A DJI Mavic 2 drone flew past a Pennsylvania power substation in July 2013. Two 4-foot-long nylon ropes were suspended from the drone's rotors. The wire was a thick copper wire that was connected to its ends with electrical tape. In an apparent attempt to avoid detection, the device was stripped of all identifiable markings and its memory card and onboard camera. According to DHS, FBI and National Counterterrorism Center joint security bulletins, its likely goal was to disrupt operations through a short circuit.
Before it could reach its target, the drone crashed onto the roof of a nearby building. It also damaged a rotor. The operator of the drone has not been located. According to the bulletin this is the first instance of an unmanned modified aircraft system being used specifically to target the US energy infrastructure. However, it seems unlikely that this will be the last.
A spokesperson for DHS stated that DHS regularly shares information with federal and state officials, as well as tribal and territorial officials, in response to a request to comment. This is to ensure safety and security for all communities throughout the country.
Experts have been warning for six years about the dangers of consumer drones causing havoc. They claim that they are easy to access and can be used to create chaos. In 2018, an explosives-laden drone carried out an apparent assassination attempt on Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro. ISIS and other terrorist organizations have used consumer-grade quadcopters to perform surveillance and offensive operations.
The Pennsylvania incident is a worrying sign of drone use increasing in the US. There have been incidents in the US before. In 2015, a drone crashed onto the White House lawn. The FAA has been scrambling to deal with a surge in drone sightings close to airports and other critical locations. These intrusions were previously considered accidental. But not anymore.
It's amazing that it took so long, says Colin Clarke (director of policy and research at Soufan Group), an intelligence and security consulting firm. You can do a lot of damage if you have some knowledge about drones and can either access crude explosives or just ram the bomb into them.
The Pennsylvania drone operator appears to have tried a less brute force approach. The operator may have tried to conceal his identity to prevent them from connecting with their target. According to the joint bulletin, they were forced to use line-of-sight navigation rather than being able take a drone's eye view by removing the camera. Although the effort was unsuccessful, analysts of the report say that it is unlikely to be an anomaly. They expect drone activity to increase over the energy sector and other critical infrastructure as the United States expands its use of these systems.
Despite the growing threat, there have not been sufficient mitigations. Although the FAA has set limits on consumer drone flight, drone manufacturers and security experts have called for greater restrictions. Adam Lisberg, spokesperson for DJI, said that unlike manufacturers of mobile phones or pickup trucks, we don't have the ability to regulate what drone owners do with them. "DJI supports giving authorities the legal authority to immediately take action against drones that pose a clear threat to public safety, and we support laws that penalize intentional drone misuse."