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

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
Laser Shark's picture

Dr. K, you're the reason that everybody wants to go to Princeton.

I look forward to your next blog post about how stupid Republicans are and how smart Democrats are.

IridiumRebel's picture

For having a Phd., you spell like shit.

CaptainObvious's picture

There can only be one MDB.  You, sir, are not MDB.  And if you're not trying to be MDB 2.0, then you, sir, are a flaming jackass.

Stuffs And Stuff's picture

Do we not already know how bad the depression is?

When Tyler has something new to say in relation to the economy, I'm sure he'll post it.

nmewn's picture

So, Paulie, you gonna give 50-75% of your wealth and future income over to the state?

Dr Paul Krugman's picture

If Congress made it the law then of course I would.  Happily.

Yen Cross's picture

I'll bet yer long " Kitty Piss" being the Cat lover you are?

nmewn's picture

If Congress made it a law to report your soul-mate to authorities for speaking out against Congress...would you do this happily, also? How about, forcing you to buy something from some company somewhere. Still happy to do it?

Remember, it's a law ;-)

Yen Cross's picture

Would (it) be asking too much, if I slept on that thought?  ( i don't take sides) unless it's important

   You're Important/

kliguy38's picture

Paul.....next time you're on CNBS please try not to drool on Mariah Bootyroma's cleavage. You're starting to slobber as you grow older and blather your nonsense and leaning over your interviewer's cleavage is somewhat impolite. I understand lusting after the aforementioned boozy Bootyroma but you need to can it.

McMolotov's picture

The domestic use of drones has everything to do with how bad the depression is. Our government is turning its eyes inward and beginning to regard the citizenry as potential enemies. Such things are usually the last desperate acts of a dying nation.

MrPalladium's picture

And the irony is that all we need do to collapse the system is cut up our credit cards, stay away from the malls and wait.

Perhaps the drones are meant to keep track of who is not out shopping!

Schmuck Raker's picture

I don't think you are the real Krugman, you spelling is two good.

e-recep's picture

> Paul Krugman: I Almost Enjoy Hate Mail


sick bastard.

lolmao500's picture

Now if they could start taking out the domestic enemies living in Sacramento, Chicago, NY and Washington DC, that would be a great start.

Yen Cross's picture

 Little green men with cattle prods?

  You think I'm joking? Try having a garage sale, or opening a Lemonaid ™ stand<

CaptainObvious's picture

You think that's bad?  Try organizing a protest (with or without permit) in a no-free-speech zone.  Then it'll be big white men in body armor with tasers and assault rifles.

Stuffs And Stuff's picture

Nice work. I can just see them doing this; bombing styrofoam, for our safety - Pew pew.

I'd like to know how you post pictures in these comment boxes, WB7.

williambanzai7's picture

Only contributors can post images.

williambanzai7's picture

If you have something you've done send it to me twitter or post a link where I will see it.

williambanzai7's picture

I wonder what the trees think. I also wonder what Bloomberg packs his terminals in, but I can guess.

CaptainObvious's picture

Nice work, Banzai, keep fighting the good fight!

One question, though...do they send in two drones if the styrofoam cup is larger than 15.9 oz. and filled with a sugar-laden carbonated beverage of death? 

ziggy59's picture

And who shall protect us from our self proclaimed protectors?

We are seeing, in not so slow motion anymore, the very govt, our founding fathers warned about.

A Nanny Moose's picture

There will be uber-protectors. Note the success of FBI, CIA and FEMA, USCGS, rolled into DHS. Not one Terrorist attack since then. /sarc.

zerozulu's picture

Note the success of FBI, CIA and FEMA, USCGS, rolled into DHS. Not one Terrorist attack since 1776

corrected for you

A Nanny Moose's picture

Damn those revolutionaries.

CaptainObvious's picture

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? ~ Juvenal, Satires

Atomizer's picture

Page 5/6

Page 9/10 

MDID- Like a vise

Don't be limp wristed, link one & two dl is clean. The third link creates clarity.

IridiumRebel's picture

Everything digital tracks you. They're tracking you here. You want anonymity? Pass notes from paper like 3rd grade, otherwise, just know they know.

Rustysilver's picture

I expect any day now that a Drone lands in my backyard. I will sell it on eBay to the highest bidder.

IridiumRebel's picture

They're over us here in CT. They had them deployed for Sandy Hook.

Stuffs And Stuff's picture

Imagine the shipping fees....

Perhaps a lawsuit would be more profitable?

zerozulu's picture

Don't forget to repaint it before selling.

Yen Cross's picture

IridiumRebel Stuffs And Stuff

                                                                     I love you guys. Newbees and well seasoned.


Atomizer's picture

The album may have been lifted by my ex-wife back in 1992, the Case Western Reserve University memories can never be erased. :)

hill o' beans / force feed

Yen Cross's picture

Z/H reunions. I can't wait to have the privilige to meet you.

Yen Cross's picture

 I forgot Rusty.  My appologies.


   I am a dumb Mutha Fucker. I should have hedged the metals into London. I fucked up , and now it's too late!  Fuck me naked!

FreeMktFisherMN's picture

I really wonder how low they can take the PM mkts. The miners' margins will go from minimal to nonexistent if their output keeps getting monkeyhammered, as they deal with geopolitical risk, labor strife, and their energy costs thanks to inflation. Thus supply gets squeezed and especially for silver as a beta play since it is a byproduct in mining and gets consumed in industry, this would be super bullish for it. 

And the other thing is, I do think they are trying to shake the weak hands, but most people who have the guts to face up to what is going on/have 'awoken' to the evil going on with inflation, .gov tyranny, etc., are not dumb enough to sell their phyzz PMs, and conversely are quite thrilled to trade paper fiat for PMs at a discount on these raids. The hands are getting stronger I guess is my thesis. 

Either way the decoupling of paper and actual underlying phyzz PMs keeps pushing forth.

FreeMktFisherMN's picture

I don't know about you all but Apmex is always way slow to load for me, and it seems like on these raids the supplies thin out quick at Provident and elsewhere. 

dreadnaught's picture

The city of Seattle has overwhelmingly voted against letting the SPD use drones in city limits-so now they (2) are 'presumably' being sold-funny but the SPD had little to say one way or the other about it

Colonel Klink's picture

Smile for the unconstitutional birdie!

Monedas's picture

Obama is a CIA groomed stooge muppet .... of course he's gonna use drones .... it's not really "his" decision, anyway !  Putin is the real deal .... head of the KGB .... which means .... he's Obama's boss .... note Syria ?

Monedas's picture

Look at these clowns .... Pelosi, Paneta, Hillary, Obama .... you think these idiots outsmart the KGB .... they're employee, terrestial drones of the KGB !  Where are the 8 hours of missing Obama tapes .... while Benghazi was going on ?     Fuel rods for North Korea .... yes !  Hanoi offers us Camranh bay as a naval base .... no, we don't want to offend the Chicoms .... and the leftists would lose all their talking points !