The New York Police Department is concerned the next terrorist attack could possibly be carried out by consumer drones armed with guns, explosives, or chemical weapons.
Speaking to CBS This Morning on Wednesday, NYPD deputy chief Salvatore DiPace highlighted scenarios during which drones have posed potential threats, including a video of an octocopter, carrying a paintball gun, shooting targets in a field with accuracy.
“You don’t know what the intentions are–hostile, recreational,” said Daryl Maudsley, an NYPD officer who nearly collided with a drone while flying a helicopter in Brooklyn over the summer.
The use of drones in crowds is especially worrying, DiPace said, pointing to an example last fall in Germany when an octocopter landed on stage at a campaign rally, directly in front of Chancellor Angela Merkel. “If you think about what could happen there, that drone hit its target right on the mark and could’ve taken the chancellor and her people out,” he said.
Some consumer drones can carry loads of about 10 pounds–enough to fly with a paintball gun, handgun, or even a rifle, but unlikely to haul a light machine gun. “I think if someone is smart enough to weaponize a drone, he’d build a firing system into the drone,” said Lateif Dickerson, director of the New Jersey Firearms Academy and a trained federal weapons of mass destruction expert. Bombs and chemical agents are also lightweight options terrorists could deploy, he noted. A quarter pound of some explosives can be enough to blow up a vehicle, and damage can be increased by including steel ball bearings, said Dickerson.
“If I were thinking like a terrorist,” he told Fast Company, “if I wanted to do mass casualty, I’d use weapons of mass destruction. It would not be done with bullets.” Such an attack would instill a sense of fear and have a major impact on Americans’ psyche, he noted.
Dickerson said the threat of a weaponized drone is reminiscent of fears from decades ago regarding remote-controlled helicopters and planes. “I think as the technology does progress, the likelihood of something like that happening is higher,” he said. “That’s a problem we should really be paying attention to.”
Carrying out such an attack would require a skilled operator at the helm. Though we’ve seen some impressive drone flying (one great example from this week: OK Go‘s new music video), these machines are tricky to operate and in unskilled hands are prone to crashing (into the Grand Canyon, a hot spring at Yellowstone National Park, Seattle’s Space Needle, and on more than one occasion, in Fast Company‘s conference room).