IN AN EXCLUSIVE interview with Reuters on Sunday, a Kurdish-Iraqi official has told of horrific war crimes being committed by ISIS fighters via the use of explosives in commercial drones such as the DJI Phantom 4.

Drones strapped with explosives, sometimes carrying payloads filled with chlorine and mustard gas, have been used in the intense battle for Iraq’s second largest city of Mosul.

Head of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Security Council, on November 6th Masrour Barzani brought to light the atrocities being committed by Islamic State fighters with the aid of commercial drones.

drone with explosives
Prototype image showing how easily it could be strapping munitions to a drone (wired)

“The fight against ISIS is going to be a long fight – not only militarily but also economically, ideologically,” he said, mentioning that drone vision and pinpointed attacks were highly effective against snipers.

Previously drone usage in the Middle East was largely focused on reconnaissance. Speculation of nefarious use in commercial drones was largely discussed on reddit and other forums, however no factual events had yet taken place.

The devastation seen in Mosul is largely due to the booby-trapped houses containing IED’s (improvised explosive devices), where much of the destruction is to civilian land and homes. This new type of dropping explosives from drone’s however, allows more offensive attacks compared to their defensive (booby-trapped) counterparts, while dealing less collateral damage. Not that we think Islamic State would really mind.

While certainly not realistic, this demonstration shows just how accurate (and easy) it is to drop medium-to-heavy sized objects from a drone with pinpoint accuracy. (Vincenzo Bianco)

An interesting perspective on this type of warfare is that the level of accuracy is increased, and the price of munitions decreased – often a trait seen by guerrilla warfare.

So far ISIS have prided themselves on road-side IED’s, however the chance that a civilian or friendly vehicle may be intercepted by the explosive is high. With drones, targets can be identified and payloads only used on targets worth the cost of a small drone (given the drone is taken down or goes up with the payload.)

ISIS explosion rocks mosul where drones are being used with mustard gas
Mosul has seen continual devastation since ISIS took hold of the city.

Drones such as the DJI Phantom, Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 and the new GoPro Karma are all equipped with lengthy flight times, HD vision and fast enough speeds – they make the perfect combination for a drive-by or suicide-style mobile explosive.

Looking at current drone defense systems, it is obvious tests should be carried out on downing or disabling a drone that is carrying a live payload. Simply cutting the communication between the drone and the receiver may see the drone hurtle to the ground, seeing innocent lives lost.

Here at DroneSec, we think SkyWall is quite a formidable player in this area – it’s shoulder mounted cannon fires a net which lets the drone down safely with a parachute. This is possibly slow enough to cater for explosives that may react to a fall with impact.


Further links:

Another demonstration of commercial drones simulating dropping explosives 

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