Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Facing the Challenge of ISIS Arming Consumer Drones | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
Select Page
Media ID: 55377756

Grenades can be dropped from drones. PHOTO: Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images

London- Terror group ISIS has deployed consumer drones carrying grenades in the battle for the Iraqi city of Mosul, creating the most daunting problem US Special Operations Command troops faced in Iraq during 2016, according to their commander Raymond Thomas.

Groups around the world are taking advantage of the increasing accessibility of drone technology to build and deploy them as weapons. And it’s not hard to imagine them being used in an attack in the West; the bomber responsible for the May attack on a concert in Manchester used parts purchased locally and may have been trained in Libya.

To combat the risks, the US government is looking for broad legal powers to hack and destroy drones on US soil. So do drones carrying bombs really represent a credible next step in the evolving terrorist threat? And are existing countermeasures effective, or should other countries follow in the US’s footsteps?

The New Scientist magazine published a report saying that in theory, the idea of drone terrorism should be like that of tank terrorism – far beyond a terror cell’s capabilities. But while the US (along with its ally Israel) effectively held a monopoly on weaponized drones just five years ago, almost anyone can now build drones for combat, says Ulrike Franke at the University of Oxford – and their evolution is being accelerated by the rise of weapons start-ups in conflict zones.

New Scientist reporter Christian Borys further writes that at the vanguard of these efforts is Matrix UAV in Ukraine, which is working on a drone capable of firing anti-tank missiles. Operating from a decrepit Soviet-era building, the group’s offices are only slightly hidden away from the bustle of downtown Kiev. With a wingspan of roughly 1 meter, the drone isn’t slick like the Predator drone used by the US. But appearances are deceptive: it will be capable of taking out an armored vehicle.

Flush with cash after an anonymous Ukrainian businessman invested in the group, Matrix UAV plans to have a working prototype test-firing the missiles within four months. CEO Yury Kasyanov, a former journalist and advertising executive, is hoping to export the drones to governments around the world for $100,000 each.

That’s extraordinarily cheap compared with the price of Western-made military combat drones, which range between $6 and $14 million. It’s made possible by a massive fall in the cost of consumer drones and cheap labor in Ukraine.
But if they can do it, so can others. In the hands of insurgents, a drone like this would offer the ability to sneak up on opposing forces and attack mechanized infantry, tanks, buildings, and troops from the sky.

It would be a significant step up from the flying improvised explosive devices (IEDs) being used by ISIS in Iraq. As the Iraqi military began its push to take back ISIS-held Mosul last year, its troops were targeted by off-the-shelf drones with grenades strapped to them.

“Combatants weren’t expecting that they’d have small bombs from these small drones raining on their necks,” says Veli-Pekka Kivimäki, a Finnish military defense analyst.