By Lee Porterfield
Last week, someone apparently tried to kill Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro using a drone, or unmanned aerial system. Maduro’s speech was interrupted by an explosion — video shows the camera shake, Maduro and his wife flinch, and witnesses flee in panic.
Maduro’s attackers used a high-end UAS that can carry several pounds — but cheaper drones can be dangerous, as well. Top-selling quadcopters are available for $1,200 and can hold approximately 2 pounds of weight. That’s enough for a camera to film bridges, government buildings, stadiums or motorcades to look for security flaws. Or terrorists could swap out the camera for an explosive device.
Unmanned aircraft appeal to terrorists, insurgents and other militant nonstate actors for the same reasons they appeal to our military: It’s a relatively inexpensive way to attack a target without risking personnel.
The nonmilitary drone market is growing rapidly, with $30 billion in sales estimated by 2020. This creates opportunities for businesses, artists and hobbyists — but creates security challenges for governments and individuals.
To counter this growing threat, on May 23 the Deputy Secretary of Defense issued a directive for the immediate suspension of DoD purchases of commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) systems. Additionally, it directed the immediate suspension on the use of COTS UAS until the DoD identifies and fields a solution to mitigate known cybersecurity risks.
On Aug. 7, Maj. Gen. Kent Savre, Maneuver Support Center of Excellence and Fort Leonard Wood commanding general, signed Command Policy 19, Personal Use of Unmanned Aircraft (UA) on Fort Leonard Wood. It directs that for public safety and operational reasons, the outdoor use of UA (including, but not limited to model aircraft, quadcopters or drones), whether or not these are equipped with cameras, is prohibited on the installation.
Any suspicious activity observed should be reported immediately. If a drone or other UAS is observed, please try to provide as detailed a description as possible.
Report suspicious activity to the military police desk at 573.596.6141.
(Editor’s note: Porterfield is an Antiterrorism/Force Protection operations specialist at Fort Leonard Wood.)