The Pentagon and the Bomb-Carrying Consumer Drones
By Justin Bachman / Bloomberg technology
They’re cheap, they’re light, and they can carry a small bomb: The commercial drone is essentially a new terror gadget for anyone else looking to wreak havoc on a budget.
Weaponized to various degrees of sophistication, such unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are now being used in the civil wars.
Closer to the battlefield, the Marine Corps has begun integrating small drones into training exercises at the Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif., Neller said. A Marine or soldier who spots a drone overhead would typically shoot it down, but smaller drones can operate surreptitiously and elude radar since they are barely larger than a bird. Their small motors make acoustic detection enormously hard, and while wide-area camera sensors deployed on the ground might detect a drone, they usually require large computational resources in the field. One solution is an electronic signal jammer to prevent a drone’s operator from flying within a certain vicinity, an approach that U.S. forces have studied.
It’s worth noting that the U.S. also deploys small drones, typically for reconnaissance and surveillance. One of these, called Switchblade (PDF), is a model from California-based Aerovironment Inc. that’s been used by the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. The 5.5 pound drone can carry a lethal charge and has been flown in Syria, Metrick said.
When it comes to large drones, the U.S. has shown itself—somewhat controversially—to have no current peer. Remotely piloted Reaper and Predator drones have been used in thousands of attacks, including “targeted killings” for more than a decade. And the U.S. has major ocean-going drones: The autonomous Echo Voyager from Boeing Co., for example, can patrol underwater for months.
Those drones are all highly advanced platforms, with technology and price tags that put them far out of reach of almost all but the most advanced militaries. For the guerrilla masses, the numerous cheaper, lightweight models are far more accessible. Their easiest use would be simply to monitor U.S. activities. But it’s their potential for modified, deadlier use that worries U.S. military tacticians.
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