On several occasions I've warned about weaponized unmanned aerial vehicles of the sort used by hobbyists, for example in this article. A number of readers expressed skepticism, claiming that the payload of such drones was simply too small to be useful. Unfortunately, terrorists and criminals continue to ignore such criticism. Drones are now a real and present danger.
The first terror groups to use drone technology as a platform for IEDs originated in the Middle East. The so-called Islamic State (ISIS) was the most prominent of these, even using “drone swarms” to attack military and civilian targets.
ISIS’s black-market UAVs are still the most technologically advanced in the world. Most are fixed-wing units with a range of more than 60 miles. And unlike the simpler, self-destructing IED models used in the Caracas incident, the ISIS drones can drop grenades on their targets and then return to the pilot to be loaded up again and re-used.
ISIS might still be ahead of the curve, but groups using illicit armed drones in the Americas are catching up fast.
In November of 2017, The Daily Beast broke the story of the first illegally weaponized drone found in Mexico. It was a relatively primitive version that sported a homemade shrapnel bomb and was found in the back of a vehicle belonging to the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), in the state of Guanajuato.
Then, about a month ago, evidence surfaced that CJNG had already advanced their drone designs considerably.
On July 10, the house of a Mexican public safety officer was targeted in a drone attack in Tecate, Baja California—a border city in the larger Tijuana-San Diego municipality that falls within CJNG’s established territory.
According to a new report co-authored by Dr. Robert Bunker, of the U.S. Army War College, the Tecate drone managed to drop its payload ISIS-style on the officer’s residence. Although the attack was apparently meant as a warning—since the grenades still had their safety pins intact—it also showed a clear step up in cartel-drone enhancement, including a second unmanned aircraft that conducted reconnaissance on site.
“Of the two drones, the Tecate one has far better lethality than the one in Guanajuato—we are comparing military grade grenades versus an IED,” Bunker told The Daily Beast.
“This is still an evolving global threat,” Bunker said. “The next firebreak, now that earlier ones have recently been broken in Mexico and Venezuela... would be weaponized drone incidents taking place in either Western Europe or in the United States. You can’t get much closer to the U.S. than Tecate, Mexico for an incident like this.”
Michel agreed with Bunker about the international risk posed by evolving drone technology.
“We're definitely going to see more attacks of this kind, be they assassination attempts against a specific leader or indiscriminate terrorist attacks,” Michel said. “Part of the appeal of drones for terrorists groups is that they make great cable news fodder. Showing that you have weaponized drones is an excellent way to draw attention to your organization and to incite fear.”
There's more at the link. A tip o' the hat to Cdr Salamander for spotting it first.
Drones are also being used as transports by drug cartels in Mexico, flying narcotics across the US border with Mexico, with little fear of interception. One recent report spoke of thirteen "drug drones" being detected in just four days - and that's only the ones that were detected. There were probably more. A UAV is an almost perfect vehicle for smuggling drugs, as it can be flown (either autonomously, or under an operator's control) to a specific location, where waiting recipients can offload its cargo and send it back for more.
It's obvious where Mexican cartels are getting their inspiration. Hezbollah has "weaponized" hobbyist drones in the Middle East for some time - and the organization has been active in Mexico as well, as this 2011 report demonstrates. In 2015, US Homeland Security claimed that Hezbollah was actively collaborating with cartels. My biggest worry is that Hezbollah may already have smuggled some of its terrorists into the USA, where they can buy hobbyist drones off-the-shelf at very low prices, weaponize them, and use them in terror attacks. I suggested earlier that some of the near-misses between drones and commercial airliners at major US airports might have been terrorists attempting to engineer a collision. I've heard or seen nothing to put my mind at rest about that. While an unarmed lightweight drone might not be enough to bring down an airliner, one carrying an explosive charge such as a hand grenade might be an entirely different kettle of fish.
I think we've only just begun to see this threat in action. I think it's going to get a lot worse over the next few years.