Nefarious Criminal and Terrorist Uses of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) (Apr 2016 - Apr 2017)


Principal Investigator: Professor David Dunn,
Co-Investigator: Dr Christopher M Wyatt,

Non-academic partners: Government and law enforcement
Funding: Gerda Henkel Stiftung (



UAVs possess many qualities which, when combined, make them potentially ideal means for terrorist attack in the twenty-first century. They can be operated anonymously and remotely; they present little or no risk to their operators of detection or prosecution; they can be acquired cheaply and easily; their operation can be mastered simply and safely; and they can be used in isolation or in large numbers, swarms (given their availability and cost) to devastating effect. The aerial dimension they inhabit presents a means of surveillance, reconnaissance and attack that was previously reserved for large piloted aircraft. The ready availability of UAVs also change risk calculation and conventional thinking about the security of buildings and high-value targets assumes the absence of a serious aerial threat. What is true of the vulnerability of crowds and buildings is also true for convoys and vehicles. In this, as in other areas, conventional thinking about threats on the ground needs to be challenged, as UAVs are also potentially more easily available and could be more readily diverted to terrorist purposes than other security threats. UAVs used to monitor buildings, approach roads, security guards or exits, then, present opportunities for new forms of nefarious use.

Project aims and objectives

The focus of this research project is to analyse the threat presented by the revolution in easy access to the air presented by the technological development of small and medium sized Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or "drones". The research design has its focus on the research question: To what extent does new unmanned technology challenge traditional conceptions of vulnerability and risk? In asking about the extent to which new unmanned technology challenges traditional conceptions of vulnerability and risk, this project will add real value to this area of academic study, as well as in the impact it will generate at the levels of both policy and practice. The proposed building of databases, interviews and the interactive development of that information will be fundamental to the furtherance of knowledge in this field and the instrumentalization of it, in addition to dissemination and ongoing capacity building.