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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Stuffs And Stuff's picture

I agree - It makes me want to vomit. 

CH1's picture

People are machines.

People are TOOLS.

Fixed it for ya.

DaveyJones's picture

they're doing it with the economy

goldfish1's picture

remain vulnerable to unintentional or intentional interference?

can be bothered by GPS interference devices of which there are 19 on the market?

zerozulu's picture

I read some where there is a part in the microwave oven that can bring down a drone if you point it at and turn it on.

General Decline's picture

It's called the magnetron. Sounds good in theory. My guess is that they are already hardened against microwave radiation.

Stuffs And Stuff's picture

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

Indeed. It's only a matter of time until drones are used here, and with this there will be a lot of hacking I'm sure.

I personally think drones should be banned entirely. There is nothing positive that comes from them; war and invading privacy? No thanks.

CaptainObvious's picture

Oh no, there's many positive things that can come from drones, besides war and invading privacy.  There's also disruption of commercial air traffic with drones that lose their line-of-sight control; endangering commercial air traffic with drones that lose their line-of-sight control; property damage from out-of-control drones that crash on buildings, cars, people, and animals; and the waste of perfectly good ammunition when people get a little crazy that Big Brother is watching and blast a magazine's worth at a drone they can't hope to hit.  You guys never look on the bright side of life.



[/sarc] for the clueless.

Cabreado's picture

-->  Little Johnny is addicted to games

-->  Johnny's Dad never grew up

Which would be the immediate problem, I wonder...

nmewn's picture

"What's the frequency, Kenneth?!?" ;-)

A Nanny Moose's picture

IDK, but it seems more frequent that I piss my pants and start talking in tongues. That shit only use to happen when the microwave oven was running.

TuesdayBen's picture

Mindy McCready droned

CompassionateFascist's picture

This is true synchronicity. Yesterday threw out both my Mindy McCready CDs and re-used the jewel boxs for home-scratched CDs. Jung's the Man. 

q99x2's picture

Not to mention that there's some Rambos out there that can't wait to take out a bankster or political enemy. And then you have your corporate enemies and just people that would takeover control for the fun of it.

As I see it this is a perfect excuse, not to mention the asteroids, to quit flying. I don't like it to begin with.

Here's some more fun info.

The Department of Homeland Security is set to purchase a further 21.6 million rounds of ammunition to add to the 1.6 billion bullets it has already obtained...

Extrapolating the figures, the DHS has purchased enough bullets over the last 10 months to wage a full scale war for almost 30 years.

So the FEDs are going to Fucking kill us. If not then they are wasting taxpayer money.

nmewn's picture

lol...bullish for warehouse space & snoozing, drooling Wakenhut guards ;-)

zerozulu's picture

Bullish for microwave ovens

Stuffs And Stuff's picture

It's actually over 1.6 billion. I haven't been keeping too up-to-date on this since it really doesn't matter, but it's atleast 1.8 right now, not including the future shipment you mentioned.

CompassionateFascist's picture

No, DHS is using debtbux to drive up the price of ammo for the rest of us. Pathetic, just pathetic. Never mind the price, I just ordered 5 boxes of Hornady lit-up 3,000 fps .308. Can't wait 'til that first low-flyer appears over my backyard.  

Lukacko's picture

Yup producing an ammo shortage.

Shell Game's picture

"The first American patriot to shoot down one of these drones, that comes too close to his children and his backyard, will be an American hero"  --Judge A. Napolitano



nmewn's picture

Even meteors refuse to fly over "my hood".


nmewn's picture

I love it when a plan comes together ;-)

Yen Cross's picture

 That was funny, nmewn. I have my eye on you.   "Meet The Fockers, reloaded".

Hulk's picture

They will be charged with making an illegal drone fall !!!

(do you guys have prince Albert in a can ???)

CaptainObvious's picture

Nah, they can bring up charges without even mentioning the illegal drone that was illegally spying on you.  They can charge you with discharge of a weapon in an illegal area and claim that you said you were shooting at a squirrel or some such rot.  You really think they're going to allow public records of illegal drone flight paths to come to light?

AnAnonymous's picture

And it will be my pleasure to try that 'american' hero?

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

One would have to be deaf, blind and dumb not to see where this is all going.

<Of course, I just described half the US population.......on accident of course. Nobody would intentionally be this way......right?>

A Nanny Moose's picture

Depends. Who was responsible for their education?

Rusty Trombone's picture

I really starting to reconsider my opinion of stated Reductio Ad Absurdum when some gun grabbing pussy hoplophobe posits that we want everyone to have Stinger missiles.

Contemporary arms in the hands of the aggressor demands contemporary arms by the common citizen.

This whole situation is fucking crazy.

Mister Minsk's picture

On December 23, 2002, an Iraqi MiG-25 shot down a U.S. Air Force unmanned MQ-1 Predator drone, which was performing armed reconnaissance over Iraq. This was the first time in history that an aircraft and an unmanned drone had engaged in combat. Predators had been armed with AIM-92 Stinger air-to-air missiles, and were being used to "bait" Iraqi fighter aircraft, then run. In this incident, the Predator did not run, but instead fired one of the Stingers, which missed, while the MiG's missile did not.

Hunter S. Thompson's picture

Is this the reason you cannot legally import a laser pointer that is greater than 5mw so you can't burn out the video cameras?

nmewn's picture

Operative word...legally ;-)

I think the thing to do with these pieces of shit is, just as the article says, interfere with its communications, get it flying in a circle and do what we love to do...down here...whether the target is moving or the shooter is moving.

Hey Earl, hold my beer and watch this!...lol.

A Nanny Moose's picture

Seriously...I thought it was a bird of prey, preying on my goats.

FFS. between that an my goddamed boating accidents, it's a wonder I can remember jack shit.

JOYFUL's picture

Laugh not...I was unaware of the whole issue of these mini-drones till I heard a weird buzzing sound and come outside one day last August to see this http://www.sensefly.com/products/swinglet-cam floating above my fields...bird of prey was exactly what it looked like at first glance... then the buzzing, and the weird gyrations hooked up in my head, and I realized it was a remote controlled object, with some kind of control issue that the operator was attempting to fix mid-air. Some kid with an airplane. Cept, I live so far out in the middle of nowhere the chances of that were bout zero. Still didn't clue in till I went back inside and looked up the image I had seen...the serrated wings made it easy.

That's when I was disabused of my lingering notions of 'privacy' in the C21st century. These things are all over the place now...and no matter what the manufacturers might say...can be weaponized in a snap!

No biggie, says I, I'll just move on to another country without on the ground CIAmossad arrangements...oops... http://www.sensefly.com/products/ebee

"Carry-on sized case: Easy to transport, all in one boxHand-launched: No additional equipment needed"

Hiding is finished. The only thing left to do is ride out and take the battle to them!

Cathartes Aura's picture

the where to buy list is interesting, as is the home address.

it's good to realise that run 'n' hide isn't such an obvious option, acting accordingly resolves the mind.

jumbo maverick's picture

Another way to kill the drone would be,

I have heard the drones are run out of the AF base in Las Vegas. So you do your intel and discover who the young drone operators are. Then you hire some of the high class whores to lure the operators into a compromising situation.

Once at the hotel room the operators are attacked. Imagine being a young healthy 20 year old male that has been castrated.

Or you could just have someone snipe the drone operator as they are getting into their car at a 7/11.

Either way you don't try to kill the drone flying at 30,000 feet. You get the operator.

This is just a mental exercise. In no way am I trying to overthrow the us government that I love and would defend with my life if need be. For the record I love America and I love our government even more so please don't drone me.

nmewn's picture

Or jam the drone or catch them coming to and from base at lower altitude.

But I'm like you...I love our federal government and in no way would I ever get in its way to protect and serve the public by spying on ranchers in the upper mid-west! ;-)

Peter Pan's picture

How does the US government know if a foreign country has drones flying over the US or not?

Are these drones small enough to allow them to enter US airspace from an offshore vessel and drop a nuclear device on America?

It seems to me that these versatile little machines will be the next Pandorra's Box.

Dr Paul Krugman's picture

Tyler Durden needs to refocus his attention on the issues at hand.  Managing a blog is a tough business and I worry that Mr Durden tries to hard to appease the diverse group that reads here instead of focusing on the real talent of this blog - showing how bad the depression we are in is.

Not many sites are focusing on this with stocks at all time highs and even though those of us who worked hard to get a retirement account are happy, many others are not as fortunate.  We need to refocus back to the problem - we need to make a recovery happen.

And for those of you who will berate me (I have gotten used to coming in here and taking the gloves off), please, do your best.

Paul Krugman: I Almost Enjoy Hate Mail:


A Nanny Moose's picture

May I prescribe you some pennecilin, and profilactics for what you are about to receive?

CompassionateFascist's picture

Say what you will, the real Paul Krugman knows the difference between "too" and "to"........or maybe not. 

CaptainObvious's picture

I find that funny, since the real Paul Krugman doesn't know the difference between two, two hundred, two million, and two billion.  Well, okay, he actually knows the difference, but he just doesn't give a shit.

Schmuck Raker's picture

I've been thinking of making a bumper sticker along similar lines:

"Texter, get thee behind me."

Thoughts, anyone?

Colonel's picture

What other nation uses drones? Not even the Ruskies use drones to terrorize other nations.

Dr Paul Krugman's picture

See?  There are more important issues at hand than trying to hold back law inforcement from doing their job.

What about the negative GDP from last quarter?  Obviously we are not doing enough to grow the economy and if we were then unemployment would have subsided by now.