Unmanned US drone strikes killed hundreds of people people in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia last year as part of the never-ending war on terror, a war that apparently necessitates the continuous bombing by the world's only superpower of malcontents in faraway countries. Western governments cite the assassinations of such huge terrible guys as Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, and Abu Yahya al-Libi, al Qaeda’s deputy leader, as success tales. While attacks like these are in scheme weakening global Islamist terrorism, it’s been reported that less than 2 percent of drone strikes in Pakistan hit high-profile terrorist targets. Many more attacks have been known to kill children, civilians and suspected combatants.
With this hit-and-miss campaign in mind, Ruben Pater, a designer from the Netherlands, just place together the Drone Survival Guide, which can be downloaded in 27 uncommon languages and includes silhouettes of the most commonly used drones—from the Reaper to the Killer Bee—along with information on how to hijack, hack, and dazzle them.
“Many people are mystified and intrigued by drones," Ruben told me, "but don’t really know what the capabilities and weaknesses of such a technology are. Once we know what a drone can do, we stop being worried and instead come up with ways to protect ourselves.”
The Drone Survival Guide has two main sections: Hacking Drones and Hiding from Drones. “Spreading reflective pieces of glass or mirrored material on a roof will confuse the drone’s camera," it advises. “By broadcasting on uncommon frequencies… the link between the drone pilot and the drone can be disconnected.” While Ruben insists that the Drone Survival Guide is more an art project aimed at educating people than a practical guide for taking down Predator drones, he was careful when constructing it for dread it could be used spitefully. “I was very deliberate in [only] collecting information that has been publicly available on news websites,” he said. “The [techniques] I chose for the guide are about dodging surveillance and tampering with their sensors—it's not about shooting them down.”
Which is excellent to know, as Ruben tells me he’s seen jihadists sharing the Drone Survival Guide on social media. It’s dodgy they will learn anything new from it though, as some of the instructions in it were full directly from documents found inside an al Qaeda building in Mali, which fussy a lot more technical information than what is found in the Drone Survival Guide. I did bring up to Ruben, but, that the guide does say that some of the techniques “can be used… to steer drones into self-destruction flight paths or even hijack them.”
“Excellent top,” he laughs. “The technique in question is GPS spoofing, which is a very hard tactic you could use to hijack a drone. Some say the Iranian government used it to hijack the American drone they captured [in 2011], but it’s more likely nobody has ever been able to do it. That’s why I left it in: because it’s next to impossible. But the thought is very fascinating—that by just fooling the drone's GPS system you could take control over it.”
The Federal Aviation Administration has predicted that there could be over 30,000 domestic drones operating in US airspace by 2020. By then, rather than being exotic weapons of war, drones will be mundane small robots. Thus the Drone Survival Guide is marketed as an aide to “21st-century bird-watching,” though, yes, some of these “birds” can blow people to bits from 50,000 feet using laser-guided bombs.
Ruben told me that only after giving the Drone Survival Guide to a friend did he realize how perilous the European-built Barracuda drone was. “[My friend] used to work at the company who makes brake systems for the Barracuda,” he said. “[He told me] it’s designed to do everything independently, from taking off, to striking targets—all without human intervention. You just tell it what to kill, and it will go out and do it for you. Pretty scary.” According to the company that makes the Barracuda drone, new missions can be uploaded to its system from the ground—giving instructions that it “immediately responded to” during a 2012 test flight.
One issue with the Drone Survival Guide is that the drone industry is advancing so rapidly that it makes Ruben's work instantly out of date. “The US defense giant Lockheed Martin just announced a new develop,” not listed in the book, Ruben said. “The SR-72 is a hypersonic drone that would be the fastest business in the sky at six times the speed of sound.” On their website, Lockheed clarification that “at this speed, the aircraft would be so quick, an adversary would have no time to react or hide.”
“Imagine bringing up the rear control of a drone when small at mach six,” Ruben said. “A robot so quick we cannot even catch it if it goes rogue. Splendid thought.” (This is pretty much the plot of 2005 action movie bomb Stealth.)
Ruben hopes his Drone Survival Guide will at least start a conversation. “The goal is to make awareness of what drones are competent of,” he said, “and hopefully spawn discussion about whether or not we should allocate the use of drones for surveillance and military purposes. Most of us have governments that already use drones for these purposes, paid for by our tax money. We have a right to know what this technology is competent of so we can judge whether it is [used] correctly or not.”