A DJI Mavic 2, a small quadcopter-type drone, was found carrying a copper wire attached to it by nylon cords in what was believed to be an attempted attack on a power substation in Pennsylvania last year. The report by The Drive claims this is the first time an incident of this kind has been officially assessed as a possible drone attack on energy infrastructure in the United States, but that this is likely to become more commonplace as time goes on.
The Bulletin (JIB) covering the drone attack was initially published on October 28, 2021 by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC).
"This is the first known instance of a modified UAS likely being used in the United States to specifically target energy infrastructure. We assess that a UAS recovered near an electrical substation was likely intended to disrupt operations by creating a short circuit to cause damage to transformers or distribution lines, based on the design and recovery location," states the JIB.
"To date, no operator has been identified and we are producing this assessment now to expand awareness of this event to federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial law enforcement and security partners who may encounter similarly modified UAS," the JIB adds.
The drone reportedly had several modifications made to it other than the attached copper wiring, with its camera and internal memory card both having been removed. Additionally, the drone was stripped of any identifying markings, rendering the identification of the drone's operator and the tracing of its origins difficult.
This incident highlights the mounting risk posed by small drones, as well as the lower barrier to entry to attempt similar attacks, as the DJI Mavic 2 can be found online between $2,000 and $4,000. The easy access of this technology makes it available to groups like terrorists and drug cartels, both of which are already utilizing commercial drones in targeted attacks.
The incident also plays into existing security concerns surrounding criminal uses of widely available commercial drones:including providing contraband to prison inmates, smuggling, and more.
Though the U.S. government seems to be taking the risk indicated by the event seriously, it is clear that counterdrone measures are still sorely lacking.