New DoD Guidance Gives Military Green Light for Counter-UAS Measures

The Department of Defense (DoD) has released guidelines on the measures available to the military to eliminate threats posed by unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) found operating above and around military installations in the United States.  The agency announced yesterday that it provided a classified guidance to the services and installations last month on UAS countermeasures, and on Friday issued another guidance which specifies how UAS restrictions should be communicated to the communities surrounding military installations.

The DoD guidelines follow the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 (the Act), which authorizes the Secretary of Defense to take various actions “that are necessary to mitigate the threat” that UAS may pose to covered military installations.  The actions authorized by the legislation are broad, and permit DoD and the armed forces to “[d]etect, identify, monitor, and track” the UAS; warn the operator; “disrupt control” of the UAS “without prior consent, including by disabling the [UAS] by intercepting, interfering, or causing interference with wire, oral, electronic, or radio communications used to control the [UAS]”; seize the UAS; and “[u]se reasonable force to disable, damage, or destroy” the UAS.  The Act grants analogous authority to the Department of Energy to mitigate UAS threats to nuclear facilities. 

Pursuant to the Act, the new DoD guidance was produced in consultation with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).  As to which counter-UAS measures are specified in the guidance, DoD spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis told reporters on Monday that the guidelines “will remain classified.”  But, he added, “broadly speaking, they allow us to do a range of things” to mitigate threats posed by UAS, including “incapacitating them or destroying them.”

For those without a need to know, the DoD counter-UAS measures will be left to the imagination.  It is certainly possible that the military could employ traditional weapons to neutralize a UAS threat, such as guns or even anti-aircraft missiles (though that might be dangerous to other aircraft and can quickly get expensive).  The Act also clearly contemplates the use of “drone rifles,” which take down UAS by emitting radiofrequency signals that disrupt the communications between the aircraft and its operator. 

But perhaps DoD is pursuing more creative options, such as those we discussed in last month’s webinar.  If the military is not interested in eagles or confetti cannons, there’s always this drone-hunting drone, which autonomously captures its own kind in a Kevlar net.  We’ve also seen that Siberian tigers can get the job done.

Civilians should remember that the Act and the accompanying guidance is limited to authorized personnel. It remains a felony under federal law to shoot down or otherwise interfere with an aircraft, a category that includes drones—meaning that amateur drone hunters will still be courting serious fines or jail time if they try and bring one down.  Federal law also prohibits blocking, jamming or interfering with the wireless signals that control a drone.


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