Tim Bradshaw (Financial Times) reports that ISIS has been using low-cost “quadcopters”, assembled using kits instead of buying ‘off-the-shelf’, to drop improvised bombs in Syria and Iraq.
US military officials have become increasingly concerned about ISIS’ use of drones such as the Phantom, designed for consumer photographers and controlled using a smartphone or remote control, costing a few hundred dollars.
After using them for surveillance, ISIS started dropping grenades and improvised explosives on Iraqi forces in Mosul and nearby areas. A unit called “Unmanned Aircraft of the Mujahideen” was formed in January and released video footage of the attacks on its websites.
The manufacturers allow customers to override or “unlock” some restricted areas, which its website states are “advisory only”. Shenzhen’s DJI, one of several manufacturers whose devices have been used by ISIS, has created new “no fly zones” for its products across Iraq and Syria. It has updated its ‘geofencing’ system, normally used to prevent its customers from flying their drones in restricted areas such as airports, prisons and power plants. These new no-fly zones in the Middle East were introduced to its mobile app in February.
MIT Technology Review (founded at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1899) says that it’s not clear how constructive the move will be.
As described above, the no-fly zones can still be circumvented by tweaking a drone’s software and by building aircraft from scratch, using component parts and rudimentary airframes.
The review also points out that the modifications could affect operations by Iraq’s military, which has started to use modified consumer drones to attack ISIS in recent months.