ISIS Builds Drone Arsenal

While the Federal Aviation Administration continues to make updates to its policy allowing Americans to use commercially available drones for business and leisure, the Islamic State (ISIS) is deploying an army of small drones for combat and reconnaissance purposes. According to the Pentagon, these fifty-pound or less drones are often armed with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) or spy cameras that can evade detection.

“Just days after the Iraqi forces began occupying Makhmour in Ninevah Province, a video surfaced” on an ISIS website “showing forces on the ground there, demonstrating they were using the footage in both reconnaissance and propaganda roles,” Army Colonel Chris Garver, the Pentagon’s top spokesman in Iraq, wrote in an e-mail.

In April, the Iraqi Ministry of Defense posted photos showing Sgt. Hussain Musa Kathum holding a damaged DJI Phantom 3 quadrotor he reportedly shot down in the Al-Jirashi area in northern Anbar province. “The brave warrior … was able to hit a spying plane belonging to the gangs of ISIS,” the ministry wrote along with the post. “The plane was trying to spy on our army by taking pictures of the area.”

Marine Corps Times reports that the U.S. coalition first destroyed an ISIS drone on 17 March 2015. “It was a commercially available, remotely piloted aircraft, really something anyone can get,” Army Col. Steve Warren, a spokesman, said at the time. “We observed it flying for approximately 20 minutes. We observed it land. We observed the enemy place it in the trunk of a car and we struck the car.”

The Pentagon’s Joint Improvised-Threat Defeat Agency (JIDA)- tasked with combating IEDs since the 2003 Iraq War- has now asked Congress to approve shifting $20 million to invest in a counter-drone effort that will “identify, acquire, integrate and conduct testing” of technologies that would “counter the effects of unmanned aerial systems and the threats they pose to U.S. forces,” according to a budget document sent to Congress earlier this month. The request was part of a larger effort to shift $2.5 billion in FY 2016 defense funds from other initiatives to reflect current urgencies. 

JIDA spokesman David Small told Defense News that ISIS uses drones in four different ways:

  • First, for tactical observations, it uses full motion video-capable drones to find attack opportunities.
  • Second, ISIS uses drones to monitor Iraqi security forces responding to attacks, learns from their tactics, and adapts its own.
  • ISIS also uses drones to “vector suicide-vehicle-borne IEDs.” “The tactic has become routine for ISIL when employing VBIEDs and is highly sophisticated,” Small added.
  • Finally, ISIS uses drones to shoot propaganda material for recruitment and morale. 
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