Taking down malicious drones

The White House has proposed allowing the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security to detect and disable drones that pose a safety or security threat to specific U.S.-based assets or missions.

The White House recently sent Congress a proposal that would allow the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice to use technology to detect, disrupt communications, seize or take down drones deemed to pose a malicious threat.

The bill, if passed in its current form, would only apply to a specific set of “sensitive missions,” such as protecting Secret Service operations, defending Coast Guard vessels or stopping delivery of illegal substances into federal prisons, according to Brendan Groves, counsel to the deputy attorney general at DOJ, who spoke about the legislation at an April 19 Information Technology and Innovation Foundation event.

The ability to spot and take control of a drone found to be operating in an illegal fashion is necessary before commercial drone use can spread, Groves said.

The administration is concerned about drones being used for terrorism and more general criminal activity. Terrorist organization like ISIS have already begun using drones in its operations in the Middle East, and officials worry that practice may make its way to this side of the Atlantic. Drones can also help facilitate more general criminal activity, specifically smuggling, Groves said.

The legislation would effectively set up a temporary restricted airspace around these “sensitive missions” and require DHS and DOJ to notify unmanned aerial systems operators of the temporary restriction.

Technology for detecting and mitigating drone use is already on the market, but it is largely for the military and would need to undergo more testing in an urban environment before being deployed for homeland security and law enforcement, according to Anh Duong, the program executive officer for unmanned aerial systems at DHS.

The agency has already begun figuring out what detection technology would work best for civilian applications. Last year, DHS brought nine vendors to the Quantico, Va., Marine Corps Base to test solutions for detecting drones in a mock city with simulated electrical noise. Early results show the effectiveness tends to decrease in urban environments, but this is not always the case and it could be mitigated through simple tweaks in the algorithms, Duong told GCN.

DHS has not tested mitigation technologies, she said. But there are options on the market that would allow officials to gain control of a UAS by taking over the communication link between the drone and the ground controller. It is less likely that DHS would use tactics like shooting a drone out of the sky, especially in an urban environment with people below, she said.

An important factor in identifying malicious drone activity will be remote ID technology.

Remote ID would essentially add the equivalent of an electronic license plate on every drone and a traffic management system would show the planned and authorized flights of those registered drones. Then a detection system, like the one DHS tested at Quantico, could pick up drones not showing up on the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability, the air traffic management system designed to allow drones to operate in the national airspace.

The technology for remote ID is already available, according to panelist Diana Marina Cooper, the senior vice president of policy and strategy at PrecisionHawk, but there needs to be legislation or regulation requiring it before people begin implementing it.

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