The Threat of Weaponized Drone Use by Violent Non-State Actors

24 Pages Posted: 29 Oct 2021

Date Written: September 17, 2021


When most people think of military drones, they usually think of pieces of technology with wingspans greater than the overall length of fighter jets, taking surveillance images from over 40,000 feet and giving the pilot, thousands of miles away, the ability to take out targets with pinpoint accuracy utilizing a wide variety of weapons systems at the pilot’s disposal. While this does describe a large portion of drones used by militaries and fighters all over the world, their development requires billions of dollars of investments, access to cutting-edge technology and scientists, and, most importantly, time. Today, The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levante (ISIL) and other violent non-state actors (VNSA), do not have access to these resources.1 To overcome this asymmetry, they are using the technology available on the consumer market to build or purchase small drones. Although these drones are about the size of a watermelon and may have a range of only a few miles, they still pose a risk. In the hands of a VNSA, these small, inexpensive consumer drones are modified into “killer bees” capable of creating significant damage and terrorizing civilian and military populations. While VNSAs can use drone technology in various ways—such as surveillance, strategic communication, transportation (smuggling), disruption of events, or complementing other activities—the focus of this article is on when and why terrorist groups use drone technology as a weapon.

Keywords: Drones, Terrorism, US Air Force, US Military, US Army, CIA,

Suggested Citation

Braun, Thomas and Fleiss, Alexander, The Threat of Weaponized Drone Use by Violent Non-State Actors (September 17, 2021). Available at SSRN: or

Thomas Braun

Amherst College ( email )

Amherst, MA 01002
United States

Alexander Fleiss (Contact Author)

Rebellion Research ( email )

United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics