The 'Ripple Effect' issue of Dronin' On 07.21.18

Hi all –

Well that was an interesting trip… A heartfelt thank you to the men and women who refuse to fiddle while the Swamp gas burns… Sheesh.

Lots going on with the FAA, concerned reactions to S. 2836 – the DHS bill, a Ripple Effect analysis, Big Business, Farnborough and Coming Attractions.


According to Morning Transportation Friday there is still a chance that the Senate FAA Reauthorization bill will get floor time the week of July 30th before the recess:

99 PROBLEMS BUT A BILL AIN’T ONE: Commerce Chairman John Thune told reporters Tuesday that lawmakers have offered about 100 amendments to the FAA reauthorization (S. 1405 (115)), and aides are “trying to narrow that list of amendments down to a handful.”

Thune and team are under considerable pressure to get the bill on and off the floor with a minimum of debate. Keen students will remember that H.R. 4 came and went in under three hours including a break…

Our elected officials will then leave their legislative assistants to thrash out the basics of an agreement between the two chambers while they go home to kiss babies and fill war chests.

From the commercial UAS perspective, there are two million dollar questions.

First, what will happen to 336? At press time, the amendments haven’t been published. Is there a fearless Senator who will risk the wrath of the Ancient Modeler to rewrite the largesse of 2012 in the name of security and the greater good? Or is our collective future going to be decided in a shootout between the DeFazio and Sanford amendments in conference?

Second, will S.2836 – Preventing Emerging Threats Act of 2018, find a home here? Plan A was to attach it to the ‘must pass’ 2019 NDAA.

Possibly complicating that play is a new bill introduced by the House, H.R.6401 – To assist the Department of Homeland Security in preventing emerging threats from unmanned aircraft and vehicles, and for other purposes.

Unlike S. 2836, this bill does not currently have bi-partisan support. And yes, Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) who introduced H.R. 5366, the Safeguarding America’s Skies Act is a co-sponsor. It has been referred to three committees who all have to
report out…

The bill in part states:

Take such actions as are described in subsection (b)(1) that are necessary to mitigate a credible threat (as defined by the Secretary or the Attorney General, in consultation with the Secretary of Transportation) that an unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft poses to the safety or security of a covered facility
or asset

Restricting interdiction to covered facilities and assets (as opposed to including mobile operations) parallels the DOD and DOE authority and could find favor.

The Drone Advisory Committee (DAC) met this week at the Santa Clara Convention Center (oh the irony).

Avionics reports that:

Among the group’s agenda items for Tuesday’s meeting include discussion on the FAA’s UAS Implementation Plan and UAS Integration Research Plan, remote identification framework and challenges facing the Unmanned Aircraft Safety Team.

In regard to the EPIC v. DAC lawsuit:

FAA Acting Administrator Daniel Elwell said meeting records and minutes will be available to the public subject to the Freedom of Information Act. Historically, while the main committee meetings had been open to the public, task group meetings were not. 

Brendan Schulman (@dronelaws) tweeted from the meeting that the NPRM for UAS Remote ID won’t be released until Spring 2019. In response the DAC passed a ‘feel good’ motion to move forward as quickly as possible. Brendan also posted the DAC Members e-Book which is a treasure trove of information. Thank you sir.

Wiley Rein LLP launched their podcast programming with The FAA: Open For Business in which Sara Baxenberg and Josh TurnerDiscuss their takeaways from the roundtable event held last month by Wiley Rein and AUVSI on the FAA’s “Open for Business” initiative.” [Announced at the 2018 FAA UAS Symposium.]

The short version is that the FAA is working hard to issue waivers while they wait for the legislation they need to continue rule making. From the FAA’s perspective, the intensive effort is justified because it will provide operational data.

The clear conclusion is that the one-off waiver process is not intended to scale. It’s an interim solution.

The upcoming FAA Webinar The Dark Night Part 1 and 2 …Will dive into the waiver application for nighttime UAS operations. FAA experts discuss The Waiver Safety Explanation Guideline (WSEG) in detail and provide guidance on how to successfully address the questions.

And in case you’re wondering, the Uniform Law Commission’s (“ULC”) Tort Law Relating to Drones Drafting Committee (“Committee”) is continuing to raise hackles with the Facebook UAV Legal News & Discussion group.

Here is the letter from the Heritage Foundation, “A bright line aerial trespass standard balances the interests of the nascent UAS sector with the traditional rights of property owners to exclude unwanted intruders from their property.” And just to make it easy, from Amazon “Amazon does not support a line in the sky concept.”

Hat tip to new Director of Policy Andrew Elefant for his guest post in, The Uniform Law Commission is Uniting the Drone Industry Against Its Proposed Tort Law. Welcome to the party.


Naturally not everyone is giddy about the idea of allowing the DHS and DOJ to blaze away at nefarious intruders. In my story about the Senate Hearing, Is This Really All?, a letter from the ACLU was included in the record. Given the history of community pushback to many PD drone programs, it is no surprise that LE use of drones is easily conflated with interdiction. Here are three of the articles I came across this week.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation penned Don’t Give the DHS Free Rein to Shoot Down Private Drones which provides a succinct overview of the complexity of the issue.

 Some members of Congress want to give the federal government the power to destroy private drones it deems to be an undefined “threat.” Even worse, they’re trying to slip this new, expanded power into unrelated, must-pass legislation without a full public hearing. Worst of all, the power to shoot these drones down will be given to agencies notorious for their absence of transparency, denying access to journalists, and lack of oversight.

The NDAA is a complicated and complex annual bill to reauthorize military programs and is wholly unrelated to both DHS and DOJ. Hiding language in unrelated bills is rarely a good way to make public policy, especially when the whole Congress hasn’t had a chance to vet the policy.

But most importantly, expanding the agencies’ authorities without requiring that they follow the Wiretap Act, Electronic Communications Privacy Act, and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act raises large First and Fourth Amendment concerns that must be addressed.

WaPo offered Drones Need Regulating, but This Isn’t the Way to Do It which brings in the conflation issue:

Homeland Security uses drones for public surveillance. These drones could also be weaponized. Homeland Security has not completed reports required by a 2015 presidential memorandum that would help prevent the misuse of drone technology by federal agencies. Those reports should be completed before Congress takes up the secretary’s proposal.

A thoughtful Letter to the Editor in the Chicago Tribune articulates the fears of many. Our Enemies Aren’t the Only Ones Abusing Drones:

I don’t agree with Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on much (beyond her apparent fondness for Mexican food). But I agree we’re “unprepared for the growing threat of drones.”

Nielsen notes in her recent op-ed that current laws weren’t written with armed drones in mind. She raises concerns about the looming impact of drones — for good and ill — but her fears and solutions are misplaced. Nielsen frets about drone use by “transnational criminals” at the border, meth smugglers, the Islamic State group and “our enemies.” Then she seeks to use “drone-defense technologies where we really need them, such as in urban environments to protect large gatherings and public events.”

Sure, I worry about droning meth-heads, but let’s also worry about drone-peeping by stalkers, blackmailers and unauthorized law enforcement. Let’s worry about baddies surveilling burglary targets, waging gang warfare or assassinating journalists. Let’s worry about Big Drone and government officials who use fear to curb civil liberties.

Drones with facial recognition, thermal imaging, tasers … just a start.

If drones buzz every concert, parade or rally, people may stay home. We leave our digital cocoons less, so this is a sociological concern as well as privacy threat. Yes, lawmakers and law enforcers must keep up, but in an era of data breaches, let’s err on the side of privacy in drone law reform.


Of course, concerns leading to S. 2836 were not developed in a vacuum. And it would be foolish to suggest that they are unfounded. Since 2015, the domestic security view has been informed by the DOD experience in sandy places.

The success of ISIL drones in Iraq initiated a reboot of US military strategy in 2016. Quick. Turn Off Your iPhone And Dig A Hole is an early example of the profound impact that sUAS has had on US doctrine. Think of it as the end of our uncontested airpower.

So how did this happen? How do they do it?

Motherboard did a nice piece of detective work to ferret out How the Islamic State Gets Its Drones. 

At the peak of the drone attacks in the spring of 2017, coalition forces were working to pry Mosul out of the hands of the Islamic State in northern Iraq. At the time, the Islamic State was conducting between 60 and 100 drone powered bombing runs a month. A member of the Syrian Defense Forces told a journalist for France 24 in Raqqa that his supply lines were being attacked 15 to 16 times daily.

Various agencies, including an independent group called Conflict Armament Research (CAR), were able to verify some portions of the drone supply chain after investigating downed quadcopters.

The group recovered nine drones which it verified were purchased from seven different retailers in five different countries.

Don Rassler, a UAS expert at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point (CTC) just published The Islamic State and Drones: Supply, Scale, and Future Threats.

A surprisingly little amount of analytical attention, however, has been given to how the Islamic State was able to pull off its drone feats and bring its program to scale in a relatively short amount of time. 

This report seeks to address this gap by evaluating the main factors that helped the Islamic State to effectively use modified commercial drones as weapons. It also highlights some of the broader threat and policy implications associated with the Islamic State’s pioneering use of drones, to include how the group—and its actions—could serve as an inspiration or model for other types of actors

The problem has not been solved. It just continues to morph. Study Finds These Gaps in Army’s Small Unit Counter-Drone Capabilities.

The Army and other branches have invested significantly in counter-drone technology, “often focusing on detecting radio frequency transmissions and GPS signals of individual sUASs. However, today’s consumer and customized sUASs can increasingly operate without radio frequency (command and control) links.”

Drones now available can use automated target recognition, tracking, obstacle avoidance and other software-enabled activities instead of traditional RF and GPS.

Report authors urge Army leaders to adjust their timelines for matching tech development, which are woefully inadequate for the exponential changes in software, hardware and drone capabilities.

The predictable result is The Pentagon’s Latest Budget Is Its Largest Counter-Drone Budget Ever:

For the counter-drone mission, the Pentagon is splitting $1.5 billion between over 90 different projects, ranging from modifications to existing missiles and anti-air systems to directed energy weapons to electronic warfare software.

Defense One’s Farnborough coverage reports global demand for CUAS.

L3 Technologies and Raytheon held briefings on the subject, the latter showing off an ATV-mounted anti-drone laser developed on its own dime…. Unlike expensive missiles, it costs mere cents per laser shot. (Remember the story about the Patriot interceptor being used to shoot down a quadcopter drone?) Evan Hunt, who works business development commented “…Our coalition partners desperately need cost-effective solutions to this small drone threat.”

URSA CEO David Kovar, the author of a thesis on asymmetrical warfare, Defending Against UAVs Operated by Non-State Actors, points out that this is a very difficult cat and mouse game to win.

It’s pure David and Goliath. Flying IEDs are relatively low tech. No country has a monopoly on coders or compute power. 3D printers and cellphone parts are ubiquitous. Rapid iteration is easy, what’s difficult is anticipating and countering a continuous, geographically dispersed development cycle.” 

So it is not surprising that in a brilliant, far ranging interview with Lt. Col. Bryan Price, Ph.D., the Outgoing Director of CTC– A View from the CT Foxhole he says:

… I’m concerned about terrorists using commercially available drone technology to conduct attacks here in the United States and against our allies abroad. Drone attacks in the United States is a question of when, not if. We’ve seen what the Islamic State could do in a relatively short amount of time in Iraq and Syria with weaponized drones. The Islamic State has learned a lot through trial and error, and I fear that this steep learning curve will pay dividends at our expense here in
the homeland. 

Note how neatly it dovetails with FBI Director Christopher Wray’s testimony last year “The expectation is it’s coming here imminently.”


In preparation for the Farnborough International Airshow, Aviation Week did an interview with Chairman, President and CEO Dennis Muilenburg, Interview: Boeing CEO Opens His Playbook.

How do acquisitions fit into your growth strategy?  Think about future technology disruptors as places we want to make some bets. HorizonX Ventures [Boeing’s investment organization] is an arm for doing that. Over the past year, we have made more than a dozen targeted investments to place positions for
the future.

That included investments in Matternet and Kittyhawk.

It’s all part of a plan to make Boeing A global industrial champion, not just the best in aerospace.”

In an announcement this week at the Farnborough Airshow, HorizonX company SparkCognition became part of a new entity, BoeingX “…To shape the future of travel and transport.” Project one is UTM.

Boeing and SparkCognition will use artificial intelligence and blockchain technologies to track unmanned air vehicles in flight and allocate traffic corridors and routes to ensure safe, secure transportation.

Boeing is not the only company with their sights set on the industrial market. Enterprise IOT Insights covered GE to Integrate Predix With Azure, Co-Develop IIot Solutions With Microsoft:

GE Digital will integrate its Predix portfolio with Microsoft Azure’s cloud capabilities, and standardise its Predix solutions on Microsoft Azure, it has announced.

The going in premise is that:

“Every industrial company will have to master digital to compete in the future, connecting machines and making them more intelligent to drive efficiency and productivity. We have seen how retail has been remade, how media has been remade, how telecoms has been remade. The winners and losers in those industries have changed over time. What hasn’t changed is industry,” commented Bill Ruh, chief digital officer for GE and chief executive for GE Digital.

Don’t forget that GE just launched AiRXOS, “Its combination of infrastructure, software and services form a digital unmanned aircraft system ecosystem that helps companies as well as state, local and federal governments meet the demand for increased drone use and manage both manned and unmanned air traffic.”

Bloomberg was one of many to report Alphabet’s Drones and Internet Balloons Are Full Businesses Now: 

Wing, which is developing a drone delivery system, and Loon, which uses balloons to bring internet signals to remote parts of the world, will graduate from the company’s “moonshot” lab and become full-fledged businesses under its Other Bets unit [that] already includes businesses like self-driving car unit Waymo, cybersecurity company Chronicle and life sciences company Verily.


In 2016 I wrote Why Standards Will Be Critical to UAV Adoption. I used The National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE) as an example of a group establishing industry appropriate standards. Now NATE is hosting The 2018 NATE UAS Summit, August 16-17, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan.

This is going to be a very cool event.

This summit is not a traditional conference, rather it is intended to be an in-person, strategic planning session to get everyone in our diverse industry in one room in order to progress forward with key initiatives.

Executive Director Todd Schlekeway is expecting 75 – 100 prominent industry players representing the wireless carriers, vertical realtor/tower owners, contractors, UAS service providers, UAS training companies and other UAS stakeholders. Working groups will be established in the following focus areas:

  • Standardization Processes/Requirements (Carriers & Vertical Realtor/Tower Owner)
  • Traditional Flight and Maintenance Standards for UAS
  • Graduated Level of Industry-Specific UAS Training Requirements (Above and Beyond 107)
  • Industry Specific Legislative & Regulatory Priorities Moving Forward

The Summit is free. If you want to join the conversation, RSVP to

InterDrone is doing some great work to build interest in this year’s conference. This week they did a podcast Episode 6 – Unified Drone Operations with Joshua Ziering of Kittyhawk. Yep the same disruptor. I tweeted that the podcast is “A combination of charm and vision.”

BTW I still have one full conference pass, first come, first served – this thing is so hot that it’s burning a hole in my pocket.

Commercial UAV Expo Americas has announced details for six plenary sessions and the full conference program.

HB2U Intel, which celebrated its 50th anniversary by launching 2,018 Intel Shooting Star™ drones over its Folsom, California, facility, setting a new Guinness World Record for the most unmanned aerial vehicles airborne simultaneously. Here is the short version and the long.

More is more!

Thanks for reading and for sharing. Back issues of Dronin’ On are here.


Christopher Korody
Editor and Publisher
follow me @dronewriter