This summer, an 18 year old from Clinton, Connecticut built a drone mounted with a gun that he was able to shoot via remote control. His YouTube video showed it hovering and shooting off 4 rounds. It allegedly got 2.5 million views (see video below). The local police expressed concern for public safety but noted that the device did not violate any state law. “If it’s being discharged in an area where it could be legally discharged, right now there’s no legislation that prohibits it,” Clinton Sgt. Jeremiah Dunn said.
At some point, a fun weekend pastime has evolved into an international security threat.
Recreational pilots of model planes and copters have long enjoyed their hobby in outdoor fields and even indoor spaces. They gather together to test their skills and just have fun flying. Maybe they can’t compete at the annual Reno Air Races but they can pit their miniature craft against others over the empty parking lot of the local school on Saturday mornings.
Technology has advanced. Aircraft have given way to drones. Slap on a camera and a drone allows us to see beautiful vistas and experience the world from above in ways previously unimaginable. Drones mesh well with social media and the number sold to the public grows every year. Drones are cool. But when they are flown over football stadiums, over the private walls of celebrity homes and onto the White House lawn … it’s a problem.
The basic problems around drones fall into two categories: safety and privacy. No more nude sunbathing in the backyard. Celebrities can no longer depend on really high fences to avoid drone-equipped paparazzi. And as for safety, even a small drone moving fast and out of control can cause serious injury. A drone meant to intentionally cause harm in any number of settings, let alone weaponized, could be really problematic.
The word “intentional” is key, here. Using a drone as a weapon presents a relatively new MO. After all, we are licensed to drive a car, but it is criminal to drive a car into a crowd of people killing or injuring them. It is legal to own a gun, but not to shoot it at people. Many things can be weaponized. For the most part, it is the intent that creates the threat. Drones simply constitute a new MO with which we need to contend.
The FAA is trying to figure out how to control drones in airspace and maintain both security and safety. There are legal distinctions drawn between various definitions: drone versus UAV versus model plane. There are regulatory distinctions if the craft is piloted remotely by sight or by GPS. Questions of jurisdiction abound. The FAA is responsible for Restricted or Prohibited Areas (no flight zones, be they permanent or temporary) for aircraft. It has published law enforcement guidance for suspected unauthorized UAS (unmanned aerial system) operations.
Until we catch up with technology, and put in place realistic regulations, there will be safety and security gaps. For security personnel, regardless of the mode or size or shape of it, we need to figure out how to identify, detect and mitigate aerial threats. It’s no easy task.
How do you think security personnel should deal with increased air traffic like drones?