By CHRIS DALBY, with BROOKS TIGNER
BRASSCHAAT, Belgium – Unmanned aerial, ground, and maritime vehicles with sophisticated self-governing capabilities are fast becoming a reality. Soon they will also have the ability to operate in all-weather conditions and night-time, make accurate 3D maps of complete structures, fly indoors, search and identify people, and fly in swarms. (see Euro-View commentary on swarm threats in this issue)
While this holds out many benefits to society, there is also the risk of malicious intent. “We have seen there is more technical empowerment now for those wishing to carry out attacks via cyber threats to critical infrastructure, biochemical homemade weapons, and the use of drones,” Yvan De Mesmaeker, head of the European Corporate Security Association (ECSA), told a 9 December gathering of Belgian police, justice and defence ministry officials, EU officials, diplomats and industry representatives.
The EU aims to constrict the malicious use of drones as much as possible. The European Commission’s new aviation strategy, unveiled on 7 December, includes measures to control drones of all sizes, their use and ownership via either direct regulation or interventionary action (“market mechanisms”) based on consumer-complaint procedures or competition between manufacturers.
But, as one intelligence analyst told the Brasschaat meeting, “it must be remembered that those looking to commit terrorist acts with UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] will not care” about any regulation. “Hezbollah and Hamas are at the forefront for using drones, and supposedly already have their hands on [highly sophisticated] military grade drones,” he said, referring to militant Islamist groups of Lebanon and Palestine, respectively.
Time is obviously of the essence for Europe to get a grip over its burgeoning drone market. The Commission’s new drone measures need at least 18 months, if not 24, to get through the EU’s machinery, followed by more time for implementation at national level.
Many member states are only now catching up with reality. For example, Belgium has no legislation on the use of drones (or “remotely piloted aircraft systems” as they are formally known) – even though drones have been deployed in the country since 2008.
A draft royal decree was announced by the Belgian government in April 2015 to regulate the commercial use of drones. Scrutinised by Belgium’s regional governments, the draft has also received positive feedback from the country’s Privacy Commission, according to the Belgian Unmanned Aircraft Systems Association (BeUAS). The decree now awaits comment from the European Commission – to be issued on 18 December – after which the decree will enter into force in early 2016, a BeUAS official told the ECSA gathering.
Meanwhile, one national nuclear-control security official at the meeting drew attention to the counter-drone techniques that government and industry users need to be aware of. These techniques fall into four categories: detection, disruption, restriction of airspace, and an all-in-one package of detect/track/disrupt.
For example, the detection of drones is done via radar, optical sensors or acoustic solutions. Disruption varies from deployment of interception drones to specially made 12-gauge “drone munitions” to the use of weaponised radio pulses to disable a hostile drone’s communication system, while the restriction of airspace relies on various “soft approaches” such as geo-fencing, or an online no-fly zone tracking platform, said the official.
On a more positive note, the BeUAS official stressed that drones can be exploited across almost every subsector of the security business as a tool that can “make the security business safer, faster and easier. Fully automated drones will bring [about] a serious cost optimisation [within the industry] and will lead to a real explosion in their use within private security.”
One would involve “static” security where tethered drones provide secure, continuous and stable video transmission in crowded places or during events. But they can also act as “flying detectors” of gas, smoke, fire, radiation, UV emissions, etc., by surveying large areas quickly. Mobile security is another option where drones could patrol large and complex areas such as harbours or industrial site. Finally, there is the drone-as-alarm system around building sites and infrastructure.
In all likelihood Europe’s security service industry is most focused on the last function – alerting – which is the kind of service it knows best. However, given the range of potential threats posed by malevolent drones, the industry needs to do just as much catch-up analyses now as Europe’s governments.