Andrew Staniforth, Director of Research and Innovation at Saher (Europe), has published a new article on Policing Insight bringing us a report on the latest European security efforts to train police and staff to tackle the threat that drones pose in terrorist hands.

The increased use of drones – including small, commercially available models – has been a key feature of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, prompting growing concerns of the potential threat they pose in terrorist hands; Policing Insight’s Andrew Staniforth reports on the latest European security efforts to train police and staff to tackle the threat.

The military tactics deployed in the Russian invasion of Ukraine have seen unmanned aerial drones of all shapes and sizes being used by both sides in the conflict. 

The use of large military drones for aerial surveillance and missile attack on targets on the ground are in stark contrast to the small commercially available drones being flown by combatants without any specific training. 

While both types of drones have been used in previous conflict zones, the current scale of small, commercial drone use in Ukraine is unprecedented. 

Threat landscape

According to information security expert Matt Burgess, small drones are giving Ukraine an unprecedented edge in the conflict, having a huge impact on the country’s defence against Russia. 

Valerii Iakovenko, the founder of Ukrainian drone company DroneUA reveals that: “Drones changed the way the war was supposed to be. It is all about intelligence, collecting and transferring data about enemy troops’ movements or positionings, correcting artillery fire. It is about counter-saboteurs’ actions, and it is of course search- and-rescue operations.” 

Iakovenko estimates that Ukrainian forces are operating more than 6,000 drones for reconnaissance and says these can link up with Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite systems to upload footage. 

The sudden and dramatic rise of the use of commercial drones, from hobby-enthusiasts to a ubiquitous business tool, remains in its infancy. The proliferation of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) represents a disruptive technological innovation that continues to develop at exponential speed, and on a global scale. 

Autonomously piloted systems have the potential to revolutionise how people and goods are transported and to support entirely new and disbursed economic societies with profound implications. At the same time, this new technology is being hi-jacked by those with hostile intentions, adopting and adapting the use of drones for their own nefarious purposes, thereby creating a new counter-drone and drone-detection industry to prevent harm. 

Unfortunately, in the wrong hands, drones have the capacity to damage, destroy and disrupt, and when used as a terrorist tactic, they have the capability to conduct deadly and determined attacks.

For terrorists, the accelerated development of drone technologies presents unique opportunities to support ever-more sophisticated surveillance activities, conduct hostile reconnaissance on target locations, deliver mission support during operations to provide increased situational awareness, or as a rudimentary cyber-surveillance platform to collect local electronic communications that are not well encrypted. 

While the threat landscape from UAVs is diverse, the greatest concern among the international security community is the expectation that terrorists are flirting with new technologies in an attempt to harness the power of drones to attack crowded public spaces. 

Innovation impact

Taken together, the malevolent use of drones to disrupt, damage and destroy provides a complex and challenging threat landscape which is further amplified by the dynamic pace of drone technological development. 

The UAV terrorist threat vector reveals a unique set of challenges that, while not insurmountable, do require a determined, committed and collaborative response by the respective authorities. It is increasingly clear to homeland security policymakers that guidelines for responding to drone attacks in crowded areas – without jeopardising the safety of citizens – need to be drafted urgently. 

The training of safety and security personnel in drone and drone-detection technology and terrorist threats is a fundamental step towards delivering a safe and effective incident response. 

Training should also be developed so that the relevant authorities will be able to recognise specific drone attributes such as type, payload etc, to improve the initial sighting and detailed reporting of drone incidents. 

DroneWISE project – Counter-UAV Training

One response to these challenges was the launch of project DroneWISE, a European Commission innovation project being conducted under the auspices of the Internal Security Fund for Police (ISF-P), which involves a consortium of first-responder practitioners, academic security professionals and private industry drone and drone detection partners.

Combining their expertise, the multi-disciplinary approach of DroneWISE is delivering a series of practical end-user focused measures designed to amplify and augment the response to UAV terrorist attacks on public spaces. 

Train the trainers

An important part of the DroneWISE toolkit of practical outputs is a modular counter- UAV training programme. DroneWISE Project Co-ordinator, Dr Holger Nitsch, Head of Research and Social Science Department at the University of Applied Sciences for Public Service in Bavaria states: “The aim of the programme is to provide all students with a detailed and holistic understanding of the threat posed by rogue drone activity and the effective measures required to manage and mitigate risk and effectively respond to a terrorist attack by use of a drone at a public place.” 

The counter-UAV training programme of 10 modules will be available online from September 2022. The programme offers a menu of modules to meet the training needs and requirements of police forces and their officers and staff at all levels.

At the conclusion of the training, students will have a comprehensive understanding of the drone threat landscape and the capacity and capability of drones and related technologies, as well being able to explain the relevant law, rules and regulations relating to the illegal use of drones.

Police officers and staff completing the modules will also have a detailed knowledge of drone detection technologies and the measures required to counter the threat from rogue drone activities.

Most importantly, they will be capable of designing and developing a robust threat assessment to manage and mitigate the risks from rogue drone activity, and devise tactical and strategic responses to drone threats, demonstrating an ability to develop drone security policy, practice and procedure.

The DroneWISE project concludes in September, but not before a series of pilot sessions in June and July have been delivered in Germany, Greece and Bulgaria, to train police trainers to deliver the counter-UAV training programme to multiple members states across Europe. 

Author: Andrew Staniforth; The original article was published on June 15th, 2022, on Policing Insight under the title: Online training programme will equip police and staff to tackle the terrorist drone threat

Header Photo by KAL VISUALS on Unsplash