Saturday, March 25, 2023

50,000 Weaponized Drones

I ran across an interesting article today over on, “Russia Braces For Attack By 50,000 Ukrainian Kamikaze Drones, Seeks Shotguns”. With a title like that, it had to show up on my daily ‘Short Takes’ post and it did (see below). But, I have read the article twice, and it still worries me more than a little and I am forced to write a late night post to explain my concerns.

I have been writing about drones and chemical plants for a number of years now in this blog. To the best of my knowledge, it has all been theoretical to this point, just pointing out how dangerous drones could actually be at a chemical facility if someone was intent on causing harm. And weaponized drones have been high on my list of concerns.

But, if I am pressed to talk about real threats, drones have been kind of low on my list of real weapons of concern. Most available drones are small enough that they just cannot deliver a large enough payload to really do significant damage to process equipment. Most chemical processing equipment is rather robust since it has to deal daily with heat extremes, pressure, and employee mistreatment. There are weak points to be sure, but they would require the nemesis of security threats, process knowledge to identify and exploit.

But seeing the picture today of an RPG-7 warhead suspended from a quadcopter literally struck fear into my heart. These projectiles are designed to pierce 11 inches of armor plate. A storage tank is not going to stand a chance. The projectile does not enter the target, a jet of high-intensity flame does. That jet of flame would immediately vaporize almost any liquid that it came into contact with inside the tank. The sudden rise in pressure may be enough to make the tank catastrophically fail and spew its contents all over the tank farm. A high-pressure storage tank may be able to withstand that sudden increase, but the pressure would still be sufficient to blow the liquid contents of the tank back out of the small hole the penetrator left. That hole would be edged with molten metal that would be hot enough to ignite most hydrocarbons, even those with relatively high (safe) flashpoints. The potential for cascading effects at that point would be enough to ruin any chemical engineer’s dreams.

The Forbes articles make it clear that these weaponized drones are relatively cheap to make. They note how easy it is to master the technique of flying the drones, even encumbered by the relatively massive warhead. If, as expected, the Ukrainians have success with these expected drone swarms, it would serve as a clear advertisement for their effectiveness as a weapon of war or terror.

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