Iraqi Federal Police Weaponize Off-the-Shelf Drones, ISIS-Style
Armed quadcopters versus armed quadcopters
by BEN SULLIVAN
The proliferation of consumer, off-the-shelf unmanned aerial vehicles weaponized by non-state actors such as Islamic State has taken a new turn this week after the Iraqi Federal Police deployed the very same drones against Islamic State itself.
One day later, a video feed from a quadcopter circulated, appearing to depict the drone striking Islamic State positions with the very same DIY bombs that ISIS has been using. The IFP’s drone seems to be a DJI Matrice 100 — the same drone that Agence France-Presse reporter Sara Hussein photographed on Feb. 23, 2017.
While consumer UAVs have been a force for good across the Middle East in the hands of humanitarian groups and security forces, this is the first known instance of a police force attacking targets with drones not designed for such tasks.
What is not yet clear is the implication for companies such as DJI, which simultaneously condemns the use of weaponized drones but likely supports the fight against Islamic State. A company representative said that’s an “interesting point,” but merely represents “the reverse side of the coin.”
“Our stance still is that DJI makes consumer drones for creative and peaceful purposes,” the representative explained via email. “We are dedicated to optimizing our technology to enhance the benefits consumer drones provide to communities and we will continue to educate our users on safe and responsible flying.”
Bellingcat analyst Nick Waters, who has been closely following ISIS’s drone war, said that the drones actually have the capability to be more ethical than a normal weapon system can be.
“You get to see exactly what you’re shooting at, they’re surprisingly accurate — likely reducing civilian casualties — and when you only have one or two bombs you want to make sure you hit the target first time,” Waters said via Twitter.
“They’re better than firing a bunch of 107-millimeter rockets into an area and hoping you hit something with ‘ISIS’ written on it,” he added.
Asked if the IFP’s deployment of weaponized consumer drones could pave the way for other police forces around the world to deploy such tactics, Waters dismissed the idea.
“The proliferation of drones, including armed drones, is definitely happening right now,” he said. “I don’t think armed drones will be used that much by normal police, though. The Iraqi Federal Police is more like a very heavily-armed gendarmerie than [a] civil police. They’ve even got their own artillery!”
Originally published at Vice Motherboard.