Little over a week ago in Caracas, Venezuela an attempted assassination took place against the country’s premier, President Maduro. Nothing new you might say, there have been many assassination attempts in South America in recent times. However, what sets this apart from other attacks was it came remotely, from the air by a small fleet of drones.
Many security analysts have predicated such an attack from these types of vehicles for a while, and even though there have been several false alarms such as the White House incident in May 2015 and the Angel Merkel event in September 2013, this has been the first time commercial off the shelf drones have been used to try and harm a High Value Individual in the West.
Nefarious use of this technology is of course not new. ISIS have been attacking and harassing coalition forces in Syria and Iraq since the war began. In one month alone ISIS flew over 300 drone missions during the battle of Mosul. The terrifying reality is that this has now happened outside of a war zone.
Many analysts will say that it was just a matter of time before an attack of this nature happened and they are right but unfortunately it’s unlikely to be the last. At our Academy, when we train complete Ab Initio operators to fly and operate small-unmanned vehicles, the first comment many operators say is how easy they are to fly. That’s because they simply are! The aircraft are super stable and it doesn’t take an operator long to become proficient. They can also be pre programmed to fly a route taking the operator out of the ‘cockpit’. You factor this in with the relative cheap cost of these vehicles and what you have is an efficient, simplistic and accurate method of delivering munitions.
Countering this threat is not a new concept. There are many companies, home and abroad, who are working tirelessly to develop technological methods of tackling the threat posed by rogue drones. There are some very clever developments that would easily counter this threat; the main hurdles are arguably regulatory. That said government agencies are working alongside with these companies to help facilitate the introduction of this counter technology.
What can we do as operators in the meantime? The answer is to continue to fly in the same manner as you always have. In the UK these sorts of events shouldn’t change our modus operandi, but we must remain vigilant and operate to the highest standard. All operators must be aware of the changes in regulation, particularly the amendments to the Air Navigation order that came into effect on the 31stJuly 2018.
We try and instil a lot of anecdotal experience to our candidates. I find learning from other peoples experiences is vital. One saying that has stayed with me ever since I served with the United States Air Force was never do anything Dangerous, Dumb, Different or Stupid. If you think that there is chance that a flight cannot be conducted safely then simply don’t do it. Communication is key, speak to people, and let them know what you are doing. They may not always be interested but at least you’ve made the effort of making them aware of your intentions.
Despite the clear benefits that drones have brought to many industries such as agriculture and surveying etc. there arguably has always been an underlying presence of negativity surrounding them. A lot of this negativity is hyperbole propagated by media more interested in sensationalism than positive stories and we have learnt in the industry to simply ignore it. However, headline news stories of attacks don’t help the perception of drones. As responsible operators we need to help the industry grow and in order to do that we must continue to strive for the highest possible standards with regards to safety and compliance. We do need to be worried as this attack was serious but we cannot be deterred in our day-to-day business. We need to continue the professionalism that makes UK operators the best trained UAV pilots in the world.