Simple Lethality: Assessing the Potential for Agricultural Unmanned Aerial and Ground Systems to Deploy Biological or Chemical Weapons

William H. Johnson, CAPT, USN/Ret, holds a Master of Aeronautical Science (MAS) from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and a MA in Military History from Norwich University. He is currently an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Embry-Riddle in the College of Aeronautics, teaching unmanned system development, control, and interoperability. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  Simple Lethality: Assessing the Potential for Agricultural Unmanned Aerial and Ground Systems to Deploy Biological or Chemical Weapons

Date Originally Written:  August 15, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  November 18, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author is a retired U.S. Naval Flight Officer who held command of the Navy’s sole unmanned air system squadron between 2001 and 2002. He has presented technical papers on unmanned systems, published on the same in professional journals, and has taught unmanned systems since 2016. The article is written from the point of view of an American analyst considering military force vulnerability to small, improvised, unmanned aerial or ground systems, hereby collectively referred to as UxS, equipped with existing technology for agricultural chemical dispersal over a broad area.

Summary:  Small, locally built unmanned vehicles, similar to those used in agriculture, can easily be configured to release a chemical or biological payload. Wide, air-dispersed agents could be set off over a populated area with low likelihood of either interdiction or traceability. Domestic counter-UAS can not only eliminate annoying imagery collection, but also to mitigate the growing potential for an inexpensive chemical or biological weapon attack on U.S. soil.

Text:  The ongoing development and improvement of UxS – primarily aerial, but also ground-operated – to optimize efficiency in the agricultural arena are matters of pride among manufacturers.  These developments and improvements are of interest to regulatory bodies such as the Federal Aviation Administration, and offer an opportunity to those seeking to inflict easy chemical or biological operations on U.S. soil. While the latter note concerning opportunity for enemies, may appear flippant and simplistic at first blush, it is the most important one on the list. Accepting the idea that hostile entities consider environment and objective(s) when choosing physical or cyber attack platforms, the availability of chemical-dispersing unmanned vehicles with current system control options make such weapons not only feasible, but ideal[1].

Commercially available UxS, such the Yamaha RMAX[2] or the DJI Agras MG-1[3], can be launched remotely, and with a simple, available autopilot fly a pre-programmed course until fuel exhaustion. These capabilities the opportunity for an insurgent to recruit a similarly minded, hobbyist-level UAS builder to acquire necessary parts and assemble the vehicle in private. The engineering of such a small craft, even one as large as the RMAX, is quite simple, and the parts could be innocuously and anonymously acquired by anyone with a credit card. Even assembling a 25-liter dispersal tank and setting a primitive timer for release would not be complicated.

With such a simple, garage-built craft, the dispersal tank could be filled with either chemical or biological material, launched anytime from a suburban convenience store parking lot.  The craft could then execute a straight-and-level flight path over an unaware downtown area, and disperse its tank contents at a predetermined time-of-flight. This is clearly not a precision mission, but it would be quite easy to fund and execute[4].

The danger lies in the simplicity[5]. As an historical example, Nazi V-2 “buzz bomb” rockets in World War II were occasionally pointed at a target and fueled to match the rough, desired time of flight needed to cross the planned distance. The V-2 would then simply fall out of the sky once out of gas. Existing autopilots for any number of commercially available UxS are far more sophisticated than that, and easy to obtain. This attack previously described would be difficult to trace and almost impossible to predict, especially if assembly were done with simple parts from a variety of suppliers. The extrapolated problem is that without indication or warning, even presently available counter-UxS technology would have no reason to be brought to bear until after the attack. The cost, given the potential for terror and destabilization, would be negligible to an adversary. The ability to fly such missions simultaneously over a number of metropolitan areas could create devastating consequences in terms of panic.

The current mitigations to UxS are few, but somewhat challenging to an entity planning such a mission. Effective chemical or weaponized biological material is well-tracked by a variety of global organizations.  As such, movement of any amount of such into the United States would be quite difficult for even the best-resourced individuals or groups. Additionally, there are some unique parts necessary for construction of a heavier-lift rotary vehicle.  With some effort, those parts could be cataloged under processes similar to existing import-export control policies and practices.

Finally, the expansion of machine-learning-driven artificial intelligence, the ongoing improvement in battery storage, and the ubiquity of UxS hobbyists and their products, make this type of threat more and more feasible by the day. Current domestic counter-UxS technologies have been developed largely in response to safety threats posed by small UxS to manned aircraft, and also because of the potential for unapproved imagery collection and privacy violation. To those, it will soon be time to add small scale counter-Weapons of Mass Destruction to the rationale.


Endnotes:

[1] Ash Rossiter, “Drone usage by militant groups: exploring variation in adoption,” Defense & Security Analysis, 34:2, 113-126, https://doi.org/10.1080/14751798.2018.1478183

[2] Elan Head, “FAA grants exemption to unmanned Yamaha RMX helicopter.” Verticalmag.com, online: https://www.verticalmag.com/news/faagrantsexemptiontounmannedyamaharmaxhelicopter Accessed: August 15, 2020

[3] One example of this vehicle is available online at https://ledrones.org/product/dji-agras-mg-1-octocopter-argriculture-drone-ready-to-fly-bundle Accessed: August 15, 2020

[4] ”FBI: Man plotted to fly drone-like toy planes with bombs into school. (2014).” CBS News. Retrieved from
https://www.cbsnews.com/news/fbi-man-in-connecticut-plotted-to-fly-drone-like-toy-planes-with-bombs-into-school Accessed: August 10, 2020

[5] Wallace, R. J., & Loffi, J. M. (2015). Examining Unmanned Aerial System Threats & Defenses: A Conceptual Analysis. International Journal of Aviation, Aeronautics, and Aerospace, 2(4). https://doi.org/10.15394/ijaaa.2015.1084

Artificial Intelligence & Human-Machine Teaming Assessment Papers Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Weapons Unmanned Systems William H. Johnson

Alternative Future: Assessing Russian Reconnaissance Fire Complex Performance in the Third Chechen War

1LT Andrew Shaughnessy is a U.S. Army Field Artillery Officer and current Field Artillery Captain Career Course student. He commissioned out of Georgetown University in 2016 and previously served in 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division as a Fire Direction Officer, Platoon Leader, and Executive Officer. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  Alternative Future: Assessing Russian Reconnaissance Fire Complex Performance in the Third Chechen War

Date Originally Written:  June 11, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  August 10, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author is a company-grade U.S. Army Field Artillery Officer interested in the military implications of emerging technologies. The author has previously written on the effects of additive manufacturing and predictive maintenance on the U.S. Army.

Summary:  The Russian Army’s artillery forces played a decisive role in the Third Chechen War due to the effectiveness of the Reconnaissance Fire Complex. Empowered by Target Acquisition Companies that employed Unmanned Aircraft Systems and Electronic Warfare, the Russian Army showcased a devastatingly fast artillery targeting cycle.

Text:  Beginning in 2014, the Russo-Ukrainian War created a laboratory for the Russian Army to develop new tactics on how to employ their artillery. The successful use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) to coordinate artillery strikes in Ukraine[1] caused the Russian Army to make UAS a central element of their targeting process[2]. Electronic Warfare (EW) platforms also proved to be effective target acquisition systems by detecting electromagnetic signatures and then targeting them with artillery[3]. Learning from their experience in the Russo-Ukrainian War, the Russian Army significantly invested in these systems as part of their artillery modernization program. Ultimately, these systems would give the Russian Army a decisive advantage in their 2033 War in Chechnya.

Despite budgetary pressures in the 2020s, the Russian Army continued to invest in its advanced Reconnaissance Fire Complex due to it being a valued Soviet-era concept and its operational validation during the Russo-Ukrainian War[4]. This concept aimed to digitally link advanced target acquisition sensors, UAS, and Military Command systems to artillery platforms to provide incredibly responsive fires. The Russian investment in the Reconnaissance Fire Complex during the 2020s took the lessons learned from Ukraine and made them a permanent part of the Russian force structure.

In a 2028 reorganization, each Russian Brigade received a dedicated Artillery UAS Company and EW Target Acquisition Company. While the Brigade retained other UAS and EW assets, these companies existed for the sole purpose of continuously pulling targeting data to feed the largely autonomous Reconnaissance Fire Complex.

Major technology advances that supported the Reconnaissance Fire Complex included sophisticated UAS platforms, automated fire direction systems, and improved EW capabilities. The lethality of the Artillery UAS Companies improved substantially with the advent of autonomous UAS[5], drone swarming[6], and 3D-printed UAS[7]. Advances in military Artificial Intelligence programs allowed most UAS sensor to shooter loops to occur free of human intervention[8]. Electronic Warfare detection systems became more precise, mobile, and networked with other systems. These advances allowed Artillery UAS Companies to field hundreds of autonomous UAS platforms simultaneously while the EW Target Acquisition Company hunted for high-value targets based on electromagnetic signatures. The effective integration of autonomous UAS and EW companies played a decisive role in the 2033 War in Chechnya.

The 2033 War in Chechnya was the product of Chechen fighters returning from Syria, the assassination of Ramzan Kadyrov, the Head of the Chechen Republic, and the collapse of oil prices. Compounding instability and the inability of the Russian political establishment to respond allowed rogue paramilitaries to seize control of the republic and declare the new Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. Following several years of autonomy, a resurgent Russian state invaded Chechnya in April-2033.

While separatist Chechen forces had organized, they proved to be no match for the extraordinary performance of the Russian Army’s artillery and automated fire support network. In less than a month, the Russian army had destroyed all of Chechnya’s conventional forces and thoroughly depleted their ranks of irregular fighters. While the Russian Army performed adequately overall, it was their Reconnaissance Fire Complex that drove their successive victories.

During the Third Chechen War, the Chechen sky was continuously saturated with an enormous number of autonomous UAS platforms. Interwoven with each other and the broader Reconnaissance Fire Complex, these UAS platforms autonomously detected probable targets such as mechanized vehicles. Autonomy and swarming allowed the Russians to deploy hundreds of these UAS simultaneously. UAS coming from 3D-printed manufacturing meant that low cost made them expendable. Even when the Chechens successfully shot down a UAS, due to forward 3D-print capabilities, Russian forces would replace it within minutes.

Without human intervention, UAS pushed probable targets to Russian Fire Direction Centers (FDC) that further assessed targeting criteria using machine learning to avoid misidentification or fratricide. Within seconds, a UAS-detected target bounced from the sensor, to the FDC, to the artillery platform set to engage the target. The result was that as soon as any Chechen vehicles or heavy equipment began to move, Russian forces detected and engaged them with artillery, destroying them within minutes. While most of this artillery fire came in the form of massed thermobaric and cluster munition strikes, UAS would laser designate for guided Krasnopol artillery shells when Russian forces required precision[9]. Chechen forces could never escape the panopticon of Russian UAS, and given the Russian preference for long-range artillery, could always be engaged 10]. This perfect synchronization of sensors and firing assets allowed them to destroy all of Chechnya’s mechanized and motorized forces within days.

EW Target Acquisition Companies also played a major role. At the advent of the conflict, Russian forces remotely triggered kill switches within Chechnya’s Russian-made military radios, rendering them ineffective[11]. This forced Chechen forces to rely on less secure commercial off the shelf radios and cellphones as their primary communication systems. This commercial reliance proved to be an enormous vulnerability, as Russian forces were able to quickly pinpoint specific cellphone locations by using both social engineering and heat maps, allowing them to locate and target Chechen leadership[12].

EW Target Acquisition Companies forces would measure electromagnetic signatures for large swaths of an area, create heat maps of where signatures were emanating from, and then target what they believed to be enemy command nodes[13]. As soon as a large group of cellphones or radios began to concentrate outside of a city, Russian EW companies designated that as a possible target. While this method was imprecise, often generating considerable civilian causalities, Russian forces considered that a secondary concern. EW Target Acquisition Companies also targeted smartphone applications with malware to pull refined location data from probable combatants[14]. EW-based targeting proved highly effective against Chechnya’s cadre of irregular fighters, decimating them. By May-2033, with Chechnya’s forces defeated, the province capitulated and was back under Russian control.

The effectiveness of the Reconnaissance Fire Complex allowed Russian artillery to be an overwhelming force in the Third Chechen War. Without it, Russian maneuver forces would have been mired in a prolonged conflict. A devastatingly fast artillery targeting cycle, empowered by autonomous UAS, Artificial Intelligence, and EW systems resulted in a rapid and decisive Russian victory[15].


Endnotes:

[1] Freedberg, S. J., JR. (2015, November 23). Russian Drone Threat: Army Seeks Ukraine Lessons. Retrieved June 07, 2020, from https://breakingdefense.com/2015/10/russian-drone-threat-army-seeks-ukraine-lessons

[2] Grau and Bartles (2016). The Russian Way of War. Foreign Military Studies Office. (Pages 239, 373-377) https://www.armyupress.army.mil/special-topics/world-hot-spots/russia

[3] Asymmetric Warfare Group (2016). Russian New Generation Warfare Handbook. Asymmetric Warfare Group. https://www.awg.army.mil/AWG-Contributions/AWG-Recruiting/Article-View/Article/1809255/the-us-army-has-a-handbook-on-russian-hybrid-warfare

[4] Grau and Bartles (2018, May). The Russian Reconnaissance Fire Complex Comes of Age. The University of Oxford Changing Character Of War Centre. http://www.ccw.ox.ac.uk/blog/2018/5/30/the-russian-reconnaissance-fire-complex-comes-of-age

[5] Tucker, P. (2019, November 08). Russia Says It Used Autonomous Armed Strike Drones in a Wargame. Retrieved June 07, 2020, from https://www.defenseone.com/technology/2019/11/russia-were-testing-autonomous-armed-strike-drones-wargames/161187

[6] Atherton, K. (2019, December 18). Russia will test swarms for anti-robot combat in 2020. Retrieved June 07, 2020, from https://www.c4isrnet.com/unmanned/2019/12/13/russia-will-test-swarms-for-anti-robot-combat-in-2020

[7] Bartles, C. (2015). 3D Printers will “Bake” Future Russian UAVs. Foreign Military Studies Office OE Watch, Vol 5. (Issue 7), 48-49. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-past-issues/195454

[8] Konaev, M., & Bendett, S. (2019, July 30). Russian AI-Enabled Combat: Coming to a City Near You? Retrieved June 07, 2020, from https://warontherocks.com/2019/07/russian-ai-enabled-combat-coming-to-a-city-near-you

[9] Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab. (2019, May 20). The Use of Krasnopol Artillery Shells in Ukraine. Retrieved June 07, 2020, from https://medium.com/dfrlab/the-use-of-krasnopol-artillery-shells-in-ukraine-d185ef4743b7

[10] Collins, L., & Morgan, H. (2019, January 24). King of Battle: Russia Breaks Out the Big Guns. Retrieved June 07, 2020, from https://www.ausa.org/articles/king-battle-russia-breaks-out-big-guns

[11] Trevithivk, Joseph. (2019, October 30th). Ukrainian Officer Details Russian Electronic Warfare Tactics Including Radio “Virus.” The War Zone. Retrieved June 07, 2020, https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/30741/ukrainian-officer-details-russian-electronic-warfare-tactics-including-radio-virus

[12] Collins, Liam. (2018, July 26th) Russia gives lessons in Electronic Warfare. AUSA. Retrieved June 07, 2020, from, https://www.ausa.org/articles/russia-gives-lessons-electronic-warfare

[13] Trevithivk, Joseph. (2020, May 11th) This is what Ground Forces look like to an Electronic Warfare System and why it’s a big deal. The War Zone. Retrieved June 07, 2020, from https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/33401/this-is-what-ground-forces-look-like-to-an-electronic-warfare-system-and-why-its-a-big-deal

[14] Volz, Dustin. (2016, December 21). Russian hackers tracked Ukrainian artillery units using Android implant: report. Reuters. Retrieved June 07, 2020, from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-cyber-ukraine/russian-hackers-tracked-ukrainian-artillery-units-using-android-implant-report-idUSKBN14B0CU

[15] The author would like to extend his appreciation to Andrew Gibbs and Primo Ramirez for reviewing and giving feedback to the first draft of this paper.

Alternative Futures / Alternative Histories / Counterfactuals Andrew Shaughnessy Artillery / Rockets/ Missiles Assessment Papers Chechnya Russia Unmanned Systems

Assessing 9/11 Lessons and the Way Ahead for Homeland Defense Against Small Unmanned Aerial Systems

Peter L. Hickman, Major, United States Air Force, holds a PhD from Arizona State University in International Relations and a Master of Military Operational Art and Science in Joint Warfare. He is currently a Defense Legislative Fellow for a member of the House Armed Services Committee. Prior to this position, he worked as a Requirements Manager on Air Combat Command HQ staff and the Chief of Weapons and Tactics at the 225th Air Defense SquadronThe views expressed in this paper represent the personal views of the author and are not necessarily the views of the Department of Defense or of the Department of the Air Force.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  Assessing 9/11 Lessons and the Way Ahead for Homeland Defense Against Small Unmanned Aerial Systems

Date Originally Written:  March 18, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  May 13, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author is a field-grade, U.S. Air Force Weapons Officer who has worked in homeland air defense for the past 8 years at tactical and headquarters levels. He is currently a Defense Fellow assigned to the office of a member of the House Armed Services Committee. The article is written from the point of view of an American strategic analyst viewing the emerging threat of small unmanned systems in the context of the current state of North American air defense.

Summary:   For small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS), the current state of North American air defense is analogous to its state prior to the 9/11 attacks, and therefore the risk posed by an sUAS attack is currently high. However, the lessons of 9/11 for adapting air defense to a new class of threat provides a model to prepare for the threat of sUAS before an attack occurs.

Text:  The beginning of the twenty first century has seen rapid development of small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS). Violent extremist organizations and others with malign intent have already demonstrated the threat posed by sUAS in attacks overseas. Though a successful attack has not yet occurred in North America, current limitations of the North American air defense system suggest that chances of defeating one when it does occur are very low. However, the hard lessons of the 9/11 attacks provide a model for proactive measures that will enable effective defense if an sUAS attack occurs in North America.

The first documented non-state use of an sUAS as an improvised explosive device (IED) in an attack was by Hezbollah in 2006[1]. More recently, Houthi fighters in Yemen have used sUAS to damage radar systems[2], and the Islamic State and other groups have used sUAS to drop small explosives on forces on the ground, at one point even resulting in the halt of a U.S. ground force advance on Mosul[3]. Rebels in Ukraine used an sUAS to destroy an arms depot resulting in damage that has been estimated as high as a billion dollars[4]. The first documented fatalities from sUAS attacks occurred in 2016 when two Kurdish fighters were killed, and two members of French special operations forces were wounded by an sUAS-based IED[5]. There are also reports from as far back as 2014 of fatal non-state sUAS attacks[6].

The proven lethal potential of sUAS attacks is not limited to far off battlefields. sUAS attacks on North America have already been foiled by intelligence and law enforcement organizations in 2011 and 2015, and gaps in security were demonstrated when an sUAS was inadvertently flow over the White House in January of 2015[7]. Even more alarming incidents have taken place in Europe and Japan, including a 2013 demonstration against German Chancellor Angela Merkel where an sUAS was flown onto the stage where she was speaking[8]. Another bizarre incident found an sUAS on the roof of the Prime Minister of Japan’s house that was “marked with radioactive symbols, carried a plastic bottle with unidentifiable contents, and registered trace levels of radiation[9].

Systems are currently available that can provide point defense against sUAS for a small area for a limited time. These systems are effective for some military applications overseas as well as providing limited point defense for specific events and facilities in North America. However, a point defense approach is not effective for extending the existing air defense system of North America to include wide area defense against sUAS. This lack of effectiveness is because the current North American air defense system was originally designed to defend against state actors and was updated in the aftermath of 9/11 to defend against manned aircraft attacks that originate from within the U.S.. Though the current system is not postured to provide effective wide area defense against sUAS, the changes that were made just after 9/11 provide a model for urgently needed changes.

Immediately following the 9/11 attacks, North American air defense was adapted in three main ways: increased domain awareness, interagency coordination, and additional defeat measures. Immediately post-9/11, NORAD & NORTHCOM gained access to interior Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) radars and radios which enabled the domain awareness capabilities that were lacking on 9/11. Interagency coordination tactics, techniques, and procedures were developed so that the FAA could notify air defense tactical units within seconds of detection of concerning flight behavior. Finally, a widespread constellation of alert aircraft and other defeat measures was established that would enable persistent timely response to any event in the national airspace. The net result of the post-9/11 changes to air defense was not to eliminate the risk entirely of a successful air attack, but to mitigate that risk to an acceptable level.

These post-9/11 measures are effective for mitigating the risk of the last attack, but they will not be for the next. The legacy radar systems providing surveillance for air defense were designed to detect manned aircraft at typical transit altitudes and are not well suited to targets that are small, slow, and low in altitude. The federal air traffic management procedures that form the basis of effective interagency coordination aren’t yet in place for sUAS. Though simple restrictions on operating areas exist, the lack of a comprehensive sUAS traffic management plan means that the FAA does not have the tools that would enable timely notification of suspicious sUAS activity. Finally, existing alert bases and response options assume that targets will be moving on manned aircraft scales, measured in hundreds of miles, which means that the existing constellation of alert bases and response postures are well situated to defend major population centers and critical assets from manned aircraft. sUAS operate on scales that render this existing approach ineffective, both in terms of the times and distances required to make an intercept, but also in terms of the size of the aircraft, which are very difficult for manned pilots to acquire with onboard systems, and almost impossible to visually acquire while traveling as much as ten times faster than the target.

Without effective domain awareness, interagency coordination, or defeat measures, relative to sUAS, North American air defense is in a state analogous to pre-9/11. Fortunately, the lessons learned on 9/11 provide a model of what is now required to anticipate the next attack, though the details will be different. The unique characteristics of sUAS suggest that sensor coverage volumes may not need to be as comprehensive as they are above 18,000 feet, and existing and emerging sensors can be augmented with sophisticated data analysis to better report sUAS detections that today are dismissed as radar noise. The framework for broad interagency coordination exists today, but lacks specific tactics, techniques, and procedures tailored to communicating an unfolding sUAS threat. The decreased ranges of sUAS potentially enable much better target envelope predictions which translates to much more tightly focused interagency coordination and rapid, targeted risk mitigation for any threat. Modest hardening and warning-based shelter-in-place or evacuation can provide a much larger measure of risk mitigation than they can against a hijacked airliner or cruise missile, which likely reduces the need for exquisite defeat mechanisms.

Though the existing North American air defense system is not well position to defeat an sUAS attack, the lessons of 9/11 suggest that adaptation of our current system to mitigate risk of sUAS attack may be closer we think. There are near term opportunities to weave a tailored blend of increased domain awareness, interagency coordination, and defeat measures to enable risk mitigation specific to the threat of a small sUAS. The only question now is whether this adaptation takes place before, or after, the first sUAS attack in the homeland.


Endnotes:

[1] Ash Rossiter, Drone Usage by Militant Groups: Exploring Variation in Adoption, Defense & Security Analysis 34, no. 2 (April 3, 2018): 116, https://doi.org/10.1080/14751798.2018.1478183.

[2] Ibid, 116.

[3] Ibid, 117.

[4] Ibid, 117.

[5] Ibid, 116.

[6] Ibid, 117.

[7] Ryan Wallace and Jon Loffi, Eamining Unmanned Aerial System Threats & Defenses: A Conceptual Analysis, International Journal of Aviation, Aeronautics, and Aerospace, 2015, 1, https://doi.org/10.15394/ijaaa.2015.1084.

[8] Ibid, 1.

[9]Ibid, 2.

Assessment Papers Homeland Defense Peter L. Hickman United States Unmanned Systems