FBI Reports First Suicide Drone Attack on US Energy Infrastructure Intended to Disrupt Electric Grid

Sgt. Clifford A. Taijeron, fire team leader of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 294th Infantry Regiment, Guam Army National Guard, launches a Raven, an unmanned aerial vehicle, during a late October training at Spin Boldak, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. / U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Eddie Siguenza/Released)

While drones are transforming warfare worldwide, and becoming ubiquitous in the United States, last year reportedly saw the first drone used in the United States to ‘specifically target energy infrastructure.’ This is according to an October 28 memo from the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and the National Counterterrorism Center.

In that July 2020 incident, notes the FBI, a drone crashed near a Pennsylvania power substation was likely meant to damage or disrupt the electric equipment.

It is still unclear who operated the modified drone that crashed on a rooftop near the unidentified substation. No damage was done to the electricity supply or equipment, according to the memo.

Due to incidents like this, federal law enforcement officials want critical infrastructure facilities to continue to factor drones into their security plans. They are distributing the intelligence bulletin now to state and local officials to raise awareness about the incident and the general threat of drones to critical infrastructure.

ABC News was first to report on the intelligence bulletin.

However, CNN reported that:

Whoever modified the drone likely tried to create a “short circuit to cause damage to transformers or distribution lines, based on the design and recovery location,” the intelligence memo says. The drone “appeared to be heavily worn, indicating it was flown previously and was modified for this single flight.”

It added:

“All of the attention being paid to cybersecurity right now is important, but we have to remember that physical threats to the grid like this are quite real,” said Marty Edwards, a former senior DHS official who is now vice president of operational technology at security firm Tenable.

The FBI intelligence bulletin noted: “[W]e expect illicit [unmanned aircraft system] activity to increase over energy sector and other critical infrastructure facilities as use of these systems in the United States continues to expand.”

Industry clearly needs to ramp up their counter-drone technology and programs to ensure America’s critical infrastructure remains safe. ADN

Paul Crespo is the Managing Editor of American Defense News. A defense and national security expert, he served as a Marine Corps officer and as a military attaché with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) at US embassies worldwide. Paul holds degrees from Georgetown, London, and Cambridge Universities. He is also CEO of SPECTRE Global Risk, a security advisory firm, and President of the Center for American Defense Studies, a national security think tank.

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