German chancellor’s drone “attack” shows the threat of weaponized UAVs

Small unmanned air vehicles like this quadrocopter could be turned into swarms of exploding flying robots, and Dutch researchers say there’s not much that can be done right now to stop them.

At a campaign rally in Dresden on September 15, a small quadrocopter flew within feet of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere, hovering briefly in front of them before crashing into the stage practically at Merkel’s feet. Merkel appeared to be amused by the “drone attack,” but de Maiziere and others on the stage seemed a bit more unsettled by the robo-kamikaze.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel smiles as a Parrot AR drone comes in for a crash landing during a Christian Democratic Party campaign event September 15.

The quadrocopter, a Parrot AR drone, was operated by a member of the German Pirate Party as a protest against government surveillance and the ongoing scandal over the Euro Hawk drone program—which failed because it could not get certified to fly in European airspace. In a statement, the deputy head of the Pirate Party, Markus Barenhoff, said, “The goal of the effort was to make Chancellor Merkel and Defense Minister de Maiziere realize what it’s like to be subjugated to drone observation.” The drone was harmless, aside from potential political collateral damage to Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party, and the pilot of the drone was released after being briefly held by police.

While Merkel smirked off the drone in Dresden, even a small explosive charge or grenade aboard a similar drone would have been catastrophic—and defending against such attacks is difficult at best. Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) researchers from TNO Defense Research, an organization in The Netherlands, recently showed the real risk of that sort of attack, demonstrating that terrorists and insurgents could effectively use current commercial and do-it-yourself drones as weapons in a number of scenarios, including one much like the Dresden event.

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