The Evolution of Commercial Drones and Security: Why You Should Care!

October 2023 No Comments

Panelists:  Bill Edwards (Building Intelligence Inc.), David Hambling (Author, Journalist and Independent Consultant), and Zak Kallenborn (Looking Glass USA)

Date: 29 November 2023

Speaker Session Summary

Drones are continuously revolutionizing the modern battlefield and have since they were first introduced. Some battlefield applications for drones are obvious, such as the RQ-4 Global Hawk, which are used to carry large payloads and are specifically designed for surveillance and warfighting. However, drones designed for the recreation or service industry and readily available online are also being used on the battlefield with increasing frequency. These commercial drones pose a unique threat to the security of military and commercial entities. They can be cheaply and quickly made—even in someone’s garage—while also being able to carry dangerous payloads. Mr. Hambling emphasized that for this and other reasons, cheap commercial electronics are changing the way that the US and other actors conduct warfare. Ukraine was mentioned by the participants as a testing ground for the mass production, repurposing, and use of commercial drone use in modern conflicts.

It is not only states that use commercial drones for warfighting. Cartels in Mexico use drones for surveillance and as weapons. Mr. Kallenborn emphasized the threat drones pose to chemical facilities and the drone’s capability for carrying chemical payloads. Another growing capability among drones is the use of a first-person viewpoint, giving the drone’s operator even more control than they had in the past. COL (Rret) Edwards emphasized the difficulty of detecting drones that fly at a low-level and at a slow speed. He detailed that there are four main ways that actors can defend themselves from an adversary’s use of drones. These are 1) kinetic force, 2) cutting the drone’s signal with its operator, 3) GPS spoofing, and 4) taking over the drone via cyber hacking. 

Speaker Session Recording

Briefing Materials


Bill Edwards is the president of federal and public safety at Building Intelligence Inc. and chair of the SIA Counter-UAS Working Group. He is a retired U.S. Army colonel and veteran of the Iraq War. He is also the author of Inside Abu Ghraib: Memoirs of Two U.S. Military Intelligence Officers and has built three adult learning courses for security professionals that support security program development in the “air domain.”

David Hambling is a London-based journalist, author, and consultant specializing in defense technology with over 20 years’ experience. He writes for Aviation Week, Forbes, The Economist, New Scientist, Popular Mechanics, WIRED, and others. His books include “Weapons Grade: How Modern Warfare Gave Birth to Our High-tech World” (2005) and “Swarm Troopers: How small drones will conquer the world” (2015). He has been closely watching the continued and accelerating evolution of small military drones, especially in the conflict in Ukraine.

Zachary Kallenborn is a Lead Researcher at Looking Glass USA, Adjunct Fellow (Non-resident) with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Policy Fellow at the Schar School of Policy and Government, Fellow at the National Institute for Deterrence Studies, Research Affiliate with the Unconventional Weapons and Technology Division of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), and an officially proclaimed U.S. Army “Mad Scientist.” He has published over 60 articles in a wide range of peer-reviewed, wonky, and popular outlets, including the Brookings Institution, Foreign Policy, Slate, DefenseOne, War on the Rocks, the Modern Institute at West Point, Terrorism and Political Violence, and Parameters. Journalists have written about and shared that research in the New York Times, the AP, NPR, the Economist, Politico, al Jazeera, Newsweek, the New Scientist, WIRED, and the BBC, among dozens of others in dozens of languages. Zachary is also on the board of advisors of the Center for Intelligence and Security Studies at the University of Akron and appeared in Netflix’s “UNKNOWN: Killer Robots.”


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