Last year, writing about the growing numbers of 'hobby drones' flying around, I said:
What worries me most is that terrorists can't be blind to the possibilities of this technology. They must surely have among their members and sympathizers many individuals capable of controlling these small drones in flight. What if they deliberately began launching them into the approach and landing patterns of major airports, seeking to cause a collision? Even worse, what if they succeeded in seriously damaging or even destroying an airliner? Can you imagine the panic among air travelers? It'd shut down US air travel for a much longer period than 9/11, because there are literally thousands of these things out there, and no-one could be sure when one might not be launched from cover such as a clump of trees, or a city rooftop high above traffic, or something like that. There'd be no way to trace it back to its launch point or locate the person controlling it.
Now we read this report in the Washington Post.
Before last year, close encounters with rogue drones were unheard of. But as a result of a sales boom, small, largely unregulated remote-control aircraft are clogging U.S. airspace, snarling air traffic and giving the FAA fits.
Pilots have reported a surge in close calls with drones: nearly 700 incidents so far this year, according to FAA statistics, about triple the number recorded for all of 2014. The agency has acknowledged growing concern about the problem and its inability to do much to tame it.
So far, the FAA has kept basic details of most of this year’s incidents under wraps, declining to release reports that are ordinarily public records and that would spotlight where and when the close calls occurred.
The Washington Post obtained several hundred of the rogue-drone reports from a government official who objected to the FAA’s secrecy. An FAA spokeswoman, Laura Brown, declined to comment on the reports obtained by The Post.
The documents show that remote-control planes are penetrating some of the most guarded airspace in the country.
There's more at the link.
I've lived in a country where terrorist attacks were an everyday occurrence. I've visited other countries where it was just as bad. I can't help but be more and more worried about these uncontrolled drone flights. They're an almost perfect tool for terrorists, even if they aren't 'weaponized' by putting guns or explosives on them. They hold the potential to disrupt normal air travel simply by swamping the airspace around airports with dozens of collision hazards - and there's very little chance of finding those controlling them. What's worse, autonomous drones, that can be programmed to fly a set course or circle a given point (say, the approach end of an airport runway), can be launched and then left to do their thing while the operator simply walks or drives away.
I note that no-one in official circles is saying much about the potential for terrorism posed by these drones. To me, that silence speaks very loudly indeed. I have a very strong suspicion that not all these drone flights in the vicinity of airports are 'innocent' mistakes by 'over-enthusiastic' or 'thoughtless' drone owners. I'm sure that at least some of them are deliberate, and I'm equally sure that we're going to see more of them. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see a concerted campaign on high-profile, high-traffic days to disrupt air travel into a particular venue (say, a presidential inauguration, or a sporting event such as the Kentucky Derby or the Indianapolis 500 or the Augusta National - anything that might attract a high volume of extra airline flights or private aircraft). The publicity that could be generated by such a campaign, even if no aircraft are brought down, would be of great value to a terrorist organization.
What's more, drones of this type could be employed by terrorists planning an operation. Let's say an ISIS or Al Qaeda cell wants to mount a Beslan-style assault in the USA (which I'm sure they'd love to do). They could have a couple of drones that they can launch when the strike is under way, using them to monitor responses by security forces and adjust their defenses accordingly. They might even use drones controlled by sympathizers outside the perimeter of the operation, feeding information to them and perhaps bringing in messages if normal communications are disrupted. If armed forces across the world are doing this, right now, why can't terrorists? Some micro-UAV's are so small they're almost undetectable, and countermeasures against them are almost non-existent at present.
I reckon this is yet another reason to drive to one's destination, rather than fly, unless urgency dictates the faster method of travel. I'm seriously concerned about this.