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Drone Strike!

Updated on May 10, 2017
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Robin Olsen holds a B.Sc.in Computer Information Systems and an active and vigorous sense of curiosity and imagination.

The drone had been flying for a couple of hours now. Although the drone didn’t know it, this was not a routine patrol over hostile territory. Today the drone had a mission. It was loaded for bear, the extra weight of the missiles was no problem for the drone though, it was designed to carry such loads over great distances to reach it’s target. The drone was flying at a comfortable 30,000 feet, again, not a problem for the drone.

It was a clear day, very few clouds in the sky. The drone was semi-autonomous and had 11 Degrees of Freedom (1). It checked it’s position via it’s own on-board GPS system, checked the temperature and wind directions and speed as well as barometric pressure and used all this information to adjust it’s flight path to ensure it stayed on course. The drone was unaware that it had a human pilot at this point. Human interaction would not be required until the drone was much closer to the target. The drone’s FCB (Flight Control Board) was capable of getting the UAV close enough to it’s target without the need for a human to guide the controls.

The drone was also aware of the constant stream of information going on between itself and it’s base of operations. Constant position updates were being sent, environmental information, target data, flight path confirmations and minor course adjustments. All of it streamed back and forth in real time. This constant flow of information allowed the drone to continue on it’s course effortlessly.

A hit during exercise on a air weapons range
A hit during exercise on a air weapons range | Source

The drone was unaware of it but today’s target was at an air weapons range. A test of the UAV’s capabilities was today’s mission. At 10 minutes out it was expected that a human would ‘take the stick’ and complete the final phase of the operation. Still some time before that happened though as the drone was 45 minutes away from it’s target.

Suddenly and without warning the constant stream of data between drone and base was disrupted. The drone did not know how or why but it was no longer receiving any information and sending out information seemed to go nowhere. The drone picked this up almost immediately after it happened. Some sort of block had disrupted the flow of communications and the drone, for a few seconds anyways, was flying blind. Relying totally on it’s own on board sensors and flight control board to keep it on course and in the air. The drone was adaptable to this situation however. It could not launch without human intervention but it could maintain it’s flight path and course even without that interaction, at least for a little while anyways. The drone was blind though and for the first time in it’s existence truly autonomous in every way.

This condition did not last long by human standards, but the few seconds it lasted felt like an eternity to the drone who’s on board computer measured time in nanoseconds. After this short delay all systems seemed to be fully restored and the drone was again receiving and sending data to it’s controllers on the ground. A hiccup possibly? The drone, of course, did not know the nature of the technical glitch it experienced for a few brief seconds and only knew that it was out of communications and now had communications again.

A course correction was initiated. This was not something the drone was expecting this close to it’s defined target. Any deviation this close could cause the drone to miss the target zone completely. The drone responded without emotion to the course correction however just as it was designed to do. An altitude correction now. This was another strange occurrence that went unquestioned by the drone. It was ordered to reduce altitude to almost 1000 feet. The drone was no longer under it’s own control at this point. The drone could recognize that fact and was aware that a human had taken over control directly.

The drone leveled out a 1000 feet and was flying on a course that took it directly over the capital city of Nevada. The drone crossed over the Sierra Nevada mountain range and was heading into the Carson River Valley. Carson City lay sprawled out before the drone. It was bright clear day and had there been a pilot he would have had clear visibility for miles. As it was the drone’s sensors had no problem determining exactly where it was.

Carson City, Nevada, U.S.A
Carson City, Nevada, U.S.A | Source
Nevada State Legislation Building, Carson City, Nevada
Nevada State Legislation Building, Carson City, Nevada | Source

Carson City’s roughly 55,000 residents were just waking up for the most part. The time was 6:37am. Workers were having their morning coffee and kids were just sitting down to breakfast before getting ready for a day at school. The streets were still relatively quiet at this time of day and the sidewalks had only light pedestrian traffic.

The drone lowered it’s altitude to 200 feet and continued on course towards the capital building. The drone received the signal to activate it’s weapons systems and locked onto it’s target. The drone had no idea it was not where it was supposed to be and that it’s target was not on an air weapons range. It was totally under the control of it’s human handler now. The drone could hit this target from further out and higher up but today the human handler was keeping the drone low and the range to target relatively short. The drone received the appropriate signal and fired it’s missile. The projectile screaming off under it’s own power heading directly towards it’s target without deviation.

The State Legislature Building was a charming structure built using the Neoclassical Italianate architectural style. The flags were all out and fluttering in the morning breeze. The building was completed in 1871 and had stood ever since as the seat of regional authority in Nevada. The missile struck the front of the building just above the front doors. The explosion caused a collapse of the front part of the building and fires broke out almost immediately. Although the drone could not hear them, the screams of the injured and dying echoed through the streets of Carson City as the typical normal morning was shattered by the explosion. The drone was not finished yet though. It had two missiles and used one of them on the state building then kept flying , altering it’s course slightly the drone was heading for Lake Tahoe.

Then, the drone recognized something odd, there was another presence in close proximity to it. The drone could not identify it but it was air borne and fast approaching the drone from the direction the drone had come from. The drone was continuing it’s course correction to put it on a course for Lake Tahoe Dam. The presence corrected it’s course and was closing in on the drone. Then a third mysterious presence was detected. Smaller than the second, it seemed to emerge from the second presence. It was also much faster than the second presence and closing on the drone at an alarming rate of speed. Just as the drone was finishing it’s course adjustment the second smaller presence intercepted the drone and everything went blank.

Lake Tahoe Dam, Lake Tahoe, California
Lake Tahoe Dam, Lake Tahoe, California | Source

The man sat in a small basement in Denver, Colorado surrounded by computer and communication equipment. His eyes were glued to the monitor in front of him and he was worried. He had successfully hijacked the drone by blocking it’s signal and replacing that one with his own signal. Now he was on his way to Carson City to complete the first part of the planned attack, the bombing of Nevada’s state legislature buildings. The second part called for an attack on Lake Tahoe Dam facility. He dropped the altitude of the drone to 1000 feet in order to avoid radar detection but he knew those who were in control of the drone were already aware that they no longer had control and were looking for their wayward drone. Radar would be the first tool used in that search. He knew if he kept the drone below 5000 feet he would avoid most of the radar, especially the civilian radars at every airport. He was not entirely sure of exactly what radar capabilities the military had and he knew it would not be long before fighters were sent up to look for it at any rate. Could they track the drone below 5000 feet? He could not say for sure, which is why he was worried.

The planning for this attack had ben detailed. The group had to figure out frequencies, access codes, flight times and weapons load out as well as come up with a way to block out the original communication and communicate directly with the drone. Much of this information came from sources that were unknown to him and he had to trust in the information he received completely. It had taken over a year to get everything in place. During that time the group had to avoid the efforts of Homeland Security and the FBI to locate and identify groups like his and shut them down before they can do any damage. All this had been done successfully and now he was flying the hijacked drone into Carson City airspace.

He dropped the altitude again to 200 feet. At this altitude he had to have a firm hand on the stick or he could run into something. He located his target and locked onto it, almost in range now. Using the drone’s onboard camera he was able to make out the few people on the streets in Carson City at this hour. Many of them stopped and looked up at the odd low flying drone. He fired one of the two missiles loaded onto the drone directly at the front of the state legislature building. He could see the impact and the resulting fireball as the front of the building collapsed. He tried not to think about the people he just killed remotely. Such thoughts cloud a person’s ability to complete the mission. He navigated the drone over the top of his first target and set course for Lake Tahoe dam, roughly 14 miles away.

British pilots flying drones from their control station
British pilots flying drones from their control station | Source

Then it all went blank. He lost it, communications, camera access, everything went dead in an instant. He had no real idea why but he could offer a very good guess, the drone had been found and shot down by a pursuing fighter jet.

He knew he had to pack quickly and leave. He sent an email, one last one to claim responsibility for this on behalf of his group. Then the man removed several flash drives and packed them into a small hand bag with a shoulder strap. He knew he didn’t have much time. It wouldn’t take them long to back track the new signal and locate it’s source, they may have done that already and could quite literally be on their way right now. The man was sweating noticeably now, he would need to get that under control too. If they tracked the location they would not know what he looked like and so there would be checks setup throughout the neighborhood. To get through them he would have to appear calm. He turned on the news as he finished packing to see if word of what he had done had spread yet. He could find no reference yet to the attack he just carried out on any channel but knew he would soon. As he finished packing he opened a large can of gasoline and started dumping it all over his little basement room, including all the equipment. Then he placed a small stack of matches, carefully laid out to give him time to get out first, in the center of the spilled gasoline, lit the top match and left the building.

He was walking down the street when the top match burned enough to ignite the rest of the matches and the gasoline he had dumped everywhere. He could hear people behind him screaming ‘Fire’ as the smoke started billowing out the basement windows.

Denver Police Department
Denver Police Department | Source

Just as he was rounding the corner off of the block his basement room was located on he could see several black SUVs and some marked Denver police cruisers pulling up to the house he had just left a few minutes ago. He kept walking but thought ‘that was really fast’. If he wasn’t so focused on appearing normal and calm he might have chanced a look back over his shoulder one more time, if he had done that he would have seen the old man who lived next door speaking to one of the uniformed police officers. He would have seen that old man point in the direction he had just left in. As it was, he was rather surprised when, after another half a block of walking, he was surrounded by police cruisers and black SUVs with heavily armed men emerging from them ordering him to lie down on the ground. He made a snap decision and ran instead. He did not hear the shot that killed him, they say you never do, but civilian witnesses say they heard several shots directed towards the suspect. The man never knew that the military began tracking his signal almost as soon as he had hijacked the drone.

As the scene wrapped up the people were left to figure out exactly how this one man in a basement in Denver, Colorado managed to hijack an armed drone on the way to an air weapons range and use it to attack Nevada’s regional seat of power and potentially, destroy the Lake Tahoe Dam. There would be many mysteries associated with this event. Who gave them the data needed to hijack a drone? Was it leaked by an insider or recovered by a foreign spy? At any rate, America has just suffered a surprise attack on one of it’s regional seats of power by having their own weapon hijacked and turned against them. There would be many questions to answer before the dust settled from this

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(1) Degrees of freedom (DOF) refer to both the amount and quality of sensors on-board: 6 DOF implies 3 axis gyroscopes and accelerometers (a typical inertial measurement unit – IMU), 9 DOF refers to an IMU plus a compass, 10 DOF adds a barometer and 11 DOF usually adds a GPS receiver.

© 2017 Robin Olsen

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