The Midsummer Swarm Song issue of Dronin' On 07.15.17
Purple mountains majesty

Hi all –

File this one under ‘it had to happen” – or “you’re kidding, right?” Remember a few months back when the FAA declared all of our military bases No Fly Zones? I immediately assumed that anyone who flew a drone over a base was going to get blown out the of the sky.

Thus my surprise to read USAF Wants Authority To Down Drones After F-22
Near Miss

In early July, an F-22 Raptor pilot coming in for a landing just barely avoided colliding with a small, commercial unmanned aerial system (UAS). That same week, a base security guard watched another tiny drone fly onto the complex and over the flight line before heading back out. In neither case did the airman have the legal authority to shoot down or otherwise disable the drone.

Here is the puzzling part. This is not a new issue. In the National Defense Authorization Act For FY 2017. (NDAA) the following language was added to 10 U.S. Code §130i in December 2016.

(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…

(b)Actions Described.— (1) The actions described in this paragraph are
the following:

(F) Use reasonable force to disable, damage, or destroy the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft.

This law is on the books and would seem to be all the authority the General needs. But not so fast, Jonathan Rupprecht has a new post in which he writes that:

The NDAA is a good first start but itself has flaws as pointed out in an article in Defense News, “[The 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.

The more recent proposal to include the White House’s proposed drone security bill in the 2018 version of the NDAA would have broadened the definition of covered facilities. I have searched and the language is nowhere to be seen in either the 1,000 plus page H.R. 2810 or the slightly shorter S.1519 both of which are currently making their way through Congress.

So apparently, this rather large problem remains unresolved.

Moving on to the House version of the FAA Reauthorization Act, H.R. 2997: 21st Century AIRR Act, The Committee on Rules is likely to meet the week of July 17th to grant a rule that may provide a structured amendment process for floor consideration of H.R. 2997, 21st Century AIRR Act.”

If you’re following this, take a look at the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis of the AIRR version which estimates an “Increase [in] net deficits stemming from revenues and direct spending by about $20.7 billion over the 2018-2027 period.” Oy, such a deal.

For perspective on both the Senate and House versions, I recommend you download Dentons’ June 29 webinar, Aviation Symposium Webinar Series: FAA Reauthorization Act of 2017…Everything You Want to Know.

Playing it not too far (or fast) forward, Gary Mortimer offers up a provocative article, Will American Federal Agencies Ban Foreign Drones? It is based on the notion that:

“Patrick [Egan] and I have received news from several sources that some Part 107 operators are being asked to not turn up for work unless they have American-made equipment for Government gigs. Government Agencies, it is alleged, have security concerns. They are worried about just what data might be being shared unwittingly.

Moving forward, critical infrastructure inspections will only be permitted by approved airframes, C2 links and GCS.”

There is an hour long Hangout which includes digital forensics whiz David Kovar talking about what UAV data can tell investigators and what the cybersecurity concerns are. Needless to say. the article started a lively discussion on Facebook’s UAV Legal News Forum where Kovar explained just what could be at stake to someone who said all of this already exists on Google Earth:

“The UAV telemetry, if- it is automatically collected from operators without their knowledge, identifies locations where UAV operations are occurring. The frequency, nature, location, and other characteristics of those operations reveal information about the site that might not be available via Google Earth, and that might indicate to an interested observer that activity of interest is occurring at that location that bears further investigation.”

Put another way – Google Earth gives you the whole earth to look at, drone mission data can tell you who’s looking where… You don’t need me to connect the rest of the dots.

For DJI, negative press about the EULA (End User License Agreement) which allows them to gather customer flight data, is old news. What’s new is a full-blown assault on the software they intended as a proof point that they were on the right side of the law – no matter who did what with their products.

Motherboard just published a third article, this one titled DJI Is Locking Down Its Drones Against a Growing Army of DIY Hackers.

This is the beginning of the fight for DJI to retain control of these aircraft,” consumer drone expert Kevin Finisterre, who this week developed and released his own DJI exploit, told me in an email. “End users are more invigorated than ever with the desire to emancipate their drone.”

To learn more about Coptersafe, a Russian software company that specializes in bypassing DJI imposed flight restrictions read Drone Pilots Are Buying Russian Software to Hack Their Way Past DJI’s No Fly Zones. Here’s the deal:

The one-stop shop provided by Coptersafe allows pilots to jailbreak their drones… To allow for pilots to operate in absolute no fly zones, areas that even opting out of DJI’s GEO geofencing software would restrict—like directly over a runway.

Though these hacks are hardly free, it points out the challenges that any broadly distributed solution will have to overcome. Here’s a for instance.

Keep Your Drone Out of No-Fly Zones or NASA Will Ruin Your Toy describes a new, incremental approach to perimeter defense called Safeguard. Safeguard requires an onboard unit – if the same unit can also provide electronic identification, NASA may have developed a solution that satisfies both the electronic identification statute and CUAS/law enforcement concerns.

Again, as the DJI story demonstrates, implementation is a different problem. Let’s hope that this is something that the ARC is aware of and is wrestling with.

More and more going on in the world of AI and its problem child, swarms. offers a thoughtful look forward written by Capt. Chris Telley who is currently assigned to the Naval Postgraduate School, Info Ops Officer Offers Artificial Intelligence Roadmap.

Artificial intelligence is to be the crown jewel of the Defense Department’s much-discussed Third Offset, the US military’s effort to prepare for the next 20 years. Adapting the military to the coming radical change requires some simultaneous baby steps to learn first and buy second while growing leaders who can wield the tools of the fourth industrial revolution.

Artificial Intelligence Will Help Hunt Daesh By December is an example of a baby step. Within six months the US military will start using commercial AI algorithms to refine their intelligence gathering efforts.

“The state of the art is good enough for the government. We’re not talking about three million lines of code. We’re talking about 75 lines of code… placed inside of a larger software (architecture) that already exists for intelligence-gathering” explained Col. Drew Cukor who heads up the Algorithmic Warfare Cross
Function Team

For a seriously scary article about what the Third Offset must counter, The Jamestown Foundation offers a meaty analysis in Swarms at War: Chinese Advances in Swarm Intelligence.

“The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) anticipates that future warfare will be “unmanned, invisible, and silent” with ever higher degrees of “intelligentization.” Looking forward, the PLA is clearly seeking the capability to leverage adaptive, intelligent unmanned systems across multiple domains of warfare, including with swarming tactics and manned-unmanned teaming.”

The US is working on similar ideas as Popular Science reports in The Future of the Air Force Is Fighter Pilots Leading Drone Swarms Into Battle.

The term d’art is “attritable,” which is Pentagon-speak for “Cheap enough that it’s okay to replace it if it’s lost.”

The story focuses on a US military drone supplier Kratos. A press release from Micro Systems, a division of Kratos says that their new WOLF-PAKUtilizes the collective behavior of multiple autonomous vehicles independently following the same leader vehicle. Each vehicle in the swarm can recognize and locate each other vehicle to offer a true swarming configuration.”  

As the name implies, Micro Systems works with multi-rotors (as opposed to the much more expensive drones that are Kratos mainstay.) There is a terrible video but it gives an idea of just how difficult it would be to counter even a handful of drones that were programmed to wreak havoc.

Drones, Smart Sensors, and AI May Soon Guard the U.S Border describes the work of a small team of researchers at the University of Arizona who are using a $750K USAF grant to develop “An autonomous artificial intelligence framework that uses real-time data to work out how best to deploy various high-tech resource — ranging from ground vehicles and drones to smart sensors, and other technologies — to surveil the 1,900-mile-long border with Mexico.”

Definitely early Skynet.

Despite everyone’s best efforts to promote If You Fly, We Can’t, 17 UAS incursions have already been reported this year, against 41 in 2016. Men’s Journal, which caters to a young, outdoorsy readership, offers up Firefighters to Drone Pilots: Stop Flying Over Wildfires! Check out the infographic.

Interesting article by Peter Sachs writing in his Drone Law Journal. Hiring a Hobbyist? You Might Be Committing a Federal Crime.

“I understand that it seems very odd and impossible to imagine that someone who hires an unlicensed drone operator could potentially face federal criminal charges. However, buried within our bodies of law exists a federal criminal statute, the plain language of which states it is a crime if a person “knowingly and willingly employs for service or uses in any capacity as an airman an individual who does not have an airman’s certificate authorizing the individual to serve in that capacity.” 

The FAA is not likely to tell the story for us, but in my opinion, this is exactly the kind of message that the commercial sUAS industry must communicate to the market. The future of large segments of the commercial drone business (particularly real estate) depends on enabling Part 107 (and other certificate holders) to differentiate and command a premium in the market.

To help us all better understand the market, Colin Snow at Skylogic Research has just launched a new survey Who’s Buying Drones, Using Drone Software, and Why? I spent some time brainstorming this with Colin and we agreed that the industry needs real, data based insights into what customers are actually doing – as opposed to what various pundits are forecasting. The survey is here. Please support this effort.

As for the future is now… InterDrone has published their All Star 2017 line-up. FAA Administrator Michael Huerta will be on hand to kick things off with his farewell keynote at InterDrone. I have one pass for the event to give a lucky subscriber.

While looking forward is good, Ian Smith has just released Drone Industry Review: Q2 2017A special, quarterly podcast series brought to you by Commercial Drones FM. It briefs listeners on the most important and newsworthy happenings from the previous quarter in the drone industry. Covered topics include drone hardware, software, regulations, funding, M&A, delivery drones, and how drones affected various industries in that quarter.

A lot of you write to tell me how much you enjoy the Eye Candy Tag Award winners. I try and be picky, it wouldn’t be candy if I served it up all the time. This week we have National Geographic’s Best Drone Photos of 2017 from the fourth annual Dronestagram contest. As a photographer, I find it interesting how some of these image makers are using the lack of depth cues to create a new kind of trompe l’oeil. Have a look. 

Thanks for reading and for sharing. All of the back issues of Dronin’ On are here.


Christopher Korody
follow me @dronewriter

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