Islamic State Has Drones
Yes, the Islamic State militant group has drones. No, there’s no reason to be alarmed.
The militants’ unmanned aerial vehicles are in fact remote-controlled machines you can buy online for about $500, rather than the largely autonomous robots the world’s leading militaries use—and which can cost millions of dollars apiece.
A video that appeared on Youtube on Aug. 23 shows the Islamic militants operating a surveillance drone in Syria. It might seem shocking at first, but in reality the technology is amateur-grade.
The drone in question is a Phantom FC40, a remote-controlled quad-copter that, according to the vendor DJI Innovations, comes with a 720p high-definition video camera. The operator steers the ’bot in real time by way of an iOS or Android app running over a 2.4G wireless connection.
The Phantom FC40 is not a professional system. It comes ready to fly … and pretty much anyone can safely operate it.
Islamic State sent their drone to film Tabqa airfield, which the group later captured.
Even though the militants probably found the imagery from the Phantom useful for getting a rough idea of enemy positions before the attack, the commercial drone doesn’t enable the militants to scout from a long distance or in real time. Nor can the quad-copter loiter for hours while waiting for the enemy to appear—something military drones routinely do.
In other words, a Phantom FC40 doesn’t much boost the Islamists’ military capabilities. It’s far more useful as a propaganda tool—a way of showing off the militants’ supposed sophistication.
But when it comes to drones, Islamic State is no more sophisticated than your average hobbyist.