It sounds like the plot of a sci-fi thriller, but it really happened, and it's worrying, to say the least.
A recently released report by the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and National Counterterrorism Center revealed that a modified consumer drone was deployed to attack an electrical substation in Pennsylvania last year. It is the first known incident of a drone being used to target the country's energy infrastructure.
The consumer drone was outfitted with a leather leash connected to a piece of copper wire designed to make contact with high-voltage gear and cause a short circuit, equipment failure, or even a fire. Fortunately, the drone crashed before any damage could be done.
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The United States Air Force has used a conceptually similar approach to disrupt power production. USAF "blackout bomb" drones were responsible for shutting down 70 percent of Serbia's electrical capacity during the Kosovo War in 1999. There are no explosives in these devices. Instead, they are designed to unleash flurries of conductive filaments upon electric-power equipment.
Disturbingly, the United States doesn't currently have a far-reaching plan to protect infrastructure and other buildings from drone attacks, according to Zak Kallenborn of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism in Maryland.
“Counter-terrorism defenses largely assume a ground-based attacker," he said. "But fences and bollards are obsolete if terrorists can take to the air."
It doesn't help that drones are cheap and easy to use, that an attack can be launched from any direction, and that a tiny payload can cause great harm to sensitive components. While counter-drone jamming is utilized at some locations, it's not much of an option for defending all critical-infrastructure facilities, due to cost factors and coverage limitations.
“Operators of infrastructure sites need to identify critical, sensitive components where small charges can cause significant harm to the facility’s operation,” advised Kallenborn.
Readers of The Droning Company obviously use drones for good, but it is an ongoing concern that even an inexpensive consumer drone—if armed with the right device and deployed for destruction—could possibly wreak havoc on power, water, transportation, and other critical services. Should the droning community put its collective heads together to assist government agencies with defensive strategies?
Michael Molenda • Editor in Chief • email@example.com
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