I've been warning about the threat of terrorist-operated drones (unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAV's) for almost a decade. Some have shared my concern; others have been scornful, dismissive or downright rude about it. Nevertheless, as technology marches on, drones have become the weapon of choice for criminals in various fields, and unidentified drones have sparked security alerts in several instances. It's by no means impossible that those unidentified drones over military bases, nuclear power stations, etc. were reconnaissance efforts. Who's behind them is as yet unknown.
We can add to the list of drone attacks an attempt to shut down a power substation in Pennsylvania.
U.S. officials believe that a DJI Mavic 2, a small quadcopter-type drone, with a thick copper wire attached underneath it via nylon cords was likely at the center of an attempted attack on a power substation in Pennsylvania last year. An internal U.S. government report issued last month says this is the first time such an incident has been officially assessed as a possible drone attack on energy infrastructure in the United States, but that this is likely to become more commonplace as time goes on. This is a reality The War Zone has sounded the alarm about in the past, including when we were first to report on a still-unexplained series of drone flights near the Palo Verde nuclear powerplant in Arizona in 2019.
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"This is the first known instance of a modified UAS [unmanned aerial system] likely being used in the United States to specifically target energy infrastructure," the JIB states. "We assess that a UAS recovered near an electrical substation was likely intended to disrupt operations by creating a short circuit to cause damage to transformers or distribution lines, based on the design and recovery location."
ABC and other outlets have reported that the JIB says that this assessment is based in part on other unspecified incidents involving drones dating back to 2017. As already noted, The War Zone previously reported on another worrisome set of incidents in 2019 around Arizona's Palo Verde Generating Station, the largest nuclear power plant in the United States in terms of its electrical output. In the process of reporting that story, we uncovered other reported drone flights that prompted security concerns near the Limerick Generating Station nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania earlier that year.
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Beyond the copper wire strung up underneath it, the drone reportedly had its camera and internal memory card removed. Efforts were taken to remove any identifying markings, indicating efforts by the operator or operators to conceal the identifies and otherwise make it difficult to trace the drone's origins.
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Regardless, the incident only underscores the ever-growing risks that small drones pose to critical infrastructure, as well as other civilian and military targets, in the United States. If this modified drone did pose a real risk, it would also highlight the low barrier to entry to at least attempt to carry out such attacks. New DJI Mavic 2s can be purchased online right now for between $2,000 and $4,000. [Edited to note: one model is available for under $800 at the time of writing.]
The technology is so readily available that non-state actors around the world, from terrorists in the Middle East to drug cartels in Mexico, are already employing commercial quad and hexacopter-type drones armed with improvised explosive payloads on a variety of targets on and off more traditional battlefields. This includes attempted assassinations of high-profile individuals.
There's more at the link.
The USA has employed weapons to "short out" electricity networks for almost 30 years. This attack looks to have been an attempt to do the same using relatively low technology, available to anybody.
Oh - and in case anyone is still unconvinced about the ability of drones to threaten life, the Iraqi prime minister has just survived a drone attack. They've become an almost routine threat in the Middle East, with "weaponized" civilian hobbyist drones having been used as weapons for almost a decade. I have little doubt the same will happen in some parts of the USA before long.