In the first half of 2023, the wave of significant drone incidents continued to capture headlines, pointing to the need for effective counter-drone solutions, sensible regulations, and safer and more responsible drone usage. These incidents ranged from drone-enabled smuggling and unauthorized intrusions to collisions and technical malfunctions, impacting across sectors. This blog post provides an overview of notable drone incidents during this period, examining the sectors most affected and the countries facing these challenges.
Drone incursions are increasingly being used by cartels to smuggle drugs and monitor border patrols along the southern border for vulnerable entry points for both drug deliveries and illegal immigration. In one such incident reported in the news on January 18, 2023, Texas troopers described how they were followed by drones operated from Mexico while trailing a group of migrants.
The magnitude of the problem was highlighted by Gloria Chavez, Chief Patrol Agent of the U.S. Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley Sector, who testified that Border Patrol in the Rio Grande Valley sector of Texas faced over 10,000 drone incursions and 25,000 drone sightings in just one year.
Drone-enabled smuggling of narcotics and arms across the India-Pakistan border has been on the rise. In the first half of 2023, India reported thirty cross-border drone incidents, of which twenty-four were in the state of Punjab. These occurrences represent 45% of Punjab’s total 53 incidents detected over the past three years.
The most notable of these drone incidents carried significant payloads –
March 10: Pakistan-based smugglers attempted to transport arms into India using a drone but were stopped by Border Security Forces. The drone was carrying an AK series rifle, two magazines, and 40 bullets.
April 12: A drone was used to transport 37 kg of heroin across the border from Rajasthan to Punjab, where it was seized by local law enforcement.
May 17: BSF foiled a major smuggling attempt near Kakkar village, shooting down a Pakistani drone and seizing over 15 kg of drugs dropped from the UAV.
Addressing the growing problem, Union Minister of State for Home Nisith Pramanik said that the government has taken several measures including round-the-clock monitoring of the borders by Border Security Forces (BSF), collaboration with the police, and making the general public aware of the problem and implications. The Home Ministry has also established an Anti-Rogue Drone Technology Committee (ARDTC) tasked with evaluating available technology to counter rogue drones.
In her blog, Drones at Prisons: “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” Sandra Welfeld explained how contraband smuggling into correctional facilities by visitors or corrupt prison officials has always been a problem, but now, the increasing availability of low-cost, easy-to-fly commercial drones brings a whole new type of contraband smuggling activity into the sector, fueling contraband trade within prison walls, forcing governments to act.
Drones are now persistently used to smuggle illegal items into prisons worldwide, heightening the danger and risk in the facilities. While Canada and the United States have the most reported incidents this period, drone-enabled smuggling has also been reported at prisons in the UK, France, Spain, Italy, India, Trinidad & Tobago, and the Maldives.
Prisons in Kingston, Ontario topped the charts in Canada, with the Correctional Services of Canada seizing contraband and cannabis from three drone deliveries at Collins Bay Institution (March 5, May 17, and June 22) and from two incidents at Joyceville federal multi-level security institution (January 17 and February 20).
In the U.S., South Carolina had many reported drone-smuggling incidents with drug and contraband deliveries at McCormick (January 24), Ridgeland (March 23), Lee (March 23 & April 29), and Lieber (June 29) Correctional Institutions. Also of note, on April 4th, federal prosecutors charged two men for using 10 drones to drop methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, tobacco, and cell phones into seven California prisons.
Like Prisons, another sector where illegal drones wreaked havoc during the first half of 2023 was Airports. Ireland, the UK, and the U.S. all experienced serious drone incidents at airports.
Dublin Airport had drone incursions that captured headlines six times from January 24 through March 2. Flights were grounded, diverted, and suspended, delaying thousands of passengers traveling to and from Ireland. Ryanair was the airline most affected by the closures, and the
Irish government vowed to tackle the drone problem.
In the UK, rogue drones not only posed disruptive delays (Edinburgh February 21, Gatwick May 14 with 12 flights diverted during a 50-minute incident, and Manchester June 19) but also posed serious safety issues on four occasions, as drones were spotted dangerously close to planes.
In the United States, an airplane pilot reported spotting a drone on the side of his aircraft while approaching Florida’s Palm Beach International Airport (March 1), five incidents of unauthorized drones operating in the airspace around the Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport in Massachusetts were reported over three weeks (until March 16), and operations at Pittsburgh International Airport were suspended for half an hour due to reports of an unauthorized drone sighting (June 5).
Communities and neighborhoods have experienced the harsh impact of the criminal use of weaponized drones, in various violent incidents:
Mexico – On May 3, criminal groups dropped DIY bombs on seven strategically important towns located along drug trafficking routes to attack witnesses and obstacles, and on May 8, in a second wave of drone attacks, they dropped 11 bombs on the previously targeted community.
These events are separate from drone incidents from careless users like the drone that crashed into a bush at Frontierland Disneyland, CA (Feb. 27), or the mischief of an individual arrested in Quebec, Canada for launching fireworks from a drone (April 14).
In the first half of 2023, drone incidents occurred across sectors, with Borders, Prisons, Airports, and Communities and Neighborhoods accounting for a major portion of the reported cases, as tracked by the D-Fend Solutions Drone Attack and Incident Tracker. Other incidents spanned multiple additional sectors, including Landmarks and Government Buildings, Stadiums and Arenas, Law Enforcement Agencies and First Responders, Military & Special Forces, VIP Protection, Critical Infrastructure, National Security & Homeland Security, Enterprise, Media, and Nature Preservation. These types of incidents encompass harassment and nuisance, collisions or near collisions, privacy breaches, espionage, and attacks.
The prevalence of drone incidents across sectors underscores the urgency of a broad approach to address the challenges posed by rogue drones. To ensure public safety and security amidst evolving drone technology, it is imperative for governments, security agencies, and industries to collaborate and implement effective counter-drone measures, stronger regulations, and responsible drone usage guidelines.
By understanding and learning from these incidents, officials can cultivate a responsible and sustainable drone ecosystem that fully unlocks the potential of this groundbreaking technology while safeguarding public safety and privacy.