The Islamic State militant group has had its first confirmed kills via drone attack, but crucially these aren't your American-style combat drones. The kills in question, as reported by The New York Times, were completed via a hobbyist drone – the kind which you can buy on Amazon.
The drone exploded after being shot down by Kurdish forces, taking two soldiers with it. A military official told the paper that an explosive device was concealed within, disguised as a battery. “There was a very small amount of explosives in it, but it was enough to go off and kill them,” the source explained.
This is a troubling development. Drones typically used by the US military are prohibitively expensive for non-governmental budgets, and even though prices have come down, they still cost at least $11,000 per hour of flight time. Said drones are around the size of small passenger airplanes, requiring a runway for take-off.
By contrast, the kind of drone ISIS is using can be easily purchased by any hobbyist with a credit card. The latest DJI Phantom hobbyist drone, for example, sells for just over 1,000, making it expensive for people who just want to fly, but relatively cheap as a potentially deadly weapon.
Right now the scope of hobbyist drones as weapons is limited by two factors: the amount of extra weight they can carry, which limits the quantity of explosive that's portable; and the battery size, which prevents drones traveling long distances without a recharge. But with technology improving all the time, don't be surprised if this is the beginning of an unpleasant new trend in DIY terrorism.
Images: Richard Unten and Andrew Turner used under Creative Commons