Clint Arizmendi writes:
At the outset, I would like to say I think drones are cool. Despite the political hype surrounding their use, the fact remains that drone technology has increased the capacity to engage the enemy without unnecessarily risking the lives of soldiers. It has also contributed to advances in search and rescue (incredibly useful during or after natural disasters) and influenced real estate, journalism and even archeology.
While Australia is considered a leader in the drone age as a result of being the first country to legislate the civilian use of drone technology in 2002, the rapid rise of the machines that the US has seen has not materialised here. Why?
Is it because Australia doesn't have the same level of civilian interest or is it because the technology is too expensive in our domestic market? For the former, I argue that interest is strong and cite the growth in popularity of such events as the Outback UAV Challenge and the recent Lowy Institute drone discourse. For the latter, I agree.
That said, I predict drone technology will become increasingly popular, accessible and affordable in Australia through 3D printing. As a result, it is important that we consider the security implications for the fusion of such technologies.
While 3D printing is making its way into the public domain through life-sized replicas of foetuses and guitars, it has also been used to print a working gun. If that isn't scary enough, researchers in the UK printed a working drone (see video). Imagine a 3D printed drone with a 3D printed gun attached to it.
3D printers are both accessible and affordable in Australia. Effectively, this means that an individual or group has the ability – with minimal investment – to avoid the cumbersome task of purchasing expensive overseas technology and instead print their weapon. A 3D printed drone is legal and possible; weaponising it would be a matter of accessing ammunition, something that is currently safeguarded by laws which regulate the sale, possession and use of firearms and munitions in Australia. But what happens when the first 3D printed bullets become available?
Although owning a 3D printer and a domestic drone is not illegal, the combination represents a privacy issue and a security threat both in the domestic domain and in international conflict. I am not advocating for the prohibition of civilian drone use or 3D printing. What I am encouraging is security frameworks that can recognise and respond to the threat resulting from the merging of these two technologies.