Who Is The Most Active User Of Drones Over The United States?

Tyler Durden's picture

At this point everyone in the world knows what a drone is: some have been bombarded by one, others, thousands of miles away, have done the bombardment, and everyone else is split whether or not this remote-controlled form of international retribution and global Pax Americna should be allowed over the territory of the US - either for purely peaceful, or outright military, as was the case with the Chris Dorner manhunt, purposes.  And as with most issues that polarize US society, the approach is one of form opinion first, and investigate the underlying facts later.

To that end on Friday, the Government Accountability Office, or GAO, issued testimony on Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS, or also Drones), titled "Continued Coordination, Operational Data, and Performance Standards Needed to Guide Research and Development" which while full of largely useless information, does have an informative section detailing which entities received Certificates of Waiver or Authorization (COA) or said otherwise "permissions to drone" for a period , from the FAA, which is the ultimate authority granting UAS flyovers in the US. Among the agencies seeking and being granted such permissions are all domestic military; public (academic institutions, federal, state, and local governments including law enforcement organizations); and civil (private sector entities).

So which entity engaged most actively in US-based droning in 2012? It will come as no surprise that of the 391 COAs issued in the past year, the Department of Defense accounted for 201 or, well over half of all authorized droning operations. One can rest assured that America is truly well defended, if mostly from enemies domestic.

The GAO's take on this:

Currently, FAA authorizes all domestic military; public (academic institutions, federal, state, and local governments including law enforcement organizations); and civil (private sector entities) UAS operations on a limited basis after conducting a case-by-case safety review. Federal, state, and local government agencies must apply for Certificates of Waiver or Authorization (COA), while civil operators must apply for special airworthiness certificates in the experimental category. Because special airworthiness certificates do not allow commercial operations, there is currently no means for FAA to authorize commercial UAS operations.


Since FAA started issuing COAs in January 2007, 1,428 COAs have been issued. At present, under COA or special airworthiness certification, UAS operations are permitted for specific time frames (generally 12 to 24 months); locations; and operations. So, one agency can be issued multiple COAs to operate one UAS for the same purpose. In 2012, FAA issued 391 COAs to 121 federal, state, and local government entities across the United States, including law enforcement entities as well as academic institutions (see fig. 2).


According to an industry forecast, the market for government and commercial use of UAS is expected to grow, with small UAS having the greatest growth potential. This forecast estimates that the worldwide UAS market could be potentially worth $89 billion over the next decade. The majority of this estimate is for military-type products (primarily the U.S. military) with the associated research and development for production estimated to be $28.5 billion over the next 10 years. As smaller UAS are expected to continue to improve in technology and decrease in price, their prevalence in the national airspace is expected to increase. The forecast also indicates that the United States could account for 62 percent of the world’s research and development investment for UAS technology over the coming decade.

For those not quite up to speed on the whole droning thing, here is a simplified chart explaining it all:

Finally, the risk factors read like a point by point challenge to either every black hat hacker out there, or Iran, whichever responds first.

Command, Control and Communication Systems

Ensuring uninterrupted command and control for both small and large UAS remains a key obstacle for safe and routine integration into the national airspace. Since UAS fly based on pre-programmed flight paths and by commands from a pilot-operated ground control station, the ability to maintain the integrity of command and control signals are critically important to ensure that the UAS operates as expected and as intended.

Lost Link

In a “lost link” scenario, the command and control link between the UAS and the ground control station is broken because of either environmental or technological issues, which could lead to loss of control of the UAS. To address this type of situation, UAS generally have pre-programmed maneuvers that may direct the UAS to hover or circle in the airspace for a certain period of time to reestablish its radio link. If the link is not reestablished, then the UAS will return to “home” or the location from which it was launched, or execute an intentional flight termination at its current location. It is important that air traffic controllers know where and how all aircraft are operating so they can ensure the safe separation of aircraft in their airspace.18 FAA and MITRE have been measuring the impacts of lost link on national airspace safety and efficiency, but the standardization of lost link procedures, for both small and large UAS, has not been finalized. Currently, according to FAA, each COA has a specific lost link procedure unique to that particular operation and air traffic controllers should have a copy for reference at all times. Until procedures for a lost link scenario have been standardized across all types of UAS, air traffic controllers must rely on the lost link procedures established in each COA to know what a particular UAS will do in such a scenario.

Dedicated Radio-Frequency Spectrum

Progress has been made in obtaining additional dedicated radio-frequency spectrum for UAS operations, but additional dedicated spectrum, including satellite spectrum, is still needed to ensure secure and continuous communications for both small and large UAS operations. The lack of protected radio-frequency spectrum for UAS operations heightens the possibility that a pilot could lose command and control of a UAS. Unlike manned aircraft—which use dedicated, protected radio frequencies—UAS currently use unprotected radio spectrum and, like any other wireless technology, remain vulnerable to unintentional or intentional interference. This remains a key security and safety vulnerability because, in contrast to a manned aircraft in which the pilot has direct physical control of the aircraft, interruption of radio transmissions can sever the UAS’s only means of control. UAS stakeholders are working to develop and validate hardware and standards for communications operating in allocated spectrum. For example, FAA’s UAS Research Management Plan identified 13 activities designed to mitigate command, control, and communication obstacles. One effort focused on characterizing the capacity and performance impact of UAS operations on air-traffic-control communications systems. In addition, according to NASA, it is developing, in conjunction with Rockwell Collins, a prototype radio for control and a non-payload communications data link that would provide secure communications.

GPS Jamming and Spoofing

The jamming of the GPS signal being transmitted to the UAS could also interrupt the command and control of UAS operations. In a GPS jamming scenario, the UAS could potentially lose its ability to determine its location, altitude, and the direction in which it is traveling.19 Low cost devices that jam GPS signals are prevalent. According to one industry expert, GPS jamming would become a larger problem if GPS is the only method for navigating a UAS. This problem can be mitigated by having a second or redundant navigation system onboard the UAS that is not reliant on GPS, which is the case with larger UAS typically operated by DOD and DHS.

Encrypting civil GPS signals could make it more difficult to “spoof” or counterfeit a GPS signal that could interfere with the navigation of a UAS. Non-military GPS signals, unlike military GPS signals, are not encrypted and transparency and predictability make them vulnerable to being counterfeited, or spoofed. In a GPS-spoofing scenario, the GPS signal going from the ground control station to the UAS is first counterfeited and then overpowered. Once the authentic (original) GPS signal is overpowered, the UAS is partially under the control of the “spoofer.” This type of scenario was recently demonstrated by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin at the behest of DHS. During the demonstration at the White Sands Missile Range, researchers spoofed one element of the unencrypted GPS signal of a fairly sophisticated small UAS (mini-helicopter) and induced it to plummet toward the desert floor. The research team found that it was straightforward to mount an intermediate-level spoofing attack, such as controlling the altitude of the UAS, but difficult and expensive to mount a more sophisticated attack. The research team recommended that spoof-resistant navigation systems be required on UAS exceeding 18 pounds.

Human Factors

UAS stakeholders have been working to develop solutions to human factor issues for both small and large UAS. According to FAA, human factors research examines the interaction between people, machines, and the environment to improve performance and reduce errors. Human factors are important for UAS operations as the pilot and aircraft are not collocated. The separation of pilot and aircraft creates a number of issues, including loss of sensory cues valuable for flight control, delays in control and communications loops, and difficulty in scanning the visual environment surrounding the unmanned aircraft. As part of its UAS Integration in the National Airspace System Project, NASA is working to develop human factor guidelines for ground control stations and plans to share the results with RTCA SC-203 to inform recommended guidelines. In addition, the Department of the Army is working to develop universal ground control stations, which would allow UAS pilots to fly different types of UAS without having to be trained on multiple configurations of a ground control station.

Source: GAO

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Hulk's picture

My wife has had one following me around for a few months now...

ihedgemyhedges's picture

I had one following my wife.  The data revealed no activity in the bedroom...........well, my bedroom.........

goldfish1's picture

Saw  a drone today flying with a crop duster looking plane. Rural nor thern ohi o. wtmf?

MrX's picture

who the HELL cares about drones when this kind of shizzle is going on: http://youtu.be/aXGt2XOeCJc

Buckaroo Banzai's picture

How about some Sunday evening humor.

Kroll Show: Drones


GetZeeGold's picture



In efforts to keep the drone population healthy....the USDA has announced the first ever drone hunt.


Be the first on your block to mount one over your fireplace.

kralizec's picture

Now that would be a great trophy to show off.  ;)

tbone654's picture

Just wait until one of them drones knocks down a plane full of 2nd graders...  Then someone will ban/confiscate them all...  problem solved...

EnslavethechildrenforBen's picture

Eventually the Drones will figure out how to determine which slaves are nonproductive and vaporize them.

I'm making my own aluminimum foil suit to go with my hat.

The Gooch's picture

Congratulations, Mr. X.

You went from "that was a cool and unusual post" to cheap, link-pimp.

Do you play those Maytags at your Mom's house?


RockyRacoon's picture

I see that "Academia" rates 2nd highest.  That would be DOD-2 I suppose.  Funds to develop the contraptions for DOD use, of course.  Why not just list the DOD total at 292 and be done with it?

A Nanny Moose's picture

I noticed that too. good point Rocky. Perhaps they are monitoring the status of those gummint guaranteed student loans? If you have a gummint guaranteed reverse mortgage from "The Fonz" you better be on your toes.

RockyRacoon's picture

Student loans?   Maybe the educational course should be gaming.  At least the students can get proficient with a joy stick.  Perfect for a drone-jockey.

That makes it DOD at 292 and everyone else combined at 82.

Where's the "justice" in that?

I see a Hollywood movie in the offing:  Drone Wars!

Richard Chesler's picture

The banksters've had one in the White House for a few years now.

DaveyJones's picture

most college memories dredge up proficiencies with the joy stick

RockyRacoon's picture

I had a different stick in mind.

Coldsun's picture

You played broomball too?!?!?

A Nanny Moose's picture

Fuck that shit. I can learn that in my mother's basement for free. Although the sex isn't as good, and I'm a little old.

"Begun, This Drone War has." -Yoda.

CPL's picture

It's how this very awesome 15 year old figured out the markers for early-stage pancreatic cancer.  15.  Years.  Old. 

He did it with the free acedemic research off the internet and did what an army of PhD's haven't done.  Very impressive


Formal Education is nothing is you don't apply it or aren't hungry for a result with it.  He did it by absorbing every pdf he could find on genetic markers and the cheapness of the available equipment.  While the government envisions terrorists making bio-weapons.  Most normal smartie pant's are seeking something a little more long term and sustainable.


I know there is a bit of doom and gloom but occassionally the sun peeks out from behind the clouds.  Just gotta be there to catch the ray.

Buckaroo Banzai's picture

Interesting story, but did you take a close look at that website? It's a Cultural Marxist front. Run by Participant Media, which bills itself as "Entertainment that inspires and compels social change".

Ugh. I need to take a shower now. Disgusting.

CPL's picture

Yeah.  I tend to tune out the political drivel and just look for the gold while data mining, this was interesting because it's so rare to see lately.  A genuine piece of good news about a kid doing what kids do well.  Challenge assumptions and break the rules because they don't know different.  Rebels, true rebels, versus that idiotic dogma sold to the mainstream of people standing next to a symbol.

It goes with my theory that the mainstream media is completely broken and no longer can cover stories that matter while stuffing national fish wrap with nonsense nationalism.  Eventually though all the real news ends up in small back page blurbs, back water websites and niche professional news letters/blogs.

I'm hopeful that if this kid is doing this, at 15 challenging the preconceived notions of Cancer research that there is also another kid out there figuring out an agricultural problem, an engineering problem, an energy problem, etc.  The goal to education, imo, is for the student to surpass the teacher as we hope for our children's lives to be better than ours. 

As hammy as that sounds.  The fact he managed to do what he did in the 'modern' education system with peers and teachers telling him it could not be done.  It's outstanding.  Tenacious and smart.  It's a good combo.

goldfish1's picture

mainstream media is completely broken and no longer can cover stories that matter while stuffing national fish wrap with nonsense nationalism

Yet millions plug in. Keeps 'em from spying on their neighbor.

Buckaroo Banzai's picture

"I tend to tune out the political drivel and just look for the gold while data mining"

That's great, but we can't patronize this shit, whether it's in the mainstream media, or on the internet. Everyone needs to avoid websites like that one for the exact same reason we need to avoid the MSM. By patronizing it, we feed it. Cut off their page views and you will cut off their ad support.

This is how we fight this war. STOP giving them your page views.

Mr. Magniloquent's picture

I'm hoping to be the one to solve the "agricultural problem". I will be submitting my patent and business model to an angel investment group in June. We'll see what happens.

Room 101's picture

Even a broken clock is right every now and then. 

ebworthen's picture

Those universities and colleges are recycling Federal grant money back to the military while simultaneously educating the Sons and Daughters of PLA (Chinese) Military Officials who are here to spy while in graduate degree programs at Ivy League institutions bankrupting the taxpayer with overpriced tuition and comcomittant student loans.

It's a circle jerk, guess who gets jizzed on?

CaptainObvious's picture

All this talk about drones has tempted me to mount a ladder to my roof and paint "Lick my sack, joystick jockeys" across the surface of said roof.  Alas, I'll have to forego that juvenile pleasure, because that would surely move my position on the drone-kill list even higher.  I'm content to be in the low 900s on that list at present.

toys for tits's picture



I remembered hearing a story on NPR about this one college professor who hacked a drone.  I guess he got his the unofficial way.




Daily Bail's picture

Obozo the annointed one played golf this weekend with Tiger Woods.  Watch the White House drone try to hit a golf ball.

Warning - this is ugly.

Presidential Shankapotomos (Watch Obama's Golf Swing)
CaptainObvious's picture

Give the guy a break, it's difficult to keep your swing straight with a limp wrist.

Buckaroo Banzai's picture

Well what do you expect. OF COURSE he's going to hit it to the left every time.

Disenchanted's picture






Look at the "Academia" associated with the MITRE Corp. at the FFRDC link(Wiki) below, under the "Administrator" column:


The MITRE Corporation (stylized as MITRE) is an American not-for-profit organization based in Bedford, Massachusetts and McLean, Virginia. It manages Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs) supporting the Department of Defense (DOD)


The origins of MITRE:


Under the leadership of C. W. Halligan, MITRE was formed in 1958 to provide overall direction to the companies and workers involved in the US Air ForceSAGE project. Most of the early employees were transferred to MITRE from the Lincoln Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where SAGE was being developed.


MITRE Corp. is DoD

Eireann go Brach's picture

The Drone = Obamas Legacy!

The Gooch's picture

Ze Germans. One CCTV at a time.

H/T Liberty Blitzkrieg.

Follow the link to vid.


Lore's picture

Do corporations or families qualify for waivers?  Which ones?  Are they retroactive, and if so, to what date? 

The use of drones as agents of government does little to present a caring face to the public.

zerozulu's picture

Who Is The Most Active User Of Drones Over The United States?


I think answer is Walmart.

I see a lot roaming there.

ShortTheUS's picture

And she could end up taking half your stuff just like the government.


Hulk's picture

Damn! Hopefully I  get to keep my japanese love doll !!!

ZeroAvatar's picture

Thank you Tylers:



MeMadMax's picture

Relax guys.

DOD is the Army, National Guard, and Air Force training their guys to fly these things before they send them to paki/afghan, and now north africa.

Navy is starting drone programs too so they need some as well.

I personally am more concerned with the DHS numbers as the FBI/CIA is there, luckily, its a relatively low number...


Have fun...

CaptainObvious's picture

Relax?  Do you realize how many different intelligence agencies are under the umbrella of the Department of Defense?  I'll relax only when somebody invents a ground-to-drone missile available for sale to Joe Sixpack.

Wilcat Dafoe's picture

That was a dildo.  And it wasn't following you, it was stuck inside your bottom. 

And like a real drone, it was up to no good.

fxrxexexdxoxmx's picture

TOTUS only does things which are good for U.S.

Remeber if an evil and hate filled POTUS with a "R" by his name ever comes into office you will be told that drones are bad thing.

Long live the TOTUS

Cursive's picture

Death to all drones!

rehypothecator's picture

How can you kill something that's ALREADY DEAD?!  

Stuffs And Stuff's picture

How can something be dead that was NEVER ALIVE?!


A Nanny Moose's picture

Kinda like a corporation, or Government itself.

Stuffs And Stuff's picture

Get your facts straight!

Corporations are people.

People are machines.

Got it?


A Nanny Moose's picture

Damn you with your Oligarchical induced realities.