In December 2010, a small Israeli-made drone crashed in an El Paso, Texas backyard, an incident described by an official from U.S. Customs and Border Protection as an accident.
The drone was operated by the Mexican federal police and caused no injuries; the accident should serve as a wake-up call for U.S. Government officials. Until the drone crashed, U.S. officials were unaware that drones were operating in the area. If instead of an accident, the drone had been a weapon targeting the U.S. it would not likely have been detected before reaching its target. The model of the drone involved in the El Paso incident is sold on the Internet.
John Villasenor, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institute writes “In many respects today’s drones are more similar to smartphones than to cruise missiles.” Villasenor said consumer demand for high-tech mobile video displayed in smartphones and the i-Pad and other tablet computers, mini-cameras and micro-chips capable of acquire and process high-resolution, high-frame-rate video while consuming very little battery power have become inexpensive and widely available. Second, Villasenor says wireless communications technology, and standards and protocols have evolved to the point that wireless transmission of video has become routine.
In February 2011, AeroVironment announced the successful demonstration of the prototype Nano Hummingbird, a video-capable drone weighing just two-thirds of an ounce and a wingspan of 6.5 inches.
Over the last decade, the U.S.military has increased its number of drones from 50 drones to 7000. The danger of small, quiet and cheap drones is the technology can be exploited by anyone with access to it. The global demand is rapidly increasing, and the drone industry is booming.
More than 50 countries, including China are reportedly participating in the new “arms race” to match the U.S. in manufacturing unmanneddrone and related technology.
The U.S. military’s successes in employing unmanned drones has drawn international attention. However, in Pakistan and elsewhere we see that sometimes drone strikes have unintended consequences, and innocent lives are lost. If not already in the hands of terrorist organizations, history demonstrates that it is inevitable. An internet search does suggest availability at several legit web stores. The lightweight, compact version is marketed as “the toy of the future”
Since drones are really “flying” computers, there are ways for the U.S.and other countries to track the devices using GPS technology and other surviellance or anti-theft software. Computer manufacturers often embed hidden software to track stolen merchandise, similiar programs would potentially identify terrorists after an attack if the device is recovered.
In the global market, the competitiveness to invent and manufacture the next smallest and fastest technology, according to a Proffessor at the University of North Carolina where I studied terrorism has left computer security lagging over a decade behind. The profits are so great that security is an afterthought, in the new “arms race” hopefully this is not the case.