In the more than 15 years since the U.S. Air Force flew the first modern drones in combat over the Balkans, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles have become a staple of high-tech warfare.
The U.S. military is the world leader in robotic warfare, having flown armed and unarmed drones over Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya and, most recently, Syria. China and other world powers are rapidly developing their own drone warplanes. Non-state groups possess UAVs, as well – most notably Hezbollah.
Now the world has seen perhaps the first example of strictly private drone combat. Last week in Orangeburg, South Carolina, hunters allegedly shot down a surveillance robot operated by an animal rights group. The incident was first reported by the local Times and Democrat newspaper.
The group, Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK), launched its camera-equipped Mikrokopter quad-rotor drone from a public highway, aiming to videotape what the group claims was a (legal) pigeon hunt taking place on a nearby private plantation. Although the drone flight was legal, police and a lawyer for the plantation tried unsuccessfully to block its use, SHARK claims.
Shortly after the Mikrokopter took off, gunshots rang out and the drone tumbled from the sky – events depicted in video released by SHARK. The group claims the robot was shot down.
It was perhaps the first case of civilians shooting down a civilian-operated drone. But with unmanned aircraft becoming steadily cheaper and easier to use, it's surely not the last example of private drone combat.