Pirates, Traffickers Could Develop Drone Force


By MarEx 2016-02-15 19:27:09

Drone technology is constantly improving and becoming more affordable, and a study published late last year warns that pirates and traffickers could potentially develop their own drone air force.

The use of drones, combined with GPS tracking and home-made submarines, could negate the need for criminals to outrun naval vessels to escape detection and capture.

The warning comes from a report published in the Journal of Military and Strategic Studies. Author David Rudd, a defense analyst for the Canadian government, says new players have emerged in recent decades that inhibit the ability of states to regulate domestic and international maritime activity. The challenge is accentuated by the downward pressure on defense and security budgets which negatively affect the ability of most Western navies to provide the expanding range of services required by their governments.

Access to communications and multi-media may be secured through commercially-available technologies and can be used to direct operations, recruit, raise funds and publicize successful operations, states the report. Navigation aids such as GPS are also readily available as is marine radar which can be installed on smaller vessels for counter-surveillance. 

Meanwhile, the vulnerability of computer networks to non-state hackers raises the possibility of shipping schedules being covertly or otherwise illegally accessed. Maritime non state actors would thus be able to choose the time and place of attack with more precision, avoiding maritime patrol forces and potentially seizing vital cargo. That same information could also allow politically-motivated maritime non state actors to plan in advance for attacks on ships destined for port calls.

While the Islamic State is not a littoral-based organization, its use of heavy weaponry captured from the Iraqi army further illustrates the potential technical proficiency of non-state actors. This, combined with the availability of drone technology for surveillance and possibly weapons delivery, means that lethal encounters with state parties do not necessarily have to be at close quarters. 

According to one analyst quoted in the report: “To date, there have been relatively few cases of other countries and, more important, non-state actors, employing drones. But they are coming…The proliferation of drones could radically alter the tactical battle space. For the first time, non-state adversaries would have an air force.”

Rudd states that navies should not be under the impression that maritime non state actors lack the means to undermine good order at sea or to challenge a navy’s ability to sail unmolested through contested waters. In the words of one academic: “Para-navies have been, but should not be, underestimated.”

The report is available here.