OTR Interviews

Is ISIS building a 'drone army'?

Is the terror group capable of assembling a fleet of drones?


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," March 20, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

ANDREA TANTAROS, 'ON THE RECORD' GUEST HOST: This week U.S.-led coalition forces confirming that they shot down an ISIS drone in Iraq. So, now that there's proof that ISIS has added drones to its arsenal. Should we be worried that the terror group is building a drone army?

And joining us is Representative Martha McSally, Air Force veteran and the first American woman to fly in combat. Congresswoman, does this scare you a little bit that they are using these drones to surveil our battlefields and watch what our military is doing?

REP. MARTHA MCSALLY, R-ARIZ./AIR FORCE VETERAN: Well, we shouldn't be surprised really, Andrea. I mean, it wasn't long after the Wright brothers got airborne that we started to see the military capabilities of having the third dimension and gaining the high ground initially for surveillance and then for, you know, obviously weaponizing it.

So, we've got -- it's reported about 80 countries are around the world that have the drone capability both armed and unarmed. It's becoming more commercially available. Shoot, one of my neighbors has a drone he flies around in our neighborhood just so show the capability that there is. So, there are benefits from having the high ground there so that they can survey, you know, have surveillance of the area that they maybe are about to strike or to pick up intelligence and so it really shouldn't surprise us. This is a very capable force and they are going to use asymmetric capabilities that they can on the cheap in order to increase their situational awareness.

TANTAROS: Yeah, they are far more technologically savvy than I think that we've seen in past al-Qaeda. They used Twitter to galvanize people and encourage people to commit terror attack now. You're saying they're using drones.

My first question when I heard this was OK, they're watching us. Are we watching them?

MCSALLY: Well, we are. We do bring a great asymmetrical capability and intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance from the air and from space capabilities. We are limited in our human intelligence with a reliable partner on the ground, certainly in some areas especially in Syria. Look, war-fighting happens in domains, land domain, maritime domain, air domain, and cyber domain. So, they're going to look at those domains and see how they can use, you know, asymmetric capabilities against us. It's pretty expensive for them to build an ISIS Air Force.

So, how can they use commercial capabilities like this in order to gain intelligence in situational awareness? They are also difficult to pick up on any sort of radar because they are a small cross section, slow moving low altitude. So, we should be very concerned about this. And be providing our own capabilities to counter it.

TANTAROS: Yeah, it seems like they have a lot of tools. They've got a lot of money. They are recruiting quicker than we can kill them. What does it say about -- to you about ...


TANTAROS: ... how ISIS is progressing? I mean, how big of a threat are they to the United States?

MCSALLY: I think they were a very sophisticated threat. They are the largest and most extreme and capable terrorist threat that I've seen in my lifetime. I have been in National Security since I joined the military almost 30 years ago. And so we need to take them seriously. The anemic response by this administration has been failed from the beginning and we need to use all elements of national power to defeat this threat.

With very decisive military action, it's been very pinprick up it until this point and they're still recruiting foreign fighters from all over the world to include those from our country. And so we have got to use decisive power, leading our allies worldwide and in the region to strangle and destroy this threat. And we are not doing it the way that we need to be doing right now. It's very serious.

TANTAROS: Representative, thank you so much.

MCSALLY: Thank you.