Science and Technology Spotlight: Counter Drone Technology

Why this is important

The unmanned spacecraft system, or “drone,” can pose a security and security risk to critical US sites and can be used for smuggling and other criminal activities. These risks could increase as more than 2 million drones are projected in the United States by 2024. Although detection and mitigation technologies can counter these risks, they can face challenges in terms of effectiveness and unintended impact.


what is that? The unmanned spacecraft system (UAS), or “drone,” has a variety of uses, including photography, package delivery, and crop monitoring. However, UAS can pose a significant security and security risk if it enters the airspace around a critical US site without permission or if it is used illegally. To mitigate these risks, counter UAS technology can detect such unauthorized or insecure UAS and interfere, capture, or disable them as needed.

Several UAS cases have been reported in the United States. For example, in January 2019, Newark Liberty International Airport stopped all landings and detoured the plane for more than an hour because UAS could have been witnessed nearby. In addition, smugglers use UAS to deliver illegal drugs domestically (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Some of the risks posed by an unmanned spacecraft system.

Such reported incidents may increase as UAS usage increases. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) predicts that by 2024, the commercial UAS fleet will reach about 828,000 and the recreational fleet will reach about 1.48 million.

In the country, activities against UAS may be restricted or prohibited by existing federal laws such as the Aircraft Obstruction Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. However, four federal agencies, Defense, Energy, Justice, and Homeland Security, have dealt with certain circumstances, such as protecting or providing sensitive government facilities such as domestic military bases and prisons. You are allowed to deploy UAS technology. Security during sports championships.

How does it work? Counter-UAS technology generally falls into two categories: detection and mitigation. Detection techniques include infrared devices for tracking thermal characteristics, radio frequency systems for scanning control signals, and acoustic methods for recognizing the unique sounds produced by UAS motors. According to a 2019 Bard College report, radio frequency and radar systems are the most common detection techniques (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. In this example, a critical site is detecting an unauthorized UAS nearby. Interfering signals disrupt the connection between the UAS and its operators and reroute the UAS away from the site.

Mitigation technology can repel or intercept unauthorized UAS. For example, an interfering signal can disrupt or disconnect the communication connection between the UAS and its operator, which can cause the UAS to land or return to the operator. Interference is the most common mitigation technique, according to a Bard College report. Other mitigation techniques can use net force or kinetic force (such as lasers and projectiles) to nullify or destroy UAS. However, the dynamic method can cause problems, as dropping or exploding the UAS can cause unintended damage.

How mature are you? The Pentagon has been using anti-UAS technology abroad since at least 2014, but its domestic use is limited. Over the last four years, accredited institutions have deployed several anti-UAS technologies in the country. However, some of these technologies have limited ability to detect and track small UAS (less than £ 55). In addition, few can successfully interfere with or disable UAS, and many are only effective below 1,000 feet.

To combat UAS risk, FAA (permitted to conduct limited testing activities) and authorized institutions continue to test, evaluate, and develop integrated counter UAS platforms. The capabilities of these platforms are designed to address specific risk environments. For example, a powerful long-range signal jammer may be effective in mitigating UAS in rural areas, such as near some domestic military bases, but this same technology is near cities and airports. If used, it can also interfere with legal and important communications.

UAS technology continues to advance and is more accessible to the general public. For example, UAS is smaller, easier to operate, and more difficult to detect and mitigate. To stay effective, counter UAS technology needs to adapt to such changes.


  • Enhanced security. UAS disrupted military and commercial aircraft operations, entered airspace at large sporting events, illegally accessed wireless networks, and were witnessed at sensitive national security facilities. Counter-UAS technology can address such threats to critical sites and assets.
  • Better situational awareness. The Counter-UAS platform has the potential to track UAS activity near critical sites and analyze data over time and location to better understand threats.


  • effect.. Electromagnetic interference (power lines, LEDs, etc.) and small aerial objects (birds, etc.) can reduce detection capability or cause false positives. Mitigation systems can be limited in scope, quick to UAS, or difficult to move in unpredictable patterns.
  • Unintended consequences.. Counter UAS platforms can cause safety issues by interfering with nearby communications, such as devices that use navigation systems. Due to dynamic mitigation, false projectiles or falling UAS can damage property or hurt people on the ground.
  • A limited number of licensed institutions.. As of March 2022, only four federal agencies are permitted to act against UAS under certain circumstances, such as state or local agencies (or individuals). I don’t have a specific federal agency. Bard College reports that local agencies generally rely on a small number of federal anti-UAS units to respond to and protect against UAS threats in their area.
  • Privacy issues.. Counter UAS detection methods may collect personally identifiable information, such as information about operators and camera images of bystanders.

Policy context and questions

As the use of UAS increases and the demand for UAS technology increases accordingly, the important questions for policy makers are:

  • What R & D could lead to innovative anti-UAS solutions that can better address UAS safety and security risks while minimizing unintended airspace and public impacts?
  • What are the potential trade-offs if policy makers allow others, including state and local law enforcement agencies, to use counter UAS and consider expanding their use of these technologies?
  • If policymakers consider expanding authorization, what is the appropriate level of jurisdiction coordination and regulatory oversight to use these technologies among federal agencies and other agencies?

Contact Brian Bothwell ((202) 512-6888 or for more information.

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