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We can’t wait until the first attack to regulate drones

While at a large outdoor event, you and your family and friends are enjoying the show. You passed through security, had your bags inspected and received a cursory visual inspection in order to enter the venue. You noticed a couple of security guards near the venue and some police officers directing traffic.

You feel safe and are watching the entertainment. While you are watching, someone is watching you from the parking lot. They are looking at the screen on their smartphone, while their drone is hovering over the venue. Over the noise in the arena, no one can hear the four blades turning, maintaining flight.

{mosads}The individual in the car has found his target, he gives the drone a final series of commands, the drone swoops into execute the command.


The time is now. We cannot wait any longer. We must consider drone control at the local, state and national levels. We must think about empowering law enforcement to defeat drones, and we should consider building a national registry and certification requirement for certain sizes and capabilities of drones.

Anyone can purchase a drone with capabilities ranging from just flight, to flight/lift/drop to fly-and-video. A person can spend anywhere from $50 to $1,000 depending on the sophistication of the drone and no one tracks the purchase. People are not required to buy a license or register their drone.

What if drones become viable weapons for people? It is no longer an “if” proposition, but rather a “when.” A couple of months ago, a person landed a drone on the deck of a U.K. aircraft carrier and no one noticed. The drone only cost $350.

Right after Thanksgiving, a person flew a drone into an NFL stadium and dropped pamphlets in the crowd. He then recovered his drone, drove to another nearby NFL stadium and did it again.

Both of these people were apprehended, but authorities did not have methods in place to prevent these events. We are not training people or implementing statutes that apply to drones at a rate commensurate with their proliferation.

How long before this becomes an epidemic? How should local law enforcement handle these incursions? How do local law enforcement thwart events as they take place? Could security at the NFL stadiums shoot down drones that approach the stadium? Do our government installations have a way to keep drones out of their boundaries? Barb wire and barricades do not work with drones.

Many municipal airports have large parking lots near the approach and departure ends of the runways. Could a person release and fly drones in the path of an aircraft as it approaches the airport or as it leaves?

Are airport security personnel routinely assessing parking lots for nefarious activity? What about airports that are next to large city parks, such as Reagan International Airport; do we consider the possibility of this type of threat? Should TSA assess the vulnerability of our airports to drone incursion? How can we apply defensive measures at airports to deal with drones?

If you think that synchronizing a large fleet of drones is not possible, consider that early in December at the Guangzhou Fortune Forum Gala, they flew a fleet of 1,180 small drones together. These drones were designed to maintain formation even if a drone fell out of the group.

If you think that drone formations are a new idea, consider U.S. Patent US5521817, an entitled airborne drone formation control system. The requesters filed the patent in August 1994, and it was published in May 1996.

We must educate leaders at the local, state and national levels of the threat that drones can pose to events and community assets. We need to consider implementing a drone registry for those with a specific size and capability.

Larger drones should require a drone certification license similar to FAA certifications. The time is now for a change, before a crisis event occurs. Right now, someone is planning; are we ready?

Lt. Col. James Coughlin is an Air Force officer currently serving as a national security affairs fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He is an Air Force cyberspace operations officer and holds a BS in Information & Decision Sciences, a MA in Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict, a Masters of Military Arts and Sciences in Strategic Studies and is working on a Doctorate in Education Leadership and Management. The opinions of James Coughlin are his own and do not represent the options of the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, the United States Air Force or the Department of Defense.

Tags Control engineering Drone Electronics Emerging technologies NFL Technology TSA Unmanned aerial vehicles

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