While older radio-controlled aircraft have posed a risk as potential weapons for many years, the technology was difficult to learn, and it took time, skill, and patience to build and fly radio-controlled aircraft. These challenges imposed some limits on their broader use. Modern control technology has made commercial UASs far easier to fly. Many of these commercial UASs can also easily carry several pounds of payload. While fitting a drone with weapons requires some technical skill, add-ons such as kits for dropping items from UASs (drop kits) that are intended for hobbyists make the process easier.
Since 2015, the increased availability of commercial drones has led to increases in sales and public acceptance. For example, according to a poll from Saint Leo University, 72% of adults support using drones for community policing. The FAA projects growth in annual UAS sales from $1.9 million in 2016 to $4.3 million by 2020.
The use of commercial UAS as weapons has already become an issue in other countries. In 2014, the Islamic State (IS) began using commercial drones to make propaganda films and later used drones as scouts. The IS has also fit explosive charges to UASs to make inexpensive guided missiles. Concerns have also been raised about domestic attacks using commercial UASs.
State-of-the-art drones are capable of automatic takeoff and landing, but in the coming years, analysts commonly assume that unmanned aircraft would operate with a level of artificial intelligence and coinciding autonomy. In such a case, UASs equipped with weapons may require very little human input in choosing assault targets.
The computer algorithms used for control and for identifying targets may vary between different UAS manufacturers. The results of any one mission are probabilistic in nature and therefore may not yield the outcome expected by the human operators or airspace regulators. Some argue that it may be more ethical that weaponized UASs be limited to settings in which computers have greater reliability than humans in distinguishing between legitimate and illegitimate targets.