Islamic State may not have the budget for military drones, but it is turning commercial hobby drones into miniature killing machines.
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.