FORT LEE, Va. – From recreation to research, the use of unmanned aircraft systems in our world has become as commonplace as smartphones and dashboard computers.
The USPS and Amazon are among the corporate entities rapidly implementing UAS package delivery. The military deploys drones daily for reconnaissance and interdiction operations, with additional logistics applications on the near-horizon. Meanwhile, manufacturers hoping to rake in even more moolah are continuously developing modifications to increase range, camera quality, payload carrying capability and more.
All of this phenomenal growth, however, has a pretty significant downside, which is what our enemies can accomplish with the technology. There is a growing body of accounts revealing the use of drones for nefarious purposes by nation-state actors, lone offenders, violent extremists, criminals and terrorist organizations.
Examples include the following:
A 2018 assassination attempt. Three UAS, each carrying one kilogram of C-4 explosives, detonated in Caracas, Venezuela, during a military parade in an attempt to kill the president of the country.
A 2019 economic disruption. An Iranian-based group used armed drones to attack a critical oil pipeline in Saudi Arabia, interfering with oil production and sparking a fire.
A 2018 act of intimidation. Mexican organized crime elements flew a UAS carrying two grenades to the property of a state security chief as a warning.
A 2017 smuggling incident. U.S. Border Patrol agents seized a UAS carrying 13 pounds of methamphetamine across the border near San Diego. At least 13 additional UAS suspected of carrying narcotics flew over the border in November.
A 2018 terrorist plot. Environmental activists crashed a drone into a nuclear power plant near Lyon, France, to highlight the vulnerabilities associated with the site.
Recently, Rezwan Ferdaustslt plotted to use an explosive-laden model aircraft similar to a UAS to attack the U.S. capitol and Pentagon on behalf of individuals he believed were associated with al Qa’ida. In July 2019, a small unmanned aircraft system carrying a destructive device was discovered on the rooftop of a government facility in downtown Los Angeles.
Worldwide, UAS incidents have demonstrated the major financial, disruptive and fear-inducing impacts that can be achieved at little cost and with minimal apprehension risk for perpetrators. Lump that together with simplicity of operation, the small scale of drones that make them harder to detect, and their commercial availability, and it becomes even more clear why UAS are attractive to lone offenders, criminal elements and violent extremists.
With all that offered as background, the answer to the next question should be obvious – is there a threat to military communities such as Fort Lee?
Over the last two years, there have been hundreds of UAS sightings and incidents at military installations across the U.S. Drones outfitted with video cameras and carrying drugs, fireworks or explosives have been found or captured. Some overseas drones have even delivered chemical weapons.
Fortunately, there have been no such reports or incidents at Fort Lee or in the Tri-Cities area, but keep in mind that the threat potential could change at any time.
If a criminal element, foreign terrorist organization or homegrown/domestic violent extremist wants to conduct reconnaissance of Fort Lee security operations, select lucrative targets to attack, observe high density gatherings (e.g. formations/parades) or find out where pilferable, high-dollar, military equipment is stored, they could simply launch a drone from outside the fence and fly it around the installation, taking video or still photos. In addition, there are drones that can monitor and record the full spectrum of electronic communications.
What can we do to protect the installation from drone surveillance or attack? Actually, the same thing as any other suspicious activity – report incidents to the law enforcement desk at 804-734-7400. Remember that no drones are allowed to be flown on Fort Lee, which means any time one is spotted over post property, it is unauthorized and should be reported immediately to the military police.
The prohibition of drones was specified in All-Army Activity Message 029/2019, “Consolidated DOD-Army COTS UAS Cyber Security Waiver Business Rules.” It prohibits all commercial-off-the-shelf UAS flights on U.S. Army installations. This includes official, hobby or commercial use. In other words, no unit, individual, company or contractor is allowed to operate a drone on Fort Lee for any purpose without approval from HQDA.
Units and individuals can apply for a waiver from HQDA, but it must be submitted at least 45 days prior to the event, and the request requires local chain of command approval and the senior commander’s endorsement.
Before flying a drone off-post at a recreational area, parking lot or other open space, individuals are strongly encouraged to check local ordinances and/or facility restrictions. The following website, www.faa.gov/uas/educational_users, provides important information about Federal Aviation Administration requirements, including mandated labeling and licensing for devices weighing over 55 pounds.
August is Force Protection and Antiterrorism Awareness Month, a time to focus on the reality of threats to U.S. military activities and installations, and understand the importance of the often-recited phrase “See Something, Say Something.” Vigilance saves lives and protects property. Every one of us has the responsibility to look out for the safety and security of our community.
Latest UAS attachment a commercial flamethrower
The WASP is a drone-mounted flamethrower. This device could be used by malicious actors carrying out terrorist attacks against open-air targets including stadiums, concerts, festivals and parades. The company’s website states their flamethrowers are “legal almost everywhere with virtually no restrictions,” and that orders are delivered without any “waiting period, tax stamps or background check(s).” Only Maryland and California have restrictions on their ownership and use.