The title alone seems like enough to get me on a list, but this is a topic that’s been turning over in my head for a while now, and ever since the Gatwick incident in December 2018 when as-of-yet unnown drone operators paralyzed an entire airport by just casually flying around. The cheapness and availability of drones combined with humanity’s tendency to blow each other up seems like it should have sparked some sort of an epidemic of drones with explosives strapped to to them committing acts of terrorism.
That’s only happened a few times, though. All I was able to turn up were the following incidents:
- ISIS has been doing it since 2016, but with relatively limited effectiveness.
- A 2019 Houthi rebel attack in Yemen using a drone specifically designed to blow up and cause damage to people below. Not exactly homebrewed, but a dark image for the future.
- An alleged assassination attempt on Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro in August of 2018, but this one is sketchy: the whole thing could have been set up by the government itself, and no one knows exactly how the drones were supposed to work.
- An allegedly planned explosive drone terror attack in Jordan, where a drone was supposed to carry several kilos of explosive to its target.
Out of those, only ISIS and the Houthi rebels actually did any damage. The Houthi attack is too recent to know if it will be adopted as a future MO, but if ISIS didn’t find it especially effective, it may just not be that great of a way to take out targets. Though they did post a propaganda poster of a drone headed towards the Eiffel Tower [Autoplaying video behind link].
This is hardly a neglected threat–Nicholas Grossman has written a whole book on it, and FBI Director Christopher Wray has expressed his opinion that this will be a big issue in the future. The fact remains, though, that we have yet to see a large-scale, high-profile drone bombing in the vein of other terror attacks. A few possible reasons for this:
- It lacks the impact of a personal attack: terrorism isn’t about eliminating valuable targets, it’s about sending a message, and sending in a drone just doesn’t say as much as sending in a person.
- It’s actually not that easy: maybe figuring out how to get sufficient amounts of explosives onto a drone, getting the trigger mechanisms right, flying it into the right spot, and detonating it isn’t as easy as it sounds.
- Maybe drones just haven’t caught on yet: sure, they’re a hit on the commercial market, but maybe the first domino hasn’t fallen to set off the terrorism market yet. Maybe all the pieces are there, but no one has seen them used destructively enough to copycat them.
Either way, it seems likely that we’re due for that first incident. Drones are easy to get and wiring explosives onto them surely can’t be harder than wiring them other places. A large-scale drone attack is probably coming sometime in the next decade, and that will likely be the start of a trend, which will, unfortunately, probably lead to lots of restrictions on drones and the increased government use of drones and drone countermeasures.
Honestly, I’m more surprised that, given humans’ historical fixation with implementing new and exciting ways of murdering each other, we haven’t already filled the skies with small exploding death-copters. Maybe the world actually is getting more peaceful.