxonomies & Classification
For purposes of conceptual clarity let us define and explain the terms, acronyms and jargon related to unmanned aerial vehicles:
- Unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV): UAV refers to an actual air vehicle, often termed an unmanned aircraft (UA).
- Unmanned aerial system (UAS): This term typically refers to the entire system of systems that allows a UAV to fly and perform its mission, including the ground station, telemetry, communication and navigation equipment, sensor package, and the UAV itself.
- Remotely piloted aircraft (RPA): An unmanned aircraft controlled by a trained pilot; this is a term primarily used by the USAF to denote unmanned aircraft. 67
- Drone: A common term used to refer to UAVs but can refer to any form of auto-mated robot or machinery.
Despite the conceptual dichotomies between and amongst such terms, they are frequently used interchangeably. Our research will primarily use the term drone/UAV unless referencing a complete system of systems, in which case the term UAS will be used.
Furthermore, the terms hereunder will be utilized to characterize potential terrorist targets and assets that law enforcement and defensive planners aspire to protect.
- High-value target: A target whose loss will significantly bolster the terrorist’s campaign, due to several factors that could include the symbolic nature of the target and the amount of media attention the target would generate. 68
- High-risk personnel: Personnel who, by their position, grade, assignment, or symbolic value, are likely to be attractive terrorist targets. 69
- High-risk event: An event that due to its symbolic value, mass attendance, or media attention, is likely to be an attractive and accessible terrorist target.
High-risk event: An event that due to its symbolic value, mass attendance, or media attention, is likely to be an attractive and accessible terrorist target.
1- The drones deployed in Venezuela had six rotors, the Venezuelan government claims that the drones were DJI Matrice 600s. DJI Matrice 600s come equipped with GPS antennae. Source: Adriana Rabascall, DJI, VeneNoticias and UAV Systems International (2018).
2- Also referred to as UAVs, remotely piloted vehicle (RPV), remotely piloted aircraft (RPA), remotely operated aircraft (ROA) and/or Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS).
3- ABC (2018) Greenpeace ‘crash’ Superman drone into French nuclear facility to show security flaws, ABC Australia, 4 July, 2018.
4-The U.S. Federal Aviation Authority currently restricts unmanned aircraft to short daytime flights below 400 feet. Commercial or public operation of an Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) is only authorized by a certificate of authority (COA) to be issued by the FAA on a case-by-case basis. Drones are currently restricted to flying within sight of their human pilots. For insightful details on drone related legislation look up: the FAA Modernization and Reform Act (2012), “State and Local Regulation of Unmanned Aircraft System s (UAS) Fact Sheet” (2015). Federal Aviation Administration, Office of the Chief Counsel. December 17, 2015, Steinberg, Joseph (2015) «Drones in America Must Now Be Registered. Here›s What You Need to Know». Inc, 16 December, 2015.
5- Ajay Lele and Archana Mishra (2009) “Aerial Terrorism and the Threat from Unmanned Aerial Vehicles,” Journal of Defense Studies 3:3, July 2009: pp. 53– 66.
6- Stewart, Scott (2018) “When drones attack the threat remains limited”, Stratfor, July 17, 2018.
7- Card, A Bryan (2018) “How the commercial unmanned aerial vehicle threatenes the U.S. threshold, USAFR, Air & Space Power Journal, pp. 80-95, Spring 2018.
9- Michael D. Shear and Michael S. Schmidt (2015) “White House Drone Crash Described as a U.S. Worker’s Drunken Lark,” New York Times, 27 January 2015.
10- Ax, Joseph (2018) “Apparent attack in Venezuela highlights risk of drone strikes”, Reuters, August 5, 2018.
11- Shankar, Sneha (2016) Japan Arrests Yasuo Yamamoto For Landing Radioactive Sand-Laced Drone On Shinzo Abe’s Office Roof April 25, 2015 International Business Times, February, 2016.
12- El Gamal, Rania and Kalin, Stephen (2018) Saudi security shoots down recreational drone near royal palace, Reuters, April 22, 2018.
13- Clarke, P. Colin (2018) “Toy drones and Twitter: The ability of individuals to wreak large scale havoc, Rand Corporation think tanks, 2018.
14- For example the Chinese manufactured drone “DJI Phantom 3” is a quadcopter worth about $1,200 and widely available in consumer markets.
15- Such as GE, Verizon, PrecisionHawk, Cognizant Technlogy and Airware (a drone software services company) to mention but a few.
16- “Barriers to entry” are part of Michael E. Porter`s five forces analysis for a further elobation consult: Porter, E. Michael “How Competitive Forces Shape Strategy,” May 1979 (Vol. 59, No. 2), pp. 136-145 and Michael Porter, Nicholas Argyres and Anita M. McGahan (The Academy of Management Executive) “An Interview with Michael Porter”, 16:2:44
17- Robillard, Kevin (2014) “Judge strikes down small drones ban”. politico. com. Politico LLC, 6 March, 2014.
18- Rawnsley, Adam ( 2015) “New Airstrip Could Be Home to Hezbollah’s Drones”, War is Boring, 25 April, 2015
19- Bokhari, Farhan (2014) “Pakistan to deploy its own UAVs over FATA”. Janes, 2014.
20- Haider, Mateen (2014) “Pakistan writes letter to UNSG over LOC violations by India”. Dawn. 12 October 2014.
21- DJI Phantom 3 is a Chinese manufactured quadcopter worth circa USD $1,200 and widely available in consumer markets.
22- General Asim Bajwa (2015) Twitter handle [@AsimBajwaISPR] “1st ever use of Pak made Burraq Drone today. Hit a terrorist compound in Shawal Valley killing 3 high profile terrorists.Details follow” (Tweet) – via Twitter on 7 September, 2015
23- Urdu: بُراق
24-Houreld, Katharine (2015) Pakistan says it shot down Indian drone near disputed border, Reuters, July 15, 2015.
25- Baghwan, Jamshed (2015). “Drone war: ‘Burraq’ turned the tide in Tirah battle, say officials”. Express Tribune, 26 March, 2015.
26- Aarian Marshall (2017) “Above Devastated Houston, Armies of Drones Prove Their Worth,” Wired, 4 September, 2017.
27- As outlined by UAV Systems International
28- «Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management (UTM)» at faa.gov.
29- APS Peshawar is a tragedy Pakistanis will understandably never recover from. The Bacha Khan university attack is another grim reminder.
30- Lahore`s Gulshan-e-Iqbal is a gruesome reminder.
31- CASA 1000 – 1000 Electricity Transmission for Central Asia and South Asia (CASA) is to create the conditions for sustainable electricity trade between the Central Asian countries of Tajikistan and Kyrgyz Republic and the South Asian countries of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
32- Such as the Gatewing X100 model.
33- A “waypoint” is a fixed point in 2-dimensional space (both latitude and longitude) deployed to define and determine points along a specific pre-determined route. They are named, and are referenced to in logistical route planning. For instance: you fly from one waypoint to the next, along a route. A waypoint is where you are flying to. It is normally positioned where there is a change of course or altitude.
34- Koehler, Tom (2011) “Smart Phones Fly Mini Drones,” Boeing, 29 August 2011.
35- Cummings, Missy (2012) “Can a ‘Computer Co-pilot’ Help Anyone Be a Surgeon?” TEDTALK 2012, 10 July 2012.
36- Robillard, Kevin (2014). “Judge strikes down small drones ban”. politico.com. Politico LLC, (March 6, 2014).
37- Patrick Hruby (2012) “Out of ‘Hobby’ Class, Drones Lifting Off for Personal, Commercial Use,” Washington Times, 14 March 2012.
38- Gallagher, Sean (2013) “German Chancellor’s Drone ‘Attack’ Shows the Threat of Weaponized UAVs,” ArsTechnica, 18 September 2013.
39- DIYDrones.com/ product portfolio in that price range includes the cost of the hobby aircraft, autopilot, telemetry kit, and ground-station. For more information visit: DIYDrones.com website and the affiliated 3DRobotics website: http:// www.diydrones.com and http://3drobotics.com
40- The “Joint doctrine” advocates fundamental tenets that guide the employment of military forces in coordinated and seamlessly integrated action towards common goals and objectives. It promotes a common perspective from which to plan, train, and conduct military operations.
41- JP 3-01 (2017) Countering Air and Missile Threats, 21 April 2017, I-3.
43- The three types of noise jamming are spot, sweep, and barrage.
45- Pizzillo, J. Thomas (2005) “RCS Measurements of a PT40 Remote Control Plane at Ka-Band,” Army Research Laboratory, March 2005,
46- J. A. Spruyt and Ph. van Dorp (1996) “Detection of Birds by Radar,” TNO Physics and Electronics Laboratory, August 1996 and Skolnik, Merrill I. (1981), Introduction to Radar Systems, 2nd ed. (London: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1981).
47- Popovski, Peter; Yomo, Hiroyuki and Ramjee, Prasad (2006). “Strategies For Adaptive Frequency Hopping In The Unlicensed Bands” IEEE Wireless Communications, December, 2006.
48- Gal, O. & Chen-Morris, R.(2005) “The Archaeology of the Inverse Square Law: (1) Metaphysical Images and Mathematical Practices,” History of Science, 43 : pp. 391–414.
49- Card, A Bryan (2018) “How the commercial unmanned aerial vehicle threatenes the U.S. threshold, USAFR, Air & Space Power Journal, pp. 80-95, Spring 2018.
50- Academy of Model Aeronautics (2015) “Frequency Chart for Model Operation,” 13 June 2015.
51- Card, A Bryan (2018) “How the commercial unmanned aerial vehicle threatenes the U.S. threshold, USAFR, Air & Space Power Journal, pp. 80-95, Spring 2018.
52- Having a 1MHz-6.5GHz Frequency detection range for instance.
53- A Doppler radar is a specialized radar that utilizes the Doppler effect to create velocity data on objects at a distance. It achieves this by bouncing a microwave signal off a desired target and analyzing how the object›s motion alters the frequency of the returned signal. This variation gives accurate measurements of the radial component of a target›s velocity relative to the radar. Doppler radars are used in aviation, sounding satellites, meteorology, radar guns, radiology and healthcare (fall detection and risk assessment, nursing or clinic purpose), and bistatic radar (surface-to-air missiles). M. Mercuri, P. J. Soh, G. Pandey, P. Karsmakers, G. A. E. Vandenbosch, P. Leroux, and D. Schreurs (2013) “Analysis of an indoor biomedical radar-based system for health monitoring,” IEEE Trans. Microwave Theory Techn., vol. 61, no. 5, pp. 2061-2068, May 2013 and Dogaru, Traian (2018) “Doppler Processing with Ultra-Wideband (UWB) Radar Revisited”. U.S. Army Research Laboratory – via Defense Technical Information Center, January 1, 2018.
54- Tereza Pultarova (2013) “Drone-detecting Air-traffic Radar;” and P. Molchanov, K. Egiazarian, J. Astola, R. I. A. Harmanny, and J. J. M. de Wit (2013) “Classification of Small UAVs and Birds by Micro-Doppler Signature,” Proceedings of the 10th European Radar Conference, 9–11 October 2013.
55- “Credible Personal Drone Detection Systems Now Available on Kickstarter from Domestic Drone Countermeasures LLC,” (2014) PR Newswire, 13 June 2014
56- Lifkin, Brian (2015) “Detection Systems Listen for Drones Flying Under the Radar,” Gizmodo, 18 May 2015.
57- Card, A Bryan (2018) “How the commercial unmanned aerial vehicle threatenes the U.S. threshold, USAFR, Air & Space Power Journal, pp. 80-95, Spring 2018.
58- This term has been coined by Ozer Khalid.
59- Ajay Lele and Mishra, Archana (2009) “Aerial Terrorism and the Threat from Unmanned Aerial Vehicles,” Journal of Defense Studies 3:3 (July 2009): pp. 54–65.
60- GPS uses satellites that orbit the Earth to send information to GPS receivers that are on the ground.
61- Card, A Bryan (2018) “How the commercial unmanned aerial vehicle threatenes the U.S. threshold, USAFR, Air & Space Power Journal, pp. 80-95, Spring 2018.
62- Dan Gettinger, (2016) Drones Operating in Syria and Iraq. Bard College, December 2016.
63- Greenberg, Andy (2012) “’Wiki Weapon Project’ Aims To Create A Gun Anyone Can 3D-Print At Home”. Forbes, August 23, 2012.
64- Poeter, Damon ( 2012). «Could a ‹Printable Gun› Change the World?». PC Magazine, August 24, 2012.
65- Farivar, Cyrus (2013) “”Download this gun”: 3D-printed semi-automatic fires over 600 rounds”. Ars Technica, March 1, 2013.
66- Machine learning (ML) is an application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and a branch of computer science utilizing statistical techniques that empower systems with an ability to automatically learn and develop (L & D) improving from experience without being explicitly coded or programmed. Machine learning emphasizes the development of computer programs that can access data and auto-didact (learn for themselves). Machine learning evolved from the study of pattern recognition and computational learning theory, it examines the construction of algorithms that can learn from and conduct data forecasts. Machine learning is especially deployed in wide-ranging computing tasks where designing and programming explicit algorithms with good performance is tough or infeasible; example applications include email filtering, detection of network intruders, and computer vision. For more: Bishop, C. M. (2006), Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning. Garcia, Megan (2016). “Racist in the Machine”. World Policy Journal. 33 (4): pp. 111–117, Patterson, Scott (2010) “Letting the Machines Decide”. The Wall Street Journal, 13 July, 2010 and for a more critical take on ML and AI view: “The First Wave of Corporate AI Is Doomed to Fail” (2017) Harvard Business Review. 18, April, 2018. Machine learning (ML) is an application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and a branch of computer science utilizing statistical techniques that empower systems with an ability to automatically learn and develop (L & D) improving from experience without being explicitly coded or programmed. Machine learning emphasizes the development of computer programs that can access data and auto-didact (learn for themselves). Machine learning evolved from the study of pattern recognition and computational learning theory, it examines the construction of algorithms that can learn from and conduct data forecasts. Machine learning is especially deployed in wide-ranging computing tasks where designing and programming explicit algorithms with good performance is tough or infeasible; example applications include email filtering, detection of network intruders, and computer vision. For more: Bishop, C. M. (2006), Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning. Garcia, Megan (2016). “Racist in the Machine”. World Policy Journal. 33 (4): pp. 111–117, Patterson, Scott (2010) “Letting the Machines Decide”. The Wall Street Journal, 13 July, 2010 and for a more critical take on ML and AI view: “The First Wave of Corporate AI Is Doomed to Fail” (2017) Harvard Business Review. 18, April, 2018.
67- Air Force Instruction (2016) 11-202, vol. 3, Flying Operations: General Flight Rules, 10 August 2016, p. 69.
68- Department of Defence (DOD) “Joint Publication (JP) (2015) pp. 1-02, of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms,” 15 March 2015, 108.
69- Department of Defence (DOD) (2010) JP 3-07.2, Antiterrorism, 24 November 2010, GL-6.