How feasible is terrorism using civilian drones?

This is completely hypothetical. I remember reading a story last year of a New Yorker arrested for flying a drone in the US Open stands. As well as that, I’ve heard numerous stories of near air collisions involving drones and airliners about to land or takeoff.

Seeing as these were accidents, I wonder why a terrorist group has not attempted to use them maliciously. Is it an issue with practicality? Could one mount a projectile, laser, or explosive chemical on the drones?

ISIS has major drone workshops.

I’m bit surprised that this kind of use is not more widespread. It has potential. So I think more of a question here is, why I see daily news like “terrorist attacks and wound 10 people with knife on bus”, but not like “drone with nail pipebomb crashes through parliament window.”

Because terrorists always value simplicity over anything else. Much easier to kill a bunch of people with knives, guns, and vehicles which are relatively simple than figure out a bomb drone which requires somebody who can fly a non-standard drone (since it’s going to be packed with explosives), somebody with knowledge of building explosives, and somebody who can figure out a reliable system of detonating the bomb in flight. Even if you got a guy who could do all three you still have all sorts of potential problems with range, detection, reliability, and a safe launch point it’s easier to just have some guy run over people in a car.

My over the counter “drones” aren’t capable of lifting much more than themselves.

They must be using old prop-plane drones because they had a lot of spare wooden propellers in that ISIS drone factory.

Or I might be horribly wrong. There were things that looked to me like wooden propellers in the photos linked to. Don’t actually know if they are or not.

We’ve already seen people mount handguns to drones. ( It’s also totally possible to create a bomb-drone, although the payload would be small and there are other practical obstacles others have already explained. ISIS has already successfully used bomb-drones in combat. I think it’s really only a matter of time before a weaponized drone attack occurs in the West.

But having said that, there are some obstacles…

The biggest obstacles are skill and motivation. Have you ever noticed that the major terrorist leaders don’t encourage people to launch high-profile, sophisticated attacks? Nowadays they focus on promoting independent actors to use low-cost, low-effort attacks with simple things like cars, knives, and handguns. Part of this is because it is easier to motivate a lone crazy to lash out, rather than trying to recruit and train someone for a more complex operation. It’s a sign of their weakness, really, as it proves how little terrorists are able to reach outside of their home territories.

But there’s another psychological factor at work. Most of the terrorists we see want to be killed. Mass shooters do not try to inflict casualties and then escape. Most of these people are mentally disturbed and suicidal. They want to kill as many people as possible and then die, themselves. There are examples of people who did try to escape - like the Tsarnev brothers - but most do not. Since martyrdom is part of their goal, why would they bother using a drone?

Experts have always been a bit confused by terrorists. If the goal was to maximize casualties and disruption, bombs and shootings are actually pretty inefficient. I had a conversation with an FBI analyst once who explained that when they war-gamed scenarios for possible terrorist attacks, they found lots of low-effort high-impact scenarios that should be more attractive than random bombings and shootings. But - for psychological reasons - terrorists choose not to use these methods. There is something about bombings and martyrdom that they find attractive.

In time they may evolve new methods and become more pragmatic, and I think we’ve seen some of that in ISIS, but for now we should be thankful that their ideas are so limited and self-defeating.

Yes, those look like wooden propellers. And in the first photo they’re leaning against what looks like a tail assembly attached to a pipe.

There’s not a lot of scaling information in those photos, but what there is tells me these aren’t “toy” sized drones, they’re actually edging up to small ultralights.

Unless you’re using jet engines (and they’re not) this isn’t rocket science. The information needed to build a small, even a really small, aircraft is out there. Remote control technology has become better, cheaper, and easier to use. Bomb-making tech has been out there forever.

The “big” obstacle is combining all of the above in a workable package. But if you’ve got money and don’t have to worry about making something a human could ride on safely people with mechanical skills to, say, work on a car could figure out how to make it all work pretty quickly. There is skill required to use it all, but there are software “games” as well as frank training programs for remote control aircraft out there that allow a person to practice without breaking actual objects.

There are plenty of companies around the world that make and sell parts to use for tiny aircraft that weigh ounces up to full size, people-carrying aircraft. Or they could be cannibalizing small aircraft. Or both.

That said, getting a suicide bomber to drive a car into a crowd of people IS easier and probably cheaper to do, which is probably why we see car bombs and suicide bombers more often.

Sure, governments do keep an eye on people with the needed skills (pilots, aircraft mechanics, commercial drone operators) as well as folks who sell certain items (like propellers) but the truth is that some dedicated nutjob can put all together in a garage without the neighbors being the wiser. Given that, I’d be more shocked if something like ISIS didn’t have workshops for this in territory they control than the fact they do have them

They don’t seem to have any twist to the blades.

Oh they are much more sophisticated than that.Here is a video of an ISIS drone attacking an Iraqi Convoy, with drone camera feed.
In that it was a lucky shot but using drones is something that has been done for several years now.

A significant percentage of “suicide bombers” are actually more accurately “Human Delivered Bombs”. Basically, they think they are on a job for their employers and using a remote detonator they go boom.

Yes, one of the more interesting aspects of terrorism. Recall that when a group invaded a school in Russia wearing suicide vests and took many of the schoolchildren hostage - after a few days, one of the women suggested that they should let some of the children go, so for appearing to question her leader, the leader set off her suicide vest by cellphone.

They rarely even use simple ultralight airplanes.
Which would be effective.

The good thing about terrorists is they aren’t necessarily creative. If I was using a civillian drone to cause harm, I’d fly it above some crowd situation and rig it to release aresolized dymethylmercury on them–they might not even notice until it was too late. But terrorists tend to go for the flash, not the subtile damage.

You are an evil thinking man Darren Garrison and I’m glad you’re on our side.

Let’s not be giving them any ideas. :slight_smile:

The limited carrying capacity and range of consumer drones doesn’t make them great tools for terrorism but they could be employed in some ways. Helicopter or airplane drones could make a mess of a jet engine just as well as a flock of geese. But it would take quite a bit of development and training to have a chance of such an attack working and most likely it wouldn’t succeed and just waste the resources of the terrorists.

Carrying sufficient explosives or weapons on a drone would still be a chancy operation more likely to fail than using human operatives for the attacks, and human attacks haven’t been foolproof at all. This is likely more of a danger for the battlefield where drones can be used to find opposing forces and harass them.

The great danger is the development of more sophisticated technology available at lower cost that could be used to strafe a crowd or target a location for an explosion. Just the fear created by any such successful attack will play into the hands of terrorism because it is the terror they want, they simply cannot kill enough people in direct attacks to win out for their cause.

I’ve long thought that it’s only a matter of time before some group or individual carries out a miniature AC-130 attack with a modified large drone carrying video cameras and calibrated machine guns mated to aiming crosshairs in the cameras, going after individuals or a large crowd. At a stadium or massed open-air event it could have 10x, maybe 20x the death toll of the Vegas Mandalay Bay hotel shooting.

Are you seriously suggesting a consumer level drone could someone kill almost 1,200 people? A real AC-130 would struggle to reach that.

I’m not familiar with civilian drones but if large enough and one or more machine guns carrying enough ammo mated to some rudimentary camera-aiming tech and going after a football stadium with 70,000+ spectators in attendance, a thousand deaths sounds easily attained, in fact, perhaps even a low estimate, all the more so given that a stadium isn’t easily evacuated in a short time.

As for a real AC-130 - if it went after a stadium of 70k spectators, my WAG is that it would kill many thousands. The 105mm howitzer, Bofors 40mm, and 25mm machine gun would inflict calamitous mayhem.

Machine guns are primarily Suppressive fire and not a hugely effective solution for the weight, and note that the AC-130 uses cannons with explosive rounds and not machine guns, and the recoil force is 3,700 pounds so even most private planes couldn’t deal with the forces involved. Some form of explosive or other method would be easier and more effective IMHO.