Sometime in the late 1980s, I was sitting in a movie theater enjoying the latest (and what would prove to be the last) "Dirty Harry" film. In this film, "Dirty" Harry Callahan ends up being pursued by a remote-controlled car carrying a small package of explosives (enough to detonate the car's gas tank). The chase seemed cartoonish, even more so than Harry and his foes, even if it had been used in a James Bond movie.
Flash forward nearly 30 years later and we have a warning from DHS that drones may be used in a terrorist attack. How ironic that the darling of the "Global War on Terror" or GWOT is now being used by the bad guys against us.
Drones have been making headlines a lot lately, especially the aerial variety (although there are ground and marine based variants that are equally deadly). Aerial drones are the type voted most-likely to become autonomous hunter-killers without human intervention. A teenage student from Connecticut posted a video of a drone he modified to fire a Glock (for his dumb-ass vanity, he was promptly arrested). Then last week, a man in Louisville shot down a drone he claimed was spying on his teenage daughters sunbathing in his backyard.
Over the weekend, I found myself in a rather large local flea market. I was intrigued by the huge stall one of the vendors had rented out, wondering what he was selling that could help offset the rent for such a space. Sure enough, he was selling aerial drones of every size and price range. A dumb-ass with the cash can walk away with their own aerial drone.
Most civilian models already come equipped with digital cameras that can provide live feeds back to your smart phone or computer. Gone are the days of the local peeping tom hiding behind a tree or his curtains with a pair of binoculars!
For now though most civilian drones have a limited range and payload. They also make a helluva lot of noise so as of yet, they can't quite sneak up to your bedroom window (but that's coming). But even with the loud noise signature, they can still be used as a terrorist weapons. The abundance of drones is causing people to ignore them so if a say a large gathering sees one, they won't disperse. And that is exactly the danger.
It would take much to rig up a IED on a drone. Fly it over the crowd and BOOM! Instant headline. Or you could simply have one pop up in the flight path of an airliner as it is climbing out during take off. High-bypass turbofan engines don't like ingesting foreign debris on the best of days, a large drone full of metal parts could cause the engine to completely fail. At such low altitudes, the pilots may not be able to react in time to recover.
You could even revisit the "Dirty" Harry movie I began with and instead of blowing up a police car just smash it through their windshield. Would even work on limousines of elected officials, ballistic glass notwithstanding, by causing the driver to veer off the road.
Drones are already beyond FAA's ability to regulate and the drones are only going to get smaller and quieter. Then of course we would still have to worry about land-based or marine-based variants (such as micro subs).
I'm not certain what the answer is going to be on this one. If shoot them down, they may just fall into the very people we are trying to protect. Jamming could end up creating even more havoc. And don't forget even the "benevolent" drones being flown by the good guys could be easily hacked and turned into weapons.