Mildly interesting question

How long is it going to be before someone sticks a pistol onto a drone? Or a Claymore mine?

Given that drones cost a couple of hundred bucks these days, can be operated from something as simple as a smartphone from a few hundred yards away, I’m thinking that it’s only a matter of time before this becomes the method of assassination of choice.

Or even a standard infantry weapon.

39 comments on “Mildly interesting question

  1. I’m sorry Tim–I don’t quite understand. You mean some private individual would do such a thing?. That would be really awful cos’ then a simple flying device would be converted into a deadly and horrible weapon. Hells Bells–criminals might attack other criminals by landing a claymore mine at the first criminals wedding or ,…gulp, even some poor sods funeral….
    Just a minute….er..forget it.

  2. Drones capable of carrying significant weight are much more expensive. And both a pistol (which is inaccurate in all bar the most expert hands) and a claymore (which doesn’t need to be) are heavy. The claymore especially. Cameras etc are very small (hell, there are two in my phone). Smartphones are great as controllers but range is much poorer than your couple of hundred yards.

    Drones capable of pointing weapons accurately are very rare – gusts etc. Hence why Reaper uses Hellfire. The weapon is guided by the operator (not automatically – and the stabilised laser head is an expensive and heavy piece of kit) and then terminal guidance from within the (expensive) missile.

    You’ve got to remember that the Reaper, which was the first non-experimental weaponised drone, is twice the take-off weight of a Spitfire and costs $17m without ammo (or control system.)

  3. New technology can be used for evil purposes as well as good. Pope may also be Catholic.

  4. What SE said.

    However, suicide drones interest me. (Or guided missiles, as they were once called.)

    It has occurred to me why someone doesn’t fill as big a model aircraft as possible with as much stuff that goes bang as possible and then fly it into the Stretford End.

    This isn’t just because I don’t like football.

  5. A pistol? That’s terribly funny.

    But a banger might make sense. You’d only need explosive because the drone itself would provide the shrapnel.

  6. i am of the opinion that the reason this, or something similar, has not occurred, is because there are just not that many people trying to kill us. at the moment a British citizen is 17 times more likely to die in custody than be killed by a bearded maniac.

  7. I am sorry but 1. people are there way before you and 2. doesn’t TW read the Reg?

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/11/25/thanksgiving_future_guns_ii/?page=2

    The Pringles-tube Robot Kamikaze Assassin Drone

    So, you’re an international master hit-man and there’s this person you need to kill. Unfortunately, he or she is Very Important – in the head-of-state weight class – and is thus protected by extremely heavy security. Sometimes your target will make appearances on a predictable schedule: but on such occasions all rooftops within line of sight will be crawling with police counter-sniper teams, all suitable locations for a pre-positioned bomb will have been searched and sealed, and regiments of cops and bodyguards will be all over the place. Your trusty drum of home-made explosives or scope-sighted sniper rifle simply aren’t going to cut it today.

    Today, you need to get down to the Californian headquarters of famous crazytech firm Aerovironment, with a view to acquiring one of these:

    This little beauty is referred to by Aerovironment as the Switchblade. It was developed for the US military under the name “Project Anubis”, and has variously been described as a “Tactical MAV [Micro Air Vehicle] for Time-Sensitive Fleeting Targets” or alternatively a “non-line-of-sight munition with man-in-the loop target ID with very low collateral damage”.

    A couple of Switchblades, stashed in their scarcely-bigger-than-a-Pringles-can launch tubes, plus controller and antenna kit, will all easily go into a backpack or a suitcase. After launch, the little aircraft can fly for up to 15 minutes on silent electric propulsion, easily enough to travel miles and get to a target location from well outside any realistic security cordon. Video from the little drone missile is relayed back to the controller (which can be at the launch site as pictured – or, with suitable comms relays, perhaps in a completely different country).

    When the designated individual appears beneath, the operator selects him or her in the display and the Switchblade plummets down unerringly, detonating a small grenade or autocannon-shell sized warhead as it strikes. Anubis, guardian of the dead, has claimed another victim.

    Until recently, Anubis/Switchblade was just another interesting development project: but now it is moving into operational service. Just last month, Aerovironment was pleased to announce that it had won a $4.9m contract for “rapid fielding of this capability to deployed combat forces”.

    Various other portable technologies of this sort – most noticeably, shoulder-fired antitank and antiaircraft missiles – have previously spread from military forces into the toolboxes of spooks and terrorists. It seems very plausible that in years to come, bodyguards and security types will have to worry about assassins packing Switchblade-type weapons, as well as the conventional menaces posed by snipers, gunmen in the crowd, bombers etc.

  8. Surreptitious Evil – “And both a pistol (which is inaccurate in all bar the most expert hands) and a claymore (which doesn’t need to be) are heavy. The claymore especially.”

    Ummm, 3.5 pounds. That is not that heavy. The Iranians have built a drone that carries an 11 kilogram AT-3 Sagger anti-tank missile.

  9. I first wondered, about 20 years ago, why terrorists hadn’t started fixing bombs to radio controlled aeroplanes. Which, let’s face it, would be a good way to circumvent an awful lot of security measures.

    I assume it’s something to do with weight.

    But then the thing is that most ‘sophisticated’ weaponry is increadibly simple in concept. For example the US Navy is currently testing a railgun. It will fire a solid metal shell that uses kinetic energy to smash things up. Essentially that’s just a big rock. For the last century or more we have consistently invested in developing new and more powerful explosives, up to the development of nuclear missiles, and it turns out that the answer all along was just a big lump of rock going really fast. A really, really good trebuchet.

  10. @Indie

    ‘i am of the opinion that the reason this, or something similar, has not occurred, is because there are just not that many people trying to kill us.’

    Well, something similar – ie mass murder of members of the public – has occurred, and we know of other attempts.

    So yes, not many people are trying it, but some are, and if you were in the Stretford End as the drone approached it would be scant consolation to you that you were about to become an outlier.

    Luckily, the people concerned are either not all that bright, so they set themselves on fire when eg ramming airports, or are huge egotists, so feel the need to go out with a bang themselves.

    Which I suppose leads us on to microlights…

  11. With a little semtex you could hard land it on the desk in the Oval Office. I suspect this has not gone unconsidered in certain quarters. John McCain made a speech where he suggested doing just that to Putin (though perhaps he did not consider the option of Putin, or successor, responding. On a slightly less exalted plain I have told both the Tories and UKIP that Britain should be putting less of our military budget into squaddies and more into drones and satellites – without any response.

    We may be re-entering an era when casualties of war will be more likely to be the leaders than the PBI & civilians.

  12. @Sam – yep, just the aircraft alone would kill people as per your own kinetic energy point. It would also spread terror etc which is the main aim of these dickheads.

    (Let’s stop talking about it, in case some of them are also economic liberals!)

  13. There was a story that said the Aum Supreme Truth cult bought mini crop spraying helicopters to deliver poison gas. The story goes that they tried them out and discovered that flying them was really difficult and eventually the helicopters went beyond the controller range and eventually crashed having run out of fuel. They also tried to put fans in suitcases that would expel poison gas, which didnt work.

    While they weaponised Sarin, they ended up going for a low tech dispersal method – guys carrying sarin (dissolved in a suspension agent) and the counter to the suspension agent in plastic bags, which were then punctured with an umbrella.

    I’m reasonably confident that we are not going to be nerve gassed by the average terrorist – Aum had thousands of members, money, a remote location, a chemical factory, graduate chemists, and they still found delivery of Sarin reduced to plastic bags and people. Obviously nerve gas from proper sources sold to the terrorists is a potential problem, but mixing it up in the kitchen isnt likely.

  14. Tim – Serious question…

    Have you been hired by a shadowy group of French right-wingers to kill Charles De Gaulle?

  15. FPS Russia hosts a site where he shoots a lot of guns and blows a lot of stuff up – he had this:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SNPJMk2fgJU

    I think SE is right though – using a drone as an IED represents a level of engineering sophistication terrorists would preferably focus on creating IEDs with better armour penetration and lobbing the damn things at our guys – cretins.

    Ken makes a good point but I think adding a third dimension of travel might make an aerosol delivery of a chemical agent more likely; worst you could create an incendiary bomber relatively easy nowadays; still think unlikely and the resource needed would be massive.

    As the Joker character pointed out in the Dark Knight, guns and explosives are cheap and effective – why more?

  16. Been done.
    There’s some YouTube footage of a guy shooting sh1t outa stuff with an automatic weapon mounted on a small, multi-rotor drone. This is ‘merican gun enthusiasts. Guys who shoot Gatlings for laughs. ‘Course they’d hack it.

    Technically, weight is much less of a problem if you’re designing round making the weapon/munition part of the airframe rather than thinking about hanging it off of a pre-existing drone.

  17. So Tim asks an idle question and the “obvious or trivial” community, in less than a day, has done feasibility, costing, design proposals, engineering, and tactics.

    Why don’t we set up in business? As long as we can find something other than VIP target elimination to do.

    Wonder if posting this from an airport wifi is sensible.

  18. Let’s review the evidence:

    * International base of operations
    * A fascination with exotic metals
    * Casual requests about the best way to perform assassinations
    * Ginger

    Tim, you’re one Oddjob away from being a Bond baddie.

  19. @Steve, I guess it’s only a matter of time before Bond is going after the capitalist bad guys. Oh, wait …

  20. Re – SAM:

    ” answer all along was just a big lump of rock going really fast”

    Well this has been the case with tank rounds for a while. Remember the depleted uranium tank rounds from the Iraq war? The goal wasn’t to penetrate the tank.. but to hit it with such kinetic energy is a soft warhead.
    It splooges (er… technical term) on the outside of the turret and the energy gets converted to heat etc. which conveniently flash fries the poor sods inside the turret….

  21. The technicalities are easy provided one can get the Semtex or better. What this idea needs is a good business model. May I suggest eAssassin. Involves some trusted escrow and anonymous money transfer and a suitable nation that harbours reliable persons. Once the funds build up to the asking price the subject is as good as gone. Perhaps some initial marketing and a ‘demo’ (I can suggest) and I think politics could be changed forever – whether for the better I dare not say.

  22. Johnnydub – “Well this has been the case with tank rounds for a while. Remember the depleted uranium tank rounds from the Iraq war? The goal wasn’t to penetrate the tank.. but to hit it with such kinetic energy is a soft warhead.
    It splooges (er… technical term) on the outside of the turret and the energy gets converted to heat etc. which conveniently flash fries the poor sods inside the turret….”

    I think you’re confusing two different types of anti-tank round. What the British call a HESH round and a long rod penetrator. The HESH – High Explosive Squash Head – is just a thin-walled shell with as much explosive in it as you can manage. It squashes against the outside of the tank and when it explodes, it should flake off pieces of the tank’s inside which then fly about energetically turning the people inside into cat food. Dealt with, up to a point, by lining the interior of the tank with something soft and bendy – usually also containing boron or the like to help against radiation.

    The long rod penetrator is what we all use depleted uranium for. And it is intended to penetrate the tank but a brute force approach. The aim is to get as much kinetic energy into a lump of metal as possible. So the metal should be dense – uranium for instance although because of the whiny little Greenies the Americans are moving to tungsten. But that means it has to be thin compared to the caliber of the gun barrel, so you give it a sabot – a light metal outer cover which comes off shortly after firing. That way as much of the energy as possible is transferred to the very thin rod. Which, when it hits the tank, as they almost always do these days, pushes its way through the tank’s armour, into the interior, where uranium burns nicely cooking everyone inside in a particularly nasty way.

    Hard to see how anyone could put any of them on a drone.

  23. Tom – “I think SE is right though – using a drone as an IED represents a level of engineering sophistication terrorists would preferably focus on creating IEDs with better armour penetration and lobbing the damn things at our guys – cretins.”

    I don’t think anyone can over-estimate how utterly and totally incompetent most of the Third World is. I mean, really incompetent. Basic things – like providing water. The Romans did it 2000 years ago, but no, a significant percentage of Third World countries cannot do it now.

    I don’t think drones are likely without help from the Soviet Union. Which they don’t really have these days. I think most of them would find clever IEDs a bit much.

    bloke in spain – “There’s some YouTube footage of a guy shooting sh1t outa stuff with an automatic weapon mounted on a small, multi-rotor drone. This is ‘merican gun enthusiasts. Guys who shoot Gatlings for laughs. ‘Course they’d hack it.”

    Sure they are not faking it? The real problem with the drone would be the gun’s kickback. They had this problem with early helicopters. They tried putting a machine gun on that little Medivac helicopter everyone has seen on MASH. But the recoil was too much. Even in the Algerian War, France found that the H-21 and the American original version of the Westland Wessex (I think) were only just strong enough to mount a gun on.

    And all three are much heavier than any drone short of the American’s Hellfire users.

    Bloke in Germany – “Why don’t we set up in business? As long as we can find something other than VIP target elimination to do.”

    People have talked about using them for animal control. There are people in the US who use them to hunt pigs which are getting to be a problem is some places. But they don’t mount the gun on the drone. They use the drone with a FLIR type thing to tell them where all the pigs are and then shoot them the old fashioned way.

  24. Ian B – “Why would you stick a pistol on a claymore mine?”

    Well you wouldn’t. Because a claymore shoots a fan of ball bearings. Which is nice for doing what they were designed to do – protecting an American position against any hypothetical Chinese human wave that came there way. But if you wanted to off a head of state, you would need to go Soviet and find one of their directional mines which were designed to shoot a long thin stream of metal fragments. The MON-100 for instance:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MON-100

    The mine contains 2 kg of explosive to propel 450 steel rod fragments to a lethal range of 100 m, at maximum range the spread of the fragmentation is 9.5 m. The mine alone weighs 5 kg but with the shackle and mounting spike the weight is 7.53 kg.

    It is not a good aerodynamic shape, I admit, but on the other hand, if you can get it without 100 metres of your target, and you can see him, I don’t think that much will be left of him, his wife, his security detail, anyone standing too close etc etc

    As for why you would mount a pistol on it, the British Army used to put machine guns on their tanks and the Wombat recoilless rifle. The aim was to shoot the cheap machine gun until it was hitting where you wanted to hit, then you fired the big expensive slow-reloading main gun. A spotting rifle it was called.

  25. I suspect the security services are already fairly concerned about the potential use of drones and radio controlled model aircraft in acts of terrorism. The payload would not need to be particularly large to cause a panic, in some crowded public place such as a football stadium. A single grenade would cause fatalities, but the ensuing stampede would cause a lot more.
    It needs to be taken seriously. That means having a strategy beyond the usual “hoping no-one will do it” policy.

  26. A $250 drone is a guided weapon. Unlike a shell or IED it can see & ID its target, and, very precisely, burrow into it.
    For example, it could run ear recognition (good enough for the US INS) then drill through the ear canal into the brain.
    (Strokes cat).

  27. Tim, you’re about a decade behind with that worry.

    This is just one of the more recent advancements

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SNPJMk2fgJU&noredirect=1

    But people have been sticking guns on RC helos for a while now.

    Drone soldiers are already in development, both the generalist humanoid variety and other designs more specialized for the battlefield. The research on this goes back to the 1940’s.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_robot

    As for the ‘preferred method of assassination’, well a gun on a drone is better than the missile on a drone that’s industry standard right now.

  28. “Johnnydub

    May 7, 2014 at 7:24 pm

    Well this has been the case with tank rounds for a while. Remember the depleted uranium tank rounds from the Iraq war? The goal wasn’t to penetrate the tank.. but to hit it with such kinetic energy is a soft warhead.
    It splooges (er… technical term) on the outside of the turret and the energy gets converted to heat etc. which conveniently flash fries the poor sods inside the turret….”

    What you’re talking about is called ‘spalling’ where a hard strike on the outer surface knocks loose chunks of the inner surface and they go flying around at high speed.

    There used to be rounds called HESH (High Explosive, Squash Head) [developed by the British!] that were filled with plastic explosive and a detonator. The round would shatter on impact, the explosive got plastered over the surface in a thin layer and then the detonator blew it up, causing massive spalling in the interior without penetrating the armor – but that was WWII era tech – nowadays its used only against buildings.

    Modern armor is pretty much proofed against that between composite armor layers, spacing, and anti-spall liners.

    *Kinetic* rounds have a ton of kinetic energy due to their high velocity and high mass. The design of these (DU or tungsten are the materials of choice) are long rods (with a 10/1 L to dia ratio) and very sharp points to concentrate that energy in as small an area as possible allowing them to penetrate armor to great depths.

    KE round *do* and are intended to penetrate armor. DU is preferred because its dust is pyrophoric and on impact the point fractures into another sharp point (rather than blossoming like a tungsten penetrator) so it keeps the remaining energy concentrated on a small point.

  29. I think the drone bit is not really needed for most smaller applications, You just want a low cost guided missile really.

    The drone is only useful it you need a platform to stay around and watch the action afterwards.

  30. I think our host’s point was not about the best technology for remote assassination, but the failure of terrorist groups to use $100 readily available off-the-shelf technology.

    I suspect the answer is some combination of weight and recoil, as others have said.

    Yes, you can no doubt get round that, but then it’s no longer a hundred dollar off-the-shelf bit of kit – which was the point of the initial question.

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