By Robert Norton

The Cipher Brief notes that as the military prepares for the transition to the next administration, top civilian officials with the three military services have voiced concerns about challenges posed by weaponized drones. Closer to home, CNN reports, the threat of a domestic terrorist using an inexpensive hobby drone in an urban area remains real, so those responsible for agricultural and industrial security need to be aware of the potential.

At a gathering hosted by the Center for a New American Security and covered by the Cipher Brief, they stressed that one area that needs to be swiftly addressed by a new administration is the threat posed by unmanned aerial vehicles—drones—that have been weaponized. Several recent incidents in Iraq and Syria have illustrated the damage caused by cheap, small drones with explosives attached. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James told the group that recently four people were killed, by small, unmanned systems, and earlier this month an ISIS-linked drone rigged with explosives killed two Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers and injured two French military personnel in Iraq.

CNN also has raised the alarm about drones, noting that the U.S. has been using a drone missile campaign to fight terrorists. Now, ISIS has turned the tables using booby-trapped drones as its own weapons. “The terror group’s ability to innovate and use small aircraft for nefarious purposes underscores how the off-the-shelf drone technology could supply extremists with a potent platform on our own soil to deliver explosives,” CNN said.

In fact, there is evidence that international terrorists have looked at other ways to weaponize drones and “have been attracted to the high-lethality potential associated with the use of chemical and biological weapons,” according to a report released last week by the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, CNN said.

CNN added that the U.S. Army issued a new handbook in July to raise troop awareness of the threat of multiple swarming drones, which can be preprogrammed or remotely piloted as an expendable asset at relatively low cost.

“The swarm itself can be used to disrupt our own reconnaissance efforts or overwhelm an entry control point,” the handbook stated, according to CNN.

The military is taking the threat seriously and expects the use of hostile drones to continue, CNN said. “Coalition forces understand that ISIL is a determined, adaptive and unscrupulous adversary,” a Department of Defense spokesman said in a statement to the news organization. “There is a wide array of technology angles we are looking into—from blocking the electromagnetic spectrum and disrupting control of the device, to physically capturing or disabling the device.”

The Combating Terrorism Center report discusses how drones could be used in the U.S.  “as a diversionary device to channel a crowd to another location where attackers could be lying in wait” as well as a way to carry a deadly payload.

These unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) also pose a nuisance threat, CNN notes. “Rogue drones have been detected around stadiums, nuclear plants, prisons and even interfered with fire emergencies,” the article said. “There also have been drone intrusions in sensitive government locations in the nation’s capital, including on the White House lawn.”

Stay tuned—we’ll be talking more about this subject in the future. Several U.S. defense companies already known for big-ticket defense systems are working on and selling the newest anti-drone technology, CNN said. Read more here and here.

Dr. Robert Norton can be reached at nortora@auburn.edu or by calling (334) 844-7562.