– The Threat of Drone Swarms
Drones have enormous potential for good; in the wrong hands, they can pose unique and severe threats. These threats may challenge sophisticated defense capabilities such as the US Military. A recent threat comes from drone swarms that can overwhelm a target by sheer numbers of fast-moving, small, weaponized devices. These systems pose a danger to which military systems have few real responses. Tiny, nearly undetectable drones in massive numbers are clearly outside of standard military weapon systems.
– A Threat from Toy Drones
Defense authorities define a swarm of drones as 40 or more devices working in unison. The drones can be simple, easily made or modified commercial devices. It is the size and numbers that make them dangerous and difficult to counter. Today, the best defense might be a kinetic weapon like a bullet fired from a rifle. The number of drones would make that a nearly impossible feat. Compounding the low cost and simplicity of the operation, enemy actors could use self-guided drones and launch them with a device with the computing power of a cell phone.
– Low-Cost User Made Weapons
Bad actors can modify hobby drones and construct drones with little costs. They pose a threat due to the size, low altitude, and maneuverability of tiny swarm drones. Weaponized drones and drone swarms have appeared on battlefields and other types of situations around the globe. The danger of these systems cannot be overrated because they are low-cost and constructed with available technology. When combined with simple software, they can operate without ground control. As programmed weapons, they pose a severe risk to civilian populations and military personnel.
– Combined with AI and VR
Sophisticated weapon systems can deploy drone swarms that can interact with the environment and with other swarm drones. When combined with virtual reality technology and artificial intelligence or machine learning, these systems open new realms for weapons development. Currently, there are few clear solutions for a drone swarm. Research includes kinetic weapons like bullets and immobilizing or jamming techniques. Electronic jamming interrupts ground controls and would likely not work against drones without ground controls.
– Urgent Research Needs
Current military drones are relatively large. They include rotary or fixed wing platforms loaded with sensors, cameras, and electronic navigation packages. Swarm techniques could radically change the nature of drone usage for military purposes. Swarm devices can be inexpensive, fast, unpredictable, and deployable in massive numbers against a target. They can be nearly undetectable and equipped with advanced technology to interact, communicate, and achieve multiple missions. The need for research is urgent because the risk is severe, and the risk of new weapon developments is also severe.
– Collaboration with Civil and Government Agencies
Finding solutions will be a broad undertaking, and it will likely include civil defense. The Nevada drone research community promotes the peaceful use of drone technology for business, commerce, and personal usage. Much of the research at FAA drone test sites promote drone safety and increased public awareness.
1. Think One Military Drone is Bad? Drone Swarms Are Terrifyingly Difficult to Stop
2. US Army warns of the potential dangers of swarming toy drones on US soldiers