Funding for research: how and why terrorist groups employ drones

A research team led by Dr. Yannick Veilleux-Lepage (Institute of Security and Global Affairs) in collaboration with Emil Archambault has secured funding from the Canadian Department of National Defence’s Mobilizing Insights in Defence and Security (MINDS) program to study the use of drones by violent non-state actors, particularly organised terrorist groups. The project began on June 1, 2021 and will go on for one year.

As the researchers have demonstrated in their previous work, the proliferation of commercial drones has changed how violent non-state groups operate and has offered them new opportunities both in terms of committing acts of violence and generating propaganda.

Yannick Veilleux-Lepage: ‘Our previous work focused specifically on images and propaganda which featured drones, whereas this project focuses instead on the how and why various terrorist group employ drones as a whole. In this research project we will not only focus on Islamic State, will look at several groups, which will allow us to uncover the various different factors that influence the decision by non-state groups to employ drones violently.’

Our previous work focused specifically on images and propaganda which featured drones, whereas this project focuses instead on the how and why various terrorist group employ drones as a whole.

Commercial off-the-shelf remote-piloted aircrafts have been acknowledged as a potential powerful force-multiplier in asymmetrical conflicts, and the capabilities offered by these affordable and widely available systems have increasingly been adopted by a range of state and non-state armed actors. Indeed, since late 2016 a variety of forces on the battlefields of Iraq and Syria, including Hezbollah, Kurdish forces, and ISIS have used remote-piloted aircrafts as a weapon of choice. This adoption of modified dual-use technology by non-state groups presents, therefore, significant new challenges to military forces engaged in peace and security operations.

Dr Veilleux-Lepage’s research project, seeks to understand this altered operational environment through an analysis of how and why non-state groups acquire, develop, and employ drones for violence. This project will elaborate a theoretical framework addressing these questions, developed inductively through six short case studies focusing on the use of militarised drones by six groups (Hamas, Hezbollah, Jabhat al-Nusra, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, Ansar Allah and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party). The research will take place over the next year and will be hosted by ISGA. Archambault will join ISGA as part of the institute’s Visiting Scholar Scheme.

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