US Has No Remedy for Terror by Miniature Drones

The Black Dart exercise launched by the United States on Sept. 11 is a novelty, in that it is one of the earliest efforts to test military measures, devices and methods for intercepting hostile unmanned aerial vehicles. The two-week exercise, for which $4.8 million was allocated, takes place at the US Air Force Eglin base on the northwestern Florida coast of the Gulf of Mexico.
For the drill, the drones were sorted into three main categories – mostly according to weight: Category 1 – up to 9 kg.; Category 2 – 9-25 kg.; and Category 3 – upward of 25 kg.
This anti-drone exercise is the third in a mostly secret series, having switched parents: The first in 2002 was the brainchild of the Defense Intelligence Agency; the second in 2006, was administered by the Northern Command and, since 2006, organizing Black Dart has landed in the ken of the Joint Integrated Air and Missile Defense Organization (JIAMDO).
The frequent change of masters, tiny budget and the exercise’s conduct in a remote air base attest to America’s inability to devise – or even contemplate – an effective defense against what may prove to be the most potent of terrorist weapons, miniature drones.
According to some of the practice videos leaked from one of the exercises, the large military drones of Category 3 were simulated as the greater threat rather than types weighing no more than a feather – which DEBKA Weekly’s military experts believe are the ones to look out for.
The loudest applause at last year’s drill (part of which was attended by civilian company executives) was won by an Apache assault helicopter shooting a high-cost missile at a drone the size of an enemy jet.
Yet, people were still arguing about the degree of hazard presented by a tiny drone wielded in an urban battlefield, or a miniature UAV capable of crashing into an airliner packed with passengers.
Deployed for Black Dart 2016 are fighter jets and even two Navy destroyers as targets. For lack of counter measures to intercept medium or large drones, the exercise focuses on non-lethal devices for deflecting an advancing UAV from its flight path before it strikes.
A “brains trust” of manufactures and experts has been attached to the drill and invited to come up with practical ideas for combating the terror threats posed by miniature drones. The exercise was given a measure of publicity in the hope of raising public and political awareness to the threat. Needed are more funding, higher priority and a willingness to come to grips with this potential menace, which is still unfamiliar in the West but finally coming under close scrutiny from terrorist strategists.
They are beginning to realize its unlimited potential for harm.
Readily obtainable in toy shops, tiny drones are cheap, easily controlled, lightweight and versatile as regards range and altitude. A miniature drone can be loaded with a few grams of explosives and fitted with a video camera for navigating over a crowded stadium. While causing no more notice than a bird flying overhead, it could crash down on a mass audience without showing a blip on any radar screen.
The destructive capacity of this innocent-looking weapon is nowhere near matched by the size of investment in funds and thought for developing counter-measures – either in the US, Europe or Israel. This hazard becomes unthinkable when it comes not from a single miniature drone but a swarm swooping down on their prey.
It is not practical to install early warning systems in every known or unknown endangered population center.
Jamming their radio frequencies to cut them off from their handlers doesn’t solve the problem when they are fitted with Frequent Hopping devices.
Equally, tampering with GPS reception to upset the drone’s navigation controls is impracticable due to a) the excessive power required for the job and b) the havoc it would cause normal civilian activity.
Even a powerful, concentrated laser beam is not the answer.
In short, no manufacturer has so far developed a device capable of detecting and destroying a hostile UAV the size of a hand.
This project calls for a national effort embracing all possible resources and talents. Black Dart 2016 illustrates how far the West is from a solution to this impending danger. All that is available at present as protection against the first multiple-casualty terrorist attack by a small drone is a primitive kind of “fishnet” made of nylon or steel mesh to be thrown over vital utilities, government buildings and crowd centers.

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