At the AUVSI NE UAS and AAM Summit, a panel of experts discussed the regulatory environment for counter UAS technology.
Led by the FAA’s Executive Director of the Office of UAS and Emerging Entrants Security, Abigail Smith, a panel of experts and stakeholders discussed the current regulatory landscape for counter UAS (CUAS) technology: and how regulations should evolve from here.
Currently, federal law prohibits anyone except a few authorized agencies, operating under strictly defined circumstances, from disabling an aircraft: including an unauthorized drone. This means that jamming, catching, or otherwise bringing down a drone threat is not legal for most law enforcement, state agencies, or private sector infrastructure companies. A 2020 advisory on the use of counter UAS systems stated:
Congress has exclusively authorized the Departments of Defense, Energy, Justice, and Homeland Security to engage in limited UAS detection and mitigation activities to counter UAS presenting a credible threat to covered facilities or assets, notwithstanding certain otherwise potentially applicable federal criminal laws, including various laws relating to surveillance. In addition, the FAA has been expressly authorized to engage in limited testing activities notwithstanding certain federal criminal surveillance laws.
Because no other entities have been granted that authority, it is important that state, local, tribal and territorial (SLTT) and private sector entities without such statutory authority (including SLTT law enforcement organizations, SLTT governments, and owners and operators of critical infrastructure, stadiums, outdoor entertainment venues, airports, and other key sites) understand that federal laws may prevent, limit, or penalize the sale, possession, or use of UAS detection and mitigation capabilities. Capabilities for detecting and mitigating UAS may implicate federal criminal laws relating to surveillance, accessing or damaging computers, and damage to an aircraft. Below, the advisory sets out separately how detection and mitigation capabilities may implicate these laws.
There is significant pressure to develop standards and regulations that will allow more stakeholders to effectively develop and deploy CUAS systems. Today’s panel discussed the issue from different perspectives.
Current Counter Drone Technology
Patricia Baskinger is a technology expert and CEO at AX Enterprize. Her business has partnered with NUAIR, the NY UAS test site, from its inception: Patricia works at the adjacent research lab on counter UAS and UTM development.
From Patricia’s perspective, CUAS and UTM are closely related. Systems have evolved to push Remote ID and UTM data on on cooperative and non-cooperative aircraft directly to the counter UAS system, for better response times. “We’ve come a long way on detect and identify,” said Patricia. Still, said Patricia, “Remote ID is insufficient to solve the problem.” Remote ID is broadcast a short distance: to have workable information pushed into UTM or CUAS system, that distance must increase. Additionally, bad actors could potentially spoof or replicate the signal of another aircraft, making it difficult for counter UAS systems to differentiate the real aircraft from the replication. These are problems that Patricia’s team is working with defense agencies to resolve.
Getting accurate and timely identification data on unauthorized drones is key to developing effective mitigation strategies.
“For the mitigation side, I don’t know that we’re ever going to have the authority that we need,” said Patricia. “But if we do, time is of the essense. Mitigation will follow identification that can allow the operator to focus on the one unauthorized drone and ignore all of the authorized aircraft.”
CUAS technology is an issue that generates strong feelings, regardless of your standpoint. To successfully regulate and integrate CUAS systems in the U.S., all parties – from the technologists and defense agencies to non-drone users in the community – must reach some understanding on what CUAS does, and how CUAS will be deployed.
Michelle Duquette is an internationally renowned aviation integrator, operational expert, and strategist leading the unmanned and space portfolios at The MITRE Corporation’s Center for Advanced Aviation System Development. Michelle serves on the CUAS Aviation Rulemaking Committee’s (ARC) group responsible for addressing societal perspectives.
The FAA made a deliberate decision to diversify the perspectives represented on the ARC, said Michelle. “We typically have a very aviation-related mindset,” said Michelle. “But on the ARC, we have the MLB, the NFL, National League of Cities, the ACLU, a chemical plant representative, a representative from an amusement park.”
“I am a huge believer in making sure everybody’s voice is heard, because everybody’s voice is different,” she said. “We need to make sure that we recognize where [regulations may be] missing the mark.” Michelle points out that educating the public is a critical piece of integrating CUAS systems, in order to deal with societal fears both real and imagined. “We can’t just give it lip service; we have to talk about operationally about what we’re using CUAS for, to help put people at ease. We can’t forget the rest of the world.”
Abby Smith agrees that this education is a significant issue. “Everyone in this room is comfortable talking about technology issues,” said Abby. “The technical is really the easy part. Bringing the community along, providing the education and allaying some of the anxiety is really the challenging part. ”
Beyond Federal Implementations: State and Local Governments
David Kovar is Founder and CEO URSA Inc., a UAV-related data analytics company. David works with states of New Hampshire and Delaware on developing counter UAS strategies. David says that while stakeholders have recognized the need for counter UAS solutions, they have been largely unable to deploy them. “We spent a couple of years complaining,” said David. “Now we’ve moved to ‘this is the state of play, let’s make the most of it.’”
The cost of CUAS systems can be prohibitive, a limiting factor for state and local governments. David says state-level stakeholders are creating counter drone proof of concept programs, so that they can be ready to put forth proposals to be considered for partnership with the FAA in testing CUAS systems at airports. Participating in testing programs will give states the opportunity to engage in the process and evaluate the technology. Additionally, states are looking at partnerships: “We need to find ways to use CUAS data for non-CUAS purposes, to leverage funding sources,” said David. “We are looking to share data and spread the cost of acquiring sensors and systems across entities.”
David says that the state representatives that he works with recognize the need for a counter UAS plan. “I won’t say we need fear… but we need action,” said David. “Very, very quickly.”
Counter UAS for Infrastructure: Oil, Gas, Energy
Suzanne Lemieux is the Director of Operations Security and Emergency Response Policy at the American Petroleum Institute. In her industry, concern over the potential for an attack by drone is high. In 2022, Houthi rebels attacked a refinery in Abu Dhabi, striking 3 oil refueling vehicles and bringing home the risk of aerial incursions.
Oil refineries are uniquely sensitive environments. “If you have anything that can spark, you have a problem,” said Suzanne. “That’s partly why we’re worried about drones.”
Suzanne says her industry sees challenges from a technical as well as a regulatory perspective. “There are some technologies for detection that have been oversold,” said Suzanne. Even if detection capabilities are able to find a drone incursion, regulations prohibit the company from disabling the intruder. “In private sector, we have very limited options,” said Suzanne. “We’re going to get there at some point… but we’re really limited to what we can do today.”
In addition to the physical threat of unauthorized drone incursions, Suzanne’s industry is increasingly concerned with cyber vulnerabilities in authorized drone operations. “Cybersecurity risk is real… it’s not if, it’s when,” said Suzanne. “This is something everyone should be thinking about.”
One of the challenges of developing effective counter UAS systems and regulations is the rate at which drones have evolved and proliferated in the national airspace, and the advanced aircraft on the horizon. “I’ve seen so much change since we started this in 2010… but the more we learn, the more we realize how much there is to do,” commented Michelle Duquette. “We need to recognize that we are in a completely different environment today.”
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.
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