On Security

When Drones Attack: The Threat Remains Limited

Scott Stewart
VP of Tactical Analysis, Stratfor
Jul 17, 2018 | 08:00 GMT
Payload limits and other factors make commercial drones more effective as surveillance platforms than a means of attack.

A drone flies during practice day at the National Drone Racing Championships on Governors Island, August 5, 2016, in New York City.

(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Attacks involving drones likely will only become more common and will eventually pose a global problem. On July 11, the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point published a study of the Islamic State's drone program by Don Rassler that detailed how the group was able to obtain commercial drones and components that it used to conduct both surveillance and attacks. However, an individual or a small terrorist cell wishing to obtain a drone or two for an attack does not have to go to such lengths. Commercial drones are readily available for sale around the globe. Most commercial drones can carry relatively small payloads -- the popular DJI Phantom 4, for example, can bear just over a pound. Heavy-lift drones available for commercial sale that can carry over 20 pounds are far more expensive, and their purchasers will face more scrutiny. However, as the technology becomes more mature, and drones...

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