Hasan Alsancak Drone Terror Attacks to Critical Energy Infrastructure

Hasan Alsancak, Drone Terror Attacks to Critical Energy Infrastructure


Drone terror attacks In 2019 opened pandora’s box in terms of using sophisticated technologies by terror organizations in addition to their conventional methods.  It will be fair to say that the explosive drone threat caused a physical security paradigm shift.


The wide availability of small to medium-sized commercial Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) or drones, together with their increased affordability, flight stability, payload capacity, and autonomy has made it possible to consider these drones as useful not only for regular armies but also for non-state actors, criminals, and terrorist organizations.


Equipped with Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), these drones can be used as a low-cost weapon causing significant structural damage and lead to human life casualties and injuries.


Twin drone attacks to Saudi Aramco facilities on 15th September 2019, the world’s biggest petroleum-processing facility run by a state-owned company. The strikes had reduced crude oil production by 5.7 million barrels a day – about half the kingdom’s output, and Brent crude jumped 10% to $66.28 a barrel! The damage to facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais appears to be extensive, and it may be weeks before oil supplies are normalized.


The incident proved that the critical energy infrastructures are vulnerable against drone attacks, success chance is very high, easy to conduct, and the damage is enormous. It is high time for any energy company to establish anti-drone and air-surveillance systems.


It is not only a scenario any more but a very critical fact. The attacks have already increased the “Security Risk Premium” in the energy sector. Cooperation btw the private sector and governments are crucial to tackling this threat. NATO Energy Security Center of Excellence can develop a protection model as quickly as possible against this type of evolving high-tech attacks to critical energy infrastructures


On 4th December 2019, another drone terror attack conducted at a Turkish energy company TUPRAS Refinery in Batman district of Turkey. The attack resulted in a small fire and no casualties, reportedly by the officials.


Low-cost drone terror attack to TUPRAS Batman Refinery is a particularly significant incident because:


1- A terror organization used a drone first-time drone as a type of a terror attack against critical energy infrastructure in Turkey. 


2-The terror organization behind the incident proved its technological sophistication and capabilities to repeat similar attacks when/if they want. 


3- It became clear that all oil and gas critical energy infrastructures are extremely vulnerable against such type of attacks, particularly multinational owned facilities. In Turkey, BOTAS oil/gas pipelines, BTC Crude Oil Pipeline, TANAP Gas Pipeline, TUPRAS Batman Refinery, STAR Refinery remains as high-value targets for any future drone terror attacks.


Drone terror attacks to Critical Energy Infrastructure is not a conceptual risk anymore but high potential. The energy sector should take this incident as the last wake-up call and develop countermeasures in their protection program with immediate effect. Otherwise, consequences and damage could be catastrophic and very difficult to repair. 


Critical energy infrastructure protection strategies should be re-designed early warning systems against drones and other UAV attacks. The system should be capable of realtime sharing any data and information collection among corporate security, military, and security forces.


Both low-altitude missiles and drones simultaneously used during the recent twin drone attacks on Saudi Aramco. This type of combined attacks cannot always be picked up by ground-based air defense systems such as the Patriot or S400 defense system. However, a system, such as the Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS), could be used in conjunction with a conventional air defense system to detect these missiles.


The example of such coordinated use of electronic warfare and anti-aircraft defense systems against drone attacks at the Khmeimim airbase in Syria when Russia successfully thwarted drone attacks in January 2018. All the above-given incidents should be carefully studied by public and private security organizations.

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