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The Drone Survival Guide Could Save You from Raining Death

I mean, it probably won't. But it might.

Unmanned US drone strikes killed roughly 361 people in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia last year – these three countries being the main areas in which the US government (with the help of the UK) conducts its covert drone surveillance. Armed drones are seen by Western governments as a necessary evil in the so-called “War on Terror”. They cite hits such as that on Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, and Abu Yahya al-Libi, al Qaeda’s deputy leader, as success stories. While attacks like these are in theory weakening the Taliban, it’s reported that less than 2 percent of drone strikes hit high-profile terrorist targets. Many more attacks have been known to kill children, civilians and suspected combatants.


With this hit-and-miss drone striking campaign in mind, Ruben Pater, a designer from the Netherlands, recently put together the Drone Survival Guide. The guide shows the silhouettes of the most commonly used drones – from the “Reaper” to the “Killer Bee” – with information on how to hijack, hack and dazzle a drone. It can be downloaded in 27 different languages.

“Many people are mystified and intrigued by drones," says Pater, "but don’t really know what the capabilities and weaknesses of such a technology are. Once you understand what a drone can do, we stop being afraid and instead come up with ways to protect ourselves.”

The Drone Survival Guide has two main sections: Hacking Drones and Hiding from Drones. “Spreading reflective pieces of glass or mirrored material on a roof will confuse the drone’s camera," it advises at one point. “By broadcasting on different frequencies… the link between the drone pilot and the drone can be disconnected.” While Pater insists that the Drone Survival Guide is more an art project aimed at drone awareness than a practical guide for people trying not to get destroyed by a Predator drone, he was careful when constructing it for fear it could be used maliciously. “I was very deliberate in collecting information that has been publicly available on news websites,” he says. “The [techniques] I chose for the guide are about dodging surveillance and tampering with its sensors – it's not about shooting them down.”


Which is good to know, as Pater tells me he’s seen Jihadists sharing the Drone Survival Guide on social media. It’s unlikely they will learn anything new from it though, as some of the instructions in it were taken directly from documents found inside an al Qaeda building in Mali, which detailed a lot more technical information than what is found in the Drone Survival Guide. I mention, however, that the guide does say that some of the techniques “can be used… to steer drones into self-destruction flight paths or even hijack them”.

“Good point,” he laughs. “The technique in question is GPS spoofing, which is a very difficult tactic you could use to hijack a drone. Some say the Iranian government used it to hijack the American drone they captured [in 2011], but it’s more likely nobody has ever been able to do it. That’s why I left it in: because it’s next to impossible. But the idea is very interesting – that by just fooling the drone's GPS system you could take control over it.”

This may seem like a faraway threat to those of us in the West, but as stated by Pater, the Federal Aviation Administration has predicted that there could be over 30,000 domestic drones flying above the US alone by 2020. If that happens across the pond, there's a good chance it'll follow on in the UK. Thus the Drone Survival Guide is marketed as an aide to “21st century bird-watching”. These “birds” however, can indiscriminately blow people to bits from 50,000 feet using laser-guided bombs.


One drone on Pater’s guide is particularly chilling. He tells me that only after giving the Drone Survival Guide to a friend, did he realise how dangerous the European-built Barracuda drone was. “[My friend] used to work at the company who makes brake systems for the Barracuda,” he says. “[He told me] it’s designed to do everything independently, from taking off, to striking targets – all without human intervention. You just tell it what to kill, and it will go out and do it for you. Pretty scary.” And according to the company that make the Barracuda drone, new missions can be uploaded to its system from the ground – giving instructions that it “immediately responded to” while in a test flight in 2012.

With government drone programmes shrouded in secrecy, not only does it make them the perfect tool for potential new proxy wars, but it also leaves the future direction of drone use unclear. To help gauge an idea of where it’s probably headed, Pater talks about a new type of drone that’s not listed in the Drone Survival Guide. “The US defence giant Lockheed Martin recently announced a new model,” he says. “The SR-72 is a hypersonic drone that would be the fastest thing in the sky at six times the speed of sound.” On their website, Lockheed lovingly say that “at this speed, the aircraft would be so fast, an adversary would have no time to react or hide.”

“Imagine losing control of a drone when flying at mach six,” says Pater. “A robot, so fast we cannot even catch it if it goes rogue. Great idea.”


With these highly advanced drone technologies very near to becoming a reality, Pater hopes his Drone Survival Guide will suit its purpose. “The goal is to create awareness of what drones are capable of,” he says, “and hopefully spawn discussion about whether or not we should allow the use of drones for surveillance and military purposes. Most of us have governments that already use drones for these purposes, paid for by our tax money. We have a right to know what this technology is capable of so we can judge whether it is [used] correctly or not.”

Find the Drone Survival Guide here in full.

Follow Jake on Twitter: @Jake_Hanrahan

More drones:

WATCH – Drone On

The Town Promising to Shoot Surveillance Drones Out of the Sky

The Drone Ranger: Obama's Dirty Wars