Drone Attack on U.S. Power Grid Failed – This Time

drone attackDrone Attack on U.S. Power Grid with modified DJI Mavic 2, report says.

by DRONELIFE Staff Writer Ian M. Crosby

In a recently released Joint Intelligence Bulletin (JIB), U.S. officials revealed that a DJI Mavic 2, a small quadcopter-type drone, was found carrying a copper wire attached to it by nylon cords in what was believed to be an attempted attack on a power substation in Pennsylvania last year, as reported by The Drive. The report, issued last month,  claims this is the first time an incident of this kind has been officially assessed as a possible drone attack on energy infrastructure in the United States, but that this is likely to become more commonplace as time goes on.

The  Bulletin (JIB) covering the drone attack was initially published on October 28, 2021 by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) published on Oct. 28, 2021, and was first reported on by ABC. The document, obtained first by ABC and later by other news agencies, reportedly dates the attempted attack as taking place on July 16, 2020.

“This is the first known instance of a modified UAS likely being used in the United States to specifically target energy infrastructure. We assess that a UAS recovered near an electrical substation was likely intended to disrupt operations by creating a short circuit to cause damage to transformers or distribution lines, based on the design and recovery location,” states the JIB.

ABC and other outlets have reported that the JIB says that this assessment is based in part on other unspecified incidents involving drones dating back to 2017.

“To date, no operator has been identified and we are producing this assessment now to expand awareness of this event to federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial law enforcement and security partners who may encounter similarly modified UAS,” the JIB adds.

The drone reportedly had several modifications made to it other than the attached copper wiring, with its camera and internal memory card both having been removed. Additionally, the drone was stripped of any identifying markings, rendering the identification of the drone’s operator and the tracing of its origins difficult.

This incident highlights the mounting risk posed by small drones, as well as the low barrier to entry to attempt similar attacks, as the DJI Mavic 2 can be found online from between $2,000 and $4,000. The easy access of this technology makes it available to groups like terrorists and drug cartels, both of which are already utilizing commercial drones in targeted attacks.

The incident also plays into existing security concerns surrounding criminal uses of widely available commercial drones: including providing contraband to prison inmates, smuggling, and more.

Though the U.S. government seems to be taking the risk indicated by the event seriously, it is clear that counterdrone measures are still sorely lacking.

Ian attended Dominican University of California, where he received a BA in English in 2019. With a lifelong passion for writing and storytelling and a keen interest in technology, he is now contributing to DroneLife as a staff writer.