Rogue use of Nascent Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Technology in the Future

By Francisco Mateo, CPP, CFE

Many progressive police agencies around the world are already considering the use of the nascent Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) technology for community policing and intelligence gathering purposes.  UAV’s will have many of the capabilities of UGV’s, such as cameras and sensors, but they are not terrain limited and can scrutinize much wider areas from their higher vantage point (Farivar 2005). A much more economical alternative to helicopters, UAV’s can fulfill many of the same missions at a fraction of the cost. By 2020 UAV’s will provide law enforcement with a wide variety of flying assistants tailored to fit many different missions. Types will range from large fixed wing platforms for aerial surveillance over a city to vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) UAV’s that can hover and maneuver low over a specific point or area and provide continuous monitoring of an individual. Very small “micro-UAV’s” may be capable of flying into a building or room undetected and record activities either audibly or visually, sending their information back to police officers monitoring events in real time.

But like the narco semi-submersibles regularly used by organized drug cartels to shipped drugs from distant places across the sea, the UAV technology would also be available to criminal organizations to enhance their own operating capabilities.  It peaks my curiosity what uses, beyond drug runs and surveillance, organized crime may give this technology.  I can think of perhaps using the technology to spy on rival gangs and perhaps carryout a hit on rival gangs or against law enforcement as witnessed in the Mexican drug war today.

I posit that if it’s possible for the Mexican drug cartel’s enforcement arm to get their hands on military-grade weaponry to fight each other as well as Mexican law enforcement, than it is also possible with their burgeoning financial resources they would be able to acquire UAV technology.  

Oh! you don’t think the bad guys would be able to breakthrough the technology challenge.  Logically, it is possible since they’ve done it before.  In fact, some organized crime gangs live on the cutting edge of technology.  I think they would be able to co-opt this technology rather quickly and even developed their own clever hacks to evade law enforcement. 

The thought alone has given senior western defense officials the initiative to include UAV technology in multilateral non-proliferation treaties including the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and the Wassenaar Agreement.

That said, how would law enforcement combat this potential threat?  I’m out of my element here, but I’d go out on a limb to ponder if much like the weapons used in drug aircraft interdiction, electromagnetic weapons, or other directed energy weapons, currently under development could perhaps be applied to neutralize rogue UAV’s. How do you see this playing out?

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