Recently in Toronto a rental van was deliberately driven into a crowd of people, killing 10 and injuring 14. Police arrested and charged 25-year-old Alek Minassian in connection with the attack. Though this attack was later found to be caused by the driver’s psychiatric disorder. Deliberate vehicle-ramming incidents have also sometimes been favorite tactic for terrorists. Before this Quebec. Jerusalem. Nice. Berlin. Columbus. Stockholm and London and London have been earlier targets.
A vehicle-ramming attack is a form of attack in which a perpetrator deliberately rams a motor vehicle into a building, crowd of people, or another vehicle. The earliest known use of a vehicle-ramming attack took place in 1973 in Prague, former Czechoslovakia, when Olga Hepnarová killed 8 people. According to Stratfor Global Intelligence analysts, this attack represented a new militant tactic which is less lethal but could prove more difficult to prevent than suicide bombings.
Deliberate vehicle-ramming into crowd of people is a tactic used by terrorists, becoming a major terrorist tactic in the 2010s because it requires little skill to perpetrate and has the potential to cause significant casualties. Following the attack in Nice that killed 86 people in July 2016, the Islamic State published a guide for would-be attackers, noting that vehicles are “extremely easy to acquire” and unlikely to arouse the suspicions of citizens or authorities. Indeed, as a recent Transportation Security Administration report warns: “No community, large or small, rural or urban, is immune to attacks of this kind.”
Deliberate vehicle-ramming has also been carried out in the course of other types of crimes, including road rage incidents. From 2014 through 2017, terrorists carried out 21 known vehicle ramming attacks worldwide, resulting in over 220 fatalities and 800 injuries, including cities such as London, Stockholm, Berlin, Jerusalem, and Barcelona.
Vehicles have also been used by attackers to breach buildings with locked gates, before detonating explosives, as in the Saint-Quentin-Fallavier attack.
Four Point Framework
COLIN P. CLARKE AND LOUIS KLAREVAS have offered four-point framework for understanding vehicular terrorism and safeguarding against it.
Density: How tightly packed are potential victims? Think open-air markets, parades, concerts, or protest marches. The more people there are in close proximity to each other, the more enticing the target for terrorists.
Confinement: How hemmed in are potential victims? It’s not enough to strike a large, jam-packed group. Violent extremists also want groups that are trapped, with nowhere to escape once an attack commences.
Access: How approachable is the target population? Crowds inside a stadium are dense and confined, but likely protected from being run over by a truck. Terrorists require unobstructed vehicle ingression—a direct path to the people.
Mass: How big is the vehicle? If there is one lesson we can learn from recent attacks, it’s that the larger and heavier the means of ramming, the greater the fatality toll. Put simply: Trucks and buses are deadlier than vans and cars.
How technology could help prevent Ramming attacks
In Berlin last year a truck was driven by terrorists through a local Christmas market attack in Berlin, resulting in significant casualties, but they could have been worse: the assailant’s truck reportedly stopped early on during the attack. The truck had been fitted with an automatic emergency braking system, something that is covered under a regulation that is now mandated for heavier trucks in the EU.
EU Regulation No. 347/2012 specifies the technical requirements and test procedures for advanced emergency braking systems (AEBS) that detect the possibility of a collision with a preceding vehicle, warn the driver by a combination of optical, acoustic or haptic signals and, if the driver takes no action, automatically apply the vehicle’s brakes. In this instance the application meant that the trajectory of the truck was stopped earlier than intended, thus potentially saving many lives. Similar regulations have been proposed in the U.S.
Another upcoming technology is Internet of Things. Honeywell recently announced a new “Connected Freight” solution that gives shippers and logistics companies unprecedented ability to monitor shipments of high-value and perishable goods, helping prevent costly damage and loss.
The new solution, developed in collaboration with Intel and third-party logistics companies, provides real-time information about the location and condition of critical freight while in transit. Real-time shipment information is critical, for example, when shipping perishables and goods that require uninterrupted refrigeration, such as pharmaceuticals, or high-value equipment that is sensitive to vibration or shock.
While the service is still in its infancy in regard to future tech that includes not only remote diagnosis but also remote repair of cargo problems or vehicle difficulties. They could also be fitted with kill switch to stop the vehicles automatically if threat of Ramming attack arises.
Franc Artes, Architect, Security Business Group explained that the technology to shut a vehicle down exists today, “and has for probably almost a decade.”
“Because they’re connected it creates the opportunity to host the system and update or revoke certificates and ultimately you could geofence these devices and then you could shut those vehicles down. It’s not a technology problem it’s more of a security problem and also a process problem.
There was a lot of studies right after 9/11 regarding being able to shut vehicles down and part of the reason they didn’t advocate it was cyber security related and also because it could cause a bigger safety issue to shut down a big heavy vehicle when it’s going at highway speeds.”
High power microwave weapons can jam Ramming vehicles
A high-powered microwave weapon (HPM) is type of Directed Energy Weapon (DEW) principally counter electronic weapons and could be used to destroy any enemy electronic systems, including radars, computer systems and communications infrastructures. Electromagnetic weapons, based on their power can destroy, intercept or jam target electronics in any platform at much lesser cost than firing an interceptor missile which can cost up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. They can be also used for stopping Ramming vehicles by jamming vehicle electronic devices, such as the control unit in an engine, effectively shutting it down.
The Pentagon’s Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program (JNLWP) is set to take possession of a new weapon system that can stop cars and trucks in their tracks. The Radio Frequency Vehicle Stopper could offer a way to halt threatening cars, trucks, and even boats, without causing any permanent damage.
The force application type is small enough to fit on the back of a truck and could be used to stop a fleeing vehicle or to defend convoys on the move. This could also be useful for law enforcement personnel attempting to stop a specific suspect vehicle or a small smuggling boat. JNLWD says the present prototype of this system has an effective range of approximately 160 feet, according to Defense One. Scientists and engineers have already used experimental versions to demonstrate how the system works, at least in principle, against vehicles on land and small boats.
However, one of the serious problem of employing high power weapon in urban scenario is collateral damage. This weapon shall not only damage electronics of approaching vehicle but also electronics and communication devices of large groups of innocent bystanders and friendly forces. This requires development of new technologies including advanced antennas such as high power electronic scanning active array type which can minimize such collateral effects.