19 November 2012

When will terrorists get drones?

Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert cartoons, raises this thought-provoking question.
In my book The Religion War, written ten years ago, I predicted a future in which terrorists could destroy anything above ground whenever they wanted. They simply used inexpensive drones with electronics no more sophisticated than an Android app...

So what happens when the drone attacks start happening in volume? Let's game this out. My assumption is that the coming inevitable wave of hobby-sized suicide drones will be unstoppable because they will fly low to their target and be so numerous that no defense will be effective. I predict it will be too dangerous to live above ground in Israel within ten years unless the trend is reversed. But what could stop the trend?
His question focuses on Israel, but of course it could be applied to any other place in the world. 

Via The Dish.


  1. uh... someone should tell him that it's already unsafe to live in Gaza, thanks to Israeli drones.

  2. I'm not convinced. There are plenty of conceivable countermeasures.
    1) Israel could jam the signal
    2) UAV's could be deployed en masse to shoot down enemy UAV's.
    3) The control signal for the UAV could be traced to its controller and the controller could then be attacked, which would both disable the UAV and deter future attacks.

    In general, suicide drones might be cheap, but drones to counter them will also be cheap. In a war of drone attrition Israel has the resources to prevail.

    1. autonomous/GPS guided drones
      1 - no signal to jam
      2 - detection would be VERY dificult and more so if you want to mount it on a UAV.
      3 - see #1

      Right now, such a drone is pretty expensive (from a Gaza perspective) but could drop with larger production. The main disadvantage is the small payload but large quantities and precision guidance could make Scott's concern a real life problem (and not just for Israel).

    2. Hmm..

      1) GPS signals are easily jammed. Numerous examples of this are available on the internet.

      2) Detection is not that hard, based upon acoustic or radar tracking. You can 'stealth' a drone, but that makes it more complex and expensive -- starting to defeat the "cheap, small" reason for them.

      3) Destructiveness -- How much payload do these small drones carry? Unless they are carrying gas or radiological weapons, the effectiveness of say 1/2 kilo of explosives isn't that much. Swarms of them would be -- but then you'd have a mass target.

      4) Range. Anyone who has worked with small RC airplanes knows the range issues with their small fuel tanks. Larger fuel tanks are heavier, forcing a trade against explosive payloads or larger, more expensive and more detectable drones.

      5) Ability to be knocked down. Once detected drones are not that hard to knock down. At the low end, physical barriers will work -- netting or wire barriers will stop drones. Explosives will eventually work their way through these by successive explosions, but we're back to mass swarm attacks, which make mass targets. To pick off individual drones you can use rapidfire short range guns similar to Phalanx or other radar guided gun systems, or just shotguns on optical or IR tracking systems. I suspect that would be the cheapest and easiest way. More exotic systems would be a simple laser with power in the 10's of KWs, which can knock down a small drone at ranges of multiple kilometers. You can guy 10 KW lasers for commercial industrial applications today, but you'd need the optical guidance and targetting system as well.

  3. Any weapons system can be defeated, stopped cold, by the same thing, regardless: no money. Humans, like every other organism on the planet, will always adapt. We always have, we always will. --A.

  4. And the smaller they are, the more prone they are too small counter-attacks... like stones or a shotgun with birdshot.

  5. I suspect terrorist appreciate bang for the bucks. A hobby sized drone would be very good for murdering specific individuals but there probably isn't enough bang for the bucks for intimidating a population. What's more effective: 1 remote control hobby plane or 3 rockets?
    Effective drone technology is expensive. prohibitively expensive to all but those that can pretend to afford the cost. I'd rather everyone spent the money feeding children.


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