Army warned of the danger consumer drones pose for infantry troops on the battlefield

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The National Academies have released a report to the United States Army, warning the branch of the dangers soldiers may soon face in the form of “drone swarms.”

The threats -which can be purpose-built or off-the-shelf drones- have been highlighted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) as a major threat to the United States Army, namely in the form of “swarms,” or attacks consisting of forty or more drones.

The “hobby” variant of drones seems to be particularly troublesome, given their ease of use and availability.

“Hobby drones are easy to buy, their performance is improving dramatically, and their cost has dropped significantly; now with millions of them around the world, they pose a growing threat to the U.S. warfighting forces if used for nefarious intents,” said retired Lieutenant Colonel Albert Sciarretta, chair of the committee and president of CNS Technologies.

“The threats could be consumer items like hobby drones, modified consumer items such as could be assembled with online components, and customized ones, like built-from-scratch aircraft,” he added.

As small toy drones become more advance, the modularity and simplicity of design enables end-users to become creative, from dropping explosives to being able to carry firearms.

“Modified hobby drones can be used to support conventional and unconventional attacks. For example, they can be fitted with external or embedded explosives designed to explode on contact. In addition, they can be used by adversaries to jam our radio frequency signals and to support their information operations. When these sUASs are combined in groups or swarms, their threat is significantly enhanced,” Sciarretta said.

According to The Register, the report -which has been largely redacted in the declassified version- indicates that 40 or more collaborative units could post a major threat to ground troops.  The number “40” was chosen, according to Sciarretta, because at that number “you no longer see the trees, you see the forest”.

If the drones can be linked to work as a semi-autonomous or self-operating network, the risk level becomes substantially higher.

While the Department of Defense has been attempting to develop a counter-drone program, constant advances in off-the-shelf technology have made for a heavy learning curve, particularly when dealing with artificial intelligence features.

For the Army’s sake, the sooner the DoD can adaprt to the technology, the better. In January, the Russian Ministry of Defence claims its forces in Syria were attacked a by a swarm of home-made drones –marking the first time such a coordinated assault has been reported in a military action.

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