50,000 Weaponized Drones

I ran across an interesting
today over on Forbes.com, “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