New information reveals that Kurdish YPG forces have developed a tactical surveillance UAV in the fight against the so-called Islamic State terror group. Photographs released on Sunday show a quadcopter drone marked with the YPG insignia carrying a camera alongside a matching remote control unit.

A similar model in flight
A similar model in flight

Although based on consumer-grade equipment, the model of quadcopter in question contains a sophisticated programmable microcontroller that can operate autonomously, maintain position or track perimeters accurately, and even follow targets using its built-in gyroscope and GPS. Combined with the attached action camera it can collect high-resolution imagery and telemetry, transmitting data back to the operator wirelessly in real-time, promising to assist military and defence operations.

Drone TweetThe drone’s developer within the YPG, Macer Gifford, has stated that intentions are to protect YPG forces in the field and enhance offensive capabilities through surveillance of the enemy. D8 News drone experts confirm that small units such as the one in question have limited potential for weaponisation via firearm, chemical or biological payload due to their small size. Such enhancements may be feasible with higher-end UAV equipment, although attack-capability modifications would be subject to close scrutiny under Geneva Conventions related to autonomous warfare.

Recreational drones have become increasingly sophisticated as Chinese manufacturers compete to mass-produce the tiny aircraft, which find uses in aerial photography and videography as well as being popular with hobbyists and voyeurs. Thanks to rapid technological advancement, a modern drone costing only a few hundred dollars can match or surpass the autonomous decision-making capabilities and agility of a larger military drone that might have cost millions just a few years ago.

The drone is not yet believed to have been deployed in the theater of operations. It would be relatively easy to jam the operator’s signal, and light drones can be easily shot down, but their low cost and ready availability will likely make them a valuable tool in the fight against Islamic State.