Supporting Research and Development to Inform Drone Security Efforts

Supporting Research & Development to Inform Drone Security Efforts

The potential for commercial drone technology is limited only by our collective imagination. The economic and public interest benefits to the American public and businesses of commercial drone use are significant. Expanded UAS operations over people, beyond visual line of sight, and in urban environments, among others, hold extraordinary promise for various activities such as natural disaster response, package delivery, and infrastructure inspections. But while the technology to achieve these missions safely has moved quickly forward, our nation’s laws, policies, and regulations have lagged behind.

The federal government must develop policy and regulatory frameworks in order for commercial drones to achieve significant integration into the National Airspace System (NAS). Accordingly, the Commercial Drone Alliance (Alliance) has consistently advocated for legislative, regulatory, and policy progress in order to enable these types of operations.1 The Alliance recognizes drone security as an important piece of the drone legal and policy framework, and we have outlined our drone security priorities elsewhere.2 As part of this broader effort, the Alliance founded and annually hosts the Domestic Drone Security Series events with the participation of key government stakeholders.

To date, federally-funded research and development (R&D) efforts around drone security, including Remote ID and counter-drone technology, have been limited. These R&D efforts are critical to moving the policy and regulatory frameworks forward. Testing of proposed solutions is important to ensure a secure NAS. The Alliance here outlines its priorities for drone security research and development efforts.

1. Security Aspects of Comprehensive Remote ID Technology

A comprehensive Remote ID system for drones is essential to promoting innovation and establishing reasonable controls to protect against potential safety and security threats posed by drones. The Alliance has long supported comprehensive Remote ID for drone technology. It is necessary to ensure that federal, state, and local agencies have a means of distinguishing between cooperative (authorized) drones and non-cooperative drones. Moreover, the FAA and national security agencies have made clear that regulations enabling expanded operations for small drones (e.g., operations over people) will not be implemented unless and until regulations for Remote ID are implemented. In other words, Remote ID is a necessary gating item before any of the currently contemplated expanded operations (and resulting benefits) can be realized. The Alliance therefore pushed for a comprehensive remote ID framework as a member of the UAS Identification and Tracking Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC).

It is therefore critical that R&D for Remote ID solutions satisfactory to regulators, law enforcement, and industry be accomplished as expeditiously as possible. An R&D effort focused on security aspects of Remote ID must be a top priority because R&D focused on security will inform any Remote ID Final Rule which will (we hope) address the concerns of the FAA and law enforcement/national security agencies while not unduly burdening the nascent commercial UAS industry with unreasonable, onerous, unworkable or impractical regulations that lack reasonable safety or security justification.

The Alliance also believes that any R&D effort in this regard would be remiss if it does not include testing of “Known Operator” technologies that would enable implementation of a program like the Transportation Security Administration’s Pre-Check and Global Entry programs for the commercial drone industry. The Alliance has long advocated for such a “Known Operator” program for the commercial UAS industry because such programs have supported the government’s ability to identify legitimate threats while promoting public trust and improving efficiency.3 In this context, a similar “Known Operator” system in the UAS context would enable the government to maintain a database of authorized commercial UAS operations, which would help relevant agencies and public safety officials with threat discrimination.

2. Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) Security Research

UTM will be a key component of airspace structure, management, and coordination as more UAS operate in the NAS. It will enable certain expanded commercial UAS operations and the scalability of such operations while also enhancing safety. Consequently, enabling industry-owned, cost-effective, and efficient UTM which prioritizes safety and balances privacy considerations will be a win-win for airspace users and the public.4

Industry has already worked with federal agencies such as NASA to test UTM extensively, and the private sector continues to develop and test UTM technology. Accordingly, the additional R&D testing of UTM to be conducted by law enforcement or national security agencies like the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) should not duplicate research that industry and other federal agencies have already conducted. Rather, the Alliance urges that national security agencies (i) focus their research efforts around UTM on security issues and the interaction of counter-UAS with UTM, and (ii) move expeditiously to complete such R&D so that UTM can be implemented sooner rather than later to enable certain expanded commercial UAS operations and the scalability of such operations.

3. R&D to Support Implementation of Laws Enabling CUAS Mitigation Technologies

The Alliance recognizes that counter-drone systems can help enhance the safety and security of UAS operations, and avoid significant system disruptions and inconvenience. As referenced above, the Alliance has supported recent appropriately tailored counter-drone measures which have passed Congress, enabling certain federal agencies to mitigate drone threats. And, while the Alliance is generally supportive of expanding counter-drone authorities to certain state and local law enforcement entities, we also believe that any counter-drone legislation must not interfere with lawful commercial drone operations or otherwise handicap the commercial drone industry.5 As additional drone security laws and policies are developed, the Alliance supports development of a clear conceptual framework and associated technology for evaluating the safety and efficacy of counter-drone systems and considering, among other things, the system’s ability to operate safely and selectively, and its compatibility with the safe integration of lawful commercial UAS into the NAS.

As the Preventing Emerging Threats Act and other similar authorities are implemented, R&D is critical for counter-drone systems to ensure that such systems will provide the threat evaluation and mitigation that law enforcement and national security agencies want, while not interfering with authorized commercial drone operations. To date, there has simply not been enough R&D on this topic; much more R&D by federal agencies like DHS is necessary. These R&D efforts must account for the increased commercial drone activity expected over the next few years, as well as the expected evolution of drone security legal frameworks, and examine the interaction between different counter-drone technologies as we can expect overlapping counter-UAS technology deployment by various parties in certain jurisdictions. R&D is also needed around drone security warning technologies so that, as required by law, authorized and compliant drone operators have an opportunity to discontinue potentially offending or non-compliant behavior. In addition, DHS should explore spectrum challenges, allocation, technologies, and use needs in the context of counter-UAS impacts, in coordination with FCC and other relevant stakeholders.

Critical to these important R&D efforts is funding. Congress must provide appropriate levels of funding to support the necessary testing of counter-UAS technologies (as many other countries have done).


1. The Commercial Drone Alliance is an independent non-profit organization led by key members of the commercial drone industry. A more detailed description of the CDA and its members is attached to these comments.
2. See, e.g., Comments of the Alliance on the ANPRM regarding Safe and Secure Operations of Small UAS (April 15, 2019; Docket No. FAA-2018-1086) (“Alliance ANPRM Comments”).
3. See, e.g., Alliance ANPRM Comments.
4. See Alliance ANPRM Comments.
5. See Alliance ANPRM Comments.