Sarah Nilsson JD, PhD, MAS
Sarah NilssonJD, PhD, MAS

Counter UAS

On this page you will see the emerging solutions to bringing down rogue UAS

April 25, 2022

FACT SHEET: The Domestic Counter-Unmanned Aircraft Systems National Action Plan

Over the last decade, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS or “drones”) have become a regular feature of American life. We use them for recreation, for research, and for commerce. But the proliferation of this new technology has also introduced new risks to public safety, privacy, and homeland security.  Malicious actors have increasingly used UAS domestically to commit crimes, conduct illegal surveillance and industrial espionage, and thwart law enforcement efforts at the local, state and Federal level.

Today, the Biden Administration is releasing the first whole-of-government plan to address UAS threats in the Homeland. Through the Domestic Counter-Unmanned Aircraft Systems National Action Plan, the Administration is working to expand where we can protect against nefarious UAS activity, who is authorized to take action, and how it can be accomplished lawfully. The Plan seeks to achieve this legitimate expansion while safeguarding the airspace, communications spectrums, individual privacy, civil liberties and civil rights. To achieve this balance, the Administration is calling on Congress to adopt legislation to close critical gaps in existing law and policy that currently impede government and law enforcement from protecting the American people and our vital security interests.

UAS serve many beneficial commercial and recreational purposes.  As has been the case with many technological advances, they can also be exploited for pernicious purposes.  To protect our Homeland and prevent their growing use from threatening the safety and security of our people, our communities, and our institutions, this Counter-UAS National Action Plan will set new ground rules for the expanding uses of UAS and improve our defenses against the exploitation of UAS for inappropriate or dangerous purposes.

The Plan provides eight key recommendations for action:

1. Work with Congress to enact a new legislative proposal to expand the set of tools and actors who can protect against UAS by reauthorizing and expanding existing counter‑UAS authorities for the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, Defense, State, as well as the Central Intelligence Agency and NASA in limited situations. The proposal also seeks to expand UAS detection authorities for state, local, territorial and Tribal (SLTT) law enforcement agencies and critical infrastructure owners and operators.  The proposal would also create a Federally-sponsored pilot program for selected SLTT law enforcement agency participants to perform UAS mitigation activities and permit critical infrastructure owners and operators to purchase authorized equipment to be used by appropriate Federal or SLTT law enforcement agencies to protect their facilities;

2. Establish a list of U.S. Government authorized detection equipment, approved by Federal security and regulatory agencies, to guide authorized entities in purchasing UAS detection systems in order to avoid the risks of inadvertent disruption to airspace or the communications spectrum; 

3. Establish oversight and enablement mechanisms to support critical infrastructure owners and operators in purchasing counter-UAS equipment for use by authorized Federal entities or SLTT law enforcement agencies;

4. Establish a National Counter-UAS Training Center to increase training accessibility and promote interagency cross-training and collaboration;

5. Create a Federal UAS incident tracking database as a government-wide repository for departments and agencies to have a better understanding of the overall domestic threat;

6. Establish a mechanism to coordinate research, development, testing, and evaluation on UAS detection and mitigation technology across the Federal government;

7. Work with Congress to enact a comprehensive criminal statute that sets clear standards for legal and illegal uses, closes loopholes in existing Federal law, and establishes adequate penalties to deter the most serious UAS-related crimes; and 

8. Enhance cooperation with the international community on counter‑UAS technologies, as well as the systems designed to defeat them.












March 2 -2021

The FAA selected 5 host airports to evaluate technologies and systems that could detect and mitigate potential safety risks posed by UA. The effort is part of the agency’s Airport UAS Detection and Mitigation Research Program.

The FAA selected the following airports:

- Atlantic City International Airport in Atlantic City, New Jersey

- Syracuse Hancock International Airport in Syracuse, New York

- Rickenbacker International Airport in Columbus, Ohio

- Huntsville International Airport in Huntsville, Alabama

- Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle, Washington

These airports meet FAA requirements for diverse testing environments and represent airport operating conditions found across the United States.

The research will lead to the implementation of new technologies that will make airports safer for passengers and crewed aircraft. Researchers plan to test and evaluate at least 10 technologies or systems at these airports. Testing will begin later this year and continue through 2023. It will create standards for future UA detection and mitigation technologies at airports around the country.

The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 requires the agency to ensure that technologies used to detect or mitigate potential risks posed by UA do not interfere with safe airport operations. The FAA does not support the use of counter-UAS systems by any entities other than federal departments with explicit statutory authority to use this technology, including requirements for extensive coordination with the FAA to ensure safety risks are mitigated.

August 2020 Guidance - FCC DOT DHS DOJ
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2019 May 7 - FAA letter re counter UAS on or around airports
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2018 July 19 - FAA letter re counter UAS on or around airports and 2016 October 26 letter
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FAA Frequently Asked Questions and Answers concerning UAS Detection Systems
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FAA UAS Detection - Technical Considerations
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Coyote UAS - Raytheon




 FAA UAS Detection Initiative

In October 2015, the FAA entered into a Pathfinder agreement with CACI International Inc. to evaluate how the company’s technology can help detect UAS in the vicinity of airports. This is to assess the safety and security capabilities of CACI’s product within a 5-mile radius of airports. The CACI partnership is part of the larger UAS Pathfinder Program, which the FAA announced in May 2015. Pathfinder is a framework for the agency to work closely with industry to explore the next steps in UA operations beyond those proposed in February in the draft small UAS rule. The agreement provides a proven way to passively detect, identify, and track UAS – or aerial drones – and their ground-based operators, in order to protect airspace from inadvertent or unlawful misuse of drones near U.S. airports. This CACI-built solution will help ensure a safe, shared airspace while supporting responsible UAS users’ right to operate their aircraft.

In addition to the FAA’s ongoing outreach and education efforts, an additional step toward a solution is to detect and identify these “rogue drones” and their operators. Recently, the FAA partnered with DHS and CACI International to explore how the company’s prototype detection technology may help detect UAS in the vicinity of airports. The main goal of the partnership is to safely explore procedures and processes for deploying and operating detection technologies in and around commercial airports. A team of engineers from the FAA, the Department of Homeland Security, and CACI conducted 141 test operations  over five days at the Atlantic City Airport from January to February 2016. CACI’s proof-of-concept system employs radio frequency sensors at strategic locations around an airport in high, prominent locations. When the sensors detect frequencies UA typically use, it triangulates the signals and determines the location of both the UAS and the operator. The results of testing at Atlantic City International Airport demonstrate that CACI’s proprietary system – SkyTracker – performed as designed. SkyTracker successfully identified, detected, and tracked UAS in flight, and precisely located drone ground operators – all without interfering with airport ground operations.  

In May 2016, the FAA expanded its detection initiative by signing Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRDAs) with Gryphon Sensors, Liteye Systems Inc. (AUDs and Skywall), and Sensofusion (Airfence) to evaluate the companies’ prototype UAS detection systems.

The FAA also began partnering with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in May 2016 to evaluate a different UAS detection technology. Beginning May 2, the FAA conducted evaluations at JFK to study the effectiveness of a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) UAS detection system in a commercial airport environment.  Five different rotorcraft and fixed wing UAS participated in the evaluations, and about 40 separate tests took place. In addition to the FAA and the FBI, the agencies combining forces in this research included the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Department of Justice, Queens District Attorney’s Office and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. DHS and the FBI want to identify unauthorized UAS operators for law enforcement purposes, and the FAA’s mission is to provide a safe and efficient airport environment for both crewed and uncrewed air traffic.The team evaluating the FBI’s detection system also included contributions from one of the six FAA-designated UAS test sites. The Griffiss International Airport test site in Rome, NY, provided expertise in planning the individual tests as well as the flight commander for the tests and two of the UAS used.



FAA - UAS Counter UAS/Airport Detection 

Oct 2017 - Counter Drone Market Solutions – Overview and Perspectives


This electronic cannon disables drones


This Brilliant Plan Could Stop Drone Terrorism. Too Bad It’s Illegal


Taser Explores Concept of Drone Armed With Stun Gun for Police Use


The best way to stop a rogue drone is with another drone - Airspace


Radio Hill - Home of the Dronebuster


Silent Archer™ Counter-UAS System


Infamous Hacker Creates SkyJack To Hunt, Hack, And Control Other Drones


The MITRE Challenge: Countering unauthorized UAS


Anti-Drone Systems Are Starting to Take Off




Data-stealing Snoopy drone unveiled at Black Hat


Drone-Chasers Tinker With Defeat Devices in Tiny War for Skies


Paranoid you're being followed by drones? Now there are specialized bullets so you can shoot them down


5 Anti-Drone Solutions That Could Change the Game


The Army built a Wi-Fi "gun" that shoots drones from the sky


Feb 2016 - Watch a police eagle take down a drone

The Dutch National Police have trained an eagle to take down a UAV


Jonathan Rupprecht - 7 big problems with counter drone technology




Types of Counter Drone Technology

The counter drone technology is getting lumped all into one bucket but I think it is best broken up into two categories: (1) detectors and (2) defenders.  Keep in mind that these terms are my own.

Some of what has been talked about as counter drone technology are not really counter technology but are just drone detectors. The systems can’t really do anything to STOP the drone, just tell you where the drone is and maybe the operator. Hopefully, police can locate the drone operator and get him to land the drone before anything happens.


  • Radar
  • Radio wave receivers
  • Audio sensors to “hear”
  • Optical sensors to see

These aren’t really a problem legally. The next category is where things get legally complicated fast.


  • Jammers
  • Spoofers (for GPS signals)
  • Hackers
  • Destroyers
    • Lasers
    • Electromagnetic Pulse
    • High Energy Microwave
    • Irritated Property Owners with Shotguns
  • Snaggers (a net carried under a drone, shot from an air cannon, or bolo/net shotgun shell projectile.)
  • Attack Birds such as Eagles. – I’m sure PETA will love this one.
  • Random Stuff: Spears, T-Shirts, Baseballs, Soccer Balls

Industries are Trying to Get Ahead of the Situation

There are many industries that are very interested in using this counter drone technology:

  • Defense Sector
  • U.S. Government
  • Private Security
  • Sports Teams and Stadiums
  • Amusement Parks
  • Airports
  • Utilities
  • Chemical Manufacturing
  • Universities

Congress is Starting to Pay Attention

The U.S. Congress is interested in the area and has directed the FAA in Section 2206 of the FESSA of 2016 to “establish a pilot program for airspace hazard mitigation at airports and other critical infrastructure using UA detection systems.” The FAA has since started doing a pathfinder program with some companies to use the technology at airports.

In December 2016, Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017 (“NDAA”) which created a brand new section on UA in Title 10 of the United States Code and also directed the Secretary of Defense to “submit to the appropriate committees of Congress a report on the potential for cooperative development by the United States and Israel of a directed energy capability to defeat . . . UAV, . . .  that threaten the United States, deployed forces of the United States, or Israel.”

Section 1697 of the NDAA amended Title 10 of the United States Code by adding the following:


“§ 130i. Protection of certain facilities and assets from UA

“(a) Authority.—Notwithstanding any provision of title 18, the Secretary of Defense may take, and may authorize the armed forces to take, such actions described in subsection (b)(1) that are necessary to mitigate the threat (as defined by the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Secretary of Transportation) that a UAS or UA poses to the safety or security of a covered facility or asset.

“(b) Actions Described.—

(1) The actions described in this paragraph are the following:

“(A) Detect, identify, monitor, and track the UAS or UA, without prior consent, including by means of intercept or other access of a wire, oral, or electronic communication used to control the UAS or UA.

“(B) Warn the operator of the UAS or UA, including by passive or  active, and direct or indirect physical, electronic, radio, and electromagnetic means.

“(C) Disrupt control of the UAS or UA, without prior consent, including by disabling the UAS or UA by intercepting, interfering, or causing interference with wire, oral, electronic, or radio communications used to control the UAS or UA.

“(D) Seize or exercise control of the UAS or UA.

“(E) Seize or otherwise confiscate the UAS or UA.

“(F) Use reasonable force to disable, damage, or destroy the UAS or UA.

“(2) The Secretary of Defense shall develop the actions described in paragraph (1) in coordination with the Secretary of Transportation.

“(c) Forfeiture.—Any UAS or UA described in subsection (a) that is seized by the Secretary of Defense is subject to forfeiture to the United States.

“(d) Regulations.—The Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Transportation may prescribe regulations and shall issue guidance in the respective areas of each Secretary to carry out this section.

“(e) Definitions.—In this section:

“(1) The term ‘covered facility or asset’ means any facility or asset that—

“(A) is identified by the Secretary of Defense for purposes of this section;

“(B) is located in the United States (including the territories and possessions of the United States); and

“(C) relates to—

“(i) the nuclear deterrence mission of the Department of Defense, including with respect to nuclear command and control, integrated tactical warning and attack assessment, and continuity of government;

“(ii) the missile defense mission of the Department; or

“(iii) the national security space mission of the Department.

“(2) The terms ‘UA’ and ‘UAS’ have the meanings given those terms in section 331 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (Public Law 112–9549 U.S.C. 40101 note).”.


The NDAA is a good first start but itself has flaws as pointed out in an article in Defense News, “[T]he NDAA definition of “covered facility or asset” is limited to those relating to the U.S. nuclear deterrent, U.S. missile defense, or the military space mission. While those are critical places to secure from drones, the authority to prevent such incursions should really apply to all military facilities located within the United States – that should be a first-order item for the House and Senate to address in the 115th Congress at the earliest opportunity.” This article also brought out a good point about counter drone technology needing to be cost effective.

However, Many Older Laws are Still in Place

Great – so the military can go Rambo on the drones. But what about everyone else?

Here is the problem, there are a bunch of laws already in place which currently prohibits this counter drone technology from being used or creates liability when they are used.  Also, there are currently no bills seeking to change the federal statutes or any regulatory rulemaking being initiated by federal agencies to change the regulations. We have the Safety Act which can limit some liability, but it does NOT solve the situation.

Legal Issues Surrounding Counter Drone Technology

1. Communications Act of 1934

There are three sections that are problematic:

47 U.S.C Section 301 – Requires persons operating or using radio transmitters to be licensed or authorized under the Commission’s rules (47 U.S.C. § 301). So just to operate the jammer, it needs to be certified.

47 U.S.C. Section 302(b) – Prohibits the manufacture, importation, marketing, sale or operation of unlicensed jammers within the United States (47 U.S.C. § 302a(b)) ( Only exception is to the U.S. Government 302a(c)).  Yes, you read that right. Depending on how you market counter drone measures, you could be doing something illegal!  This section also prohibits the testing R & D of drone jammers on your own property. FCC laid the smack down on a Chinese company in 2014 with a fine of $34.9 million!  Yes, you guessed it, the FCC order cited 302(b). Hobbyking found out that the FCC is very serious about the marketing of unlicensed radio transmitters when they received this FCC order.

47 U.S.C. Section 333 – Prohibits willful or malicious interference with the radio communications of any station licensed or authorized under the Act or operated by the U.S. Government (47 U.S.C. § 333). I think Amazon is wisely planning for the future when they filed for a technology patent designed to allow their drones to fly if jamming is taking place. The jamming could be illegal or legal but we know it will be happening in the future. People will take things into their own hands and might start creating illegal drone jamming equipment as a means of “self-help.”

2. FCC Regulations

47 C.F.R. Section 2.803 – prohibits the manufacture, importation, marketing, sale or operation of these devices within the United States (47 C.F.R. § 2.803)  Section 2.807 – provides for certain limited exceptions, such as the sale to U.S. government users (47 C.F.R. § 2.807)  The FCC regulations are basically echoing the federal statutes that were created. This means Congress has to either make some exceptions to the Communications Act of 1934 AND nullify or amend these regulations OR just change the underlying statute and leave it to the FCC to start the rulemaking process to repeal this regulation.

3. The United States Criminal Code 

18 U.S.C. Section 1362 – prohibits willful or malicious interference to U.S. government communications; subjects the operator to possible fines, imprisonment, or both. This could be used to apply to GPS jamming.

18 U.S.C. Section 1367(a) – prohibits intentional or malicious interference to satellite communications; subjects the operator to possible fines, imprisonment, or both.This could also be used to apply to GPS jamming.

18 U.S.C.  Section 32 – Destruction of aircraft or aircraft facilities: “(a) Whoever willfully— (1) sets fire to, damages, destroys, disables, or wrecks any aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States or any civil aircraft used, operated, or employed in interstate, overseas, or foreign air commerce;” . . .  “shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years or both.” This applies to the lasers, shotguns, and my all time favorite, Russian spear thrower.

18 U.S.C. Section  2511 says, “ (1) Except as otherwise specifically provided in this chapter any person who— (a) intentionally intercepts, endeavors to intercept, or procures any other person to intercept or endeavor to intercept, any wire, oral, or electronic communication[.]”

18 U.S.C.  Section 1030 says, “(a) Whoever . . .  (2) intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access, and thereby obtains . . . (C) information from any protected computer[.]” This one applies to the hackers.

4. Drone Jamming Can Affect More than the Drone

On October 26, 2016, the FAA sent out a letter to airports because “Recently, technology vendors contacted several U.S. airports, proposing to conduct demonstrations and evaluations of their UAS detection and counter measure systems at those airports. In some cases, the airport sponsors did not coordinate these assessments and demonstrations with the FAA in advance. It is important that federally obligated airports understand that the FAA has not authorized any UAS detection or counter measure assessments at any airports other than those participating in the FAA’s UAS detection program through a CRDA, and airports allowing such evaluations could be in violation of their grant assurances.”  The letter went on to say, “Unauthorized UAS detection and counter measure deployments can create a host of problems, such as electromagnetic and Radio Frequency (RF) interference affecting safety of flight and air traffic management issues.”

Additionally, the American Radio Relay League sent the FCC a warning letter about video transmitters being sold that operate between 1,010- 1,280 MHz beyond legal limits (~  6 times the legal limit). The letter said, ““Of most concern is the capability of the devices to cripple the operation of the [air traffic control] secondary target/transponder systems[.]” The problem is that one of the frequencies listed can be legally used for amateur radio operations but the rest cannot. This means someone can purchase this equipment and operate it on frequencies not allowed. What operates in that range?

  • Air Traffic Control Radar Beacons
  • Mode S for Transponders
  • TCAS Air Route Surveillance Radars
  • GPS

This adds another layer of difficulty to the mix as you might need to jam frequencies that are being used by other industries because some drone transmitters allow for it.

So jamming drones near airports can cause problems as well as jamming certain frequencies that certain radio transmitters can use that aviation also uses.

Knowing this, now we have another criminal statute in play! 49 U.S.C  Section 46308 says, “A person shall be fined under title 18, imprisoned for not more than 5 years, or both, if the person—(1) with intent to interfere with air navigation in the United States, exhibits in the United States a light or signal at a place or in a way likely to be mistaken for a true light or signal established under this part or for a true light or signal used at an air navigation facility; . .  (3) knowingly interferes with the operation of a true light or signal.”

5. State Law

The states have also made some of these counter drone technologies illegal!  States have anti-hacking laws, anti-messing with aircraft laws, etc.  Worse yet, these laws are all over the place with how broad they are, their safe harbors/exemptions, and their punishments.  Basically, what is said in this article x 50 states.

6. Civil Lawsuit for Damages

If you violated one of the above crimes, you have potential liability from a civil lawsuit. You can get sued for negligence if you are the proximate cause of an injury by breaching a duty.  Your duty is to not commit crimes. (duh) The legal term is negligence per se. So if someone gets hurt because you committed that crime, and they were in the protected class of people the criminal statute was attempting to protect (great point to argue over in the lawsuit), and you were the proximate cause of the injury, you can be liable.

And remember the guys listed above who are interested in this?  (Amusement parks, airports, chemical plants, utilities, etc.) They are prime targets for lawsuits and might get listed as a named defendant in a lawsuit.

7.   Aviation Statutes & Regulations

If you just took control over the drone, now YOU are the pilot in command and will need a remote pilot certificate!  See 14 CFR § 107.12see also §107.19(a).

If the drone operator was required to obtain an authorization and waiver to fly at that location and you take control of the drone, now YOU have to have a waiver and/or authorizations to fly in that area!




Feb 2016 - Let's not force eagles to fight rogue drones


Oct 2015 - Welcome to the arms race for anti-drone weaponry

Set for release in 2016, Battelle's Drone Defender is essentially a radio jammer built on the frame of an assault rifle. When the trigger is pulled, the Defender floods its target with overwhelming signals on all the frequencies used by commercial drones, including GPS, cutting it off from the pilot. Without any readable signal from a controller, the drone will automatically hover to the ground.

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