Monday, 18 February 2019

Drones can represent threat to military personnel, installations

FORT LEE, Va. – The Army takes the threat of unmanned aircraft systems to personnel and military interests seriously.

From criminal organizations to lone offenders and terrorist groups, the threat is rapidly expanding. In the future, the general populace will no longer have the luxury of assuming that the skies above them are free of pilotless machines that might be used to do harm.

Recently, a housing officer discovered a three-by-five-foot commercial unmanned aircraft system on the roof of a building. The navigation lights were covered by electrical tape to conceal the vehicle’s flight. It was delivering contraband including tobacco, testosterone, milk thistle and 12 cellular phones.

According to assessments by the National Counterterrorism Center, FBI and Department of Homeland Security, foreign terrorist organization-inspired violent extremists are likely to explore opportunities to use small UAS for potential direct attacks or preoperational surveillance within the U.S. This method allows potential attackers to “enter” Army installations and look at anything they want without the dangers or potential pitfalls from conventional physical security and access control.

The potential threat of a lethal UAS strike inside of the U.S. is growing, based on extremist group’s use of weaponized platforms in conflict zones, their continued advocacy of attacks against Western targets, and recent criminal incidents in North America.

Forty-six UAS-related events near DOD assets have been reported in 2018. With over 1,000,000 registered aerial systems in the U.S. alone, military communities should anticipate increasing threats, including UAS weaponization, in the future.

Fortunately, to date, no gunshots or explosives have been employed along their pathway. It is likely, however, that criminals or terrorists will soon equip UAS with still photo or video cameras for criminal intelligence, pre-attack surveillance, tests of security, or confirmation of security and troop formations.

Threats posed by extremist use of UAS include: lone wolves and terrorist groups – surveillance, target selection or to fly an IED into a crowd; corporations / contractors – use drones to obtain sensitive information as a means of gaining a competitive edge; organized criminals – use drones to smuggle illegal drugs and evade drug agents.

Defending Fort Lee against these threats may require regulatory countermeasures (policies and penalties) passive countermeasures (tracking or jamming signals) or active countermeasures (lasers or kinetic weapons). DOD is testing several kinetic and non-kinetic weapons to stop unwanted UAS.

The following lists some various malicious uses of UAS:

  • Add infrared and night vision, which could easily be employed to watch and document security operations and procedures around military installations
  • Wired with microphones to either eavesdrop on sensitive conversations, execute electronic harassment or commit espionage;
  • Drones can be shut down midflight, injuring bystanders and causing property damage, or flown into situations like traffic jams, buildings or people.
  • Carry explosives into public gatherings or inhabited facilities.
  • Add explosive or incendiary payloads, radioactive materials, chemical agents or biological agents.
  • Any individual with a basic level of technical know-how could use drones to stalk, harass or eavesdrop on another individual.

Most of the security infrastructure that exists today to limit access to sensitive locations has little effect against drones. UAVs can fly over fences and walls and can escape detection by traditional radar systems designed to track larger, passenger-bearing aircraft. Because they can be transported in the trunk of a car or in a backpack, they can be launched from any publicly accessible park, parking lot, city street, river or highway.

Once airborne, a drone can arrive within minutes at any location within a few miles of the launch site. In short, there is no city, neighborhood or building on the planet that is beyond their reach.

The core information technologies used in small drones — extremely small video cameras, chips to process video and high-speed wireless communications systems — are routinely found in inexpensive consumer electronics product stores or online catalogs.

In addition, because drones are manufactured in many different countries and are increasingly available on the global market, efforts within any one country to limit their spread would have little global effect. Also, given their many legitimate nonmilitary uses in applications such as law enforcement, and surveying and monitoring of infrastructure such as oil pipelines, banning their sale is impractical.

This does not mean, however, there is nothing that can be done. It may be possible to equip sensitive government buildings and areas with new systems to detect and, if appropriate, electromagnetically or kinetically engage low-flying incoming drones.

So, you want to fly a drone …

Fueled by rapid advancements in gadgetry – as well as a lot of skillful marketing – the commercial market for unmanned aerial systems, or drones, has exploded in recent years. A big hitch of the trend, however, is consumers not knowing what federal and local laws dictate about operation of the devices and where they’re prohibited.

Fort Lee, for instance, is federal property and there are regulations that must be adhered to in order to be legal. Drones have to be registered with the Federal Aviation Agency – – and command permission is required for flights in most locations. Fort Lee Policy 01:16, “Use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems on Fort Lee,” is available on the installation website. Under the “About Us” menu option, click on “Policy Letters and Regulations.”

FAA requirements for unofficial “hobbyist” use of drones include the following:

  • Weigh less than 55 pounds
  • Strictly for personal use
  • Operate within safety guidelines; limited to age 13 and older
  • Cannot interfere with manned aircraft
  • Coordinate with local air traffic control if within five miles of an airport.

Both recreational and commercial use of UAS on an Army installation are prohibited without prior approval from the senior commander or his designee. Senior commanders may authorize use of UAS for recreational purposes on a case-by-case or recurring basis. However, commercial use can only be approved on a case-by-case basis. Commercial operators must comply with all requirements found in Title 14, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 107.


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