Perspectives on Terrorism is an initiative of the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism. Visit website
VOL. XIV, Issue 5

Taking Fourth-Generation Warfare to the Skies? An Empirical Exploration of Non-State Actors’ Useof Weaponised Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs – ‘Drones’)

Recent events in and outside of conflict zones have raised apprehensions about the threat that Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) might pose to modern societies. There have been reports of organizations like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) weaponizing their UAVs. However, scholarly literature exploring this topic is scarce. This article brings forth findings from empirical evidence systematically collected and complied from open sources and databases (n = 440). Our findings demonstrate that non-state actors, especially in the Middle East, have acquired weaponized UAV capabilities. We have also found that non-state actors choose targets discriminately, preferring hard targets over soft targets, and that their UAV attacks have so far not led to mass casualties. However, the latter may change if target preferences change. These findings should further raise awareness of the threat posed by weaponized UAVs in non-state hands while acknowledging a disturbing implication for counterterrorism efforts— their bombs might become harder to stop.

About ICCT

The International Centre for Counter-Terrorism (ICCT) is a think-and-do tank based in The Hague, Netherlands. We provide research, policy advice, training and other solutions to support better counter-terrorism policies and practices worldwide. We also contribute to the scientific and publi.…