A Round-the-World Look at Drone Regulations

When did “COTS” (Commercial Off The Shelf) or hobby drones first enter your consciousness? Can you even remember? Perhaps it was a holiday gift for a young family member or video filmed from spectacular heights and uploaded to YouTube. Though Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or “drones” have been around for decades, it’s only within the past 10 years or so that they’ve become widely available to the public. And with that increase availability came a number of unexpected security headaches.

The Threat Emerges

Before the democratization of UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) technology in the early teens, there was almost no drone-specific legislation anywhere. Drones and their actions were mostly covered by rules governing civil aviation and lumped in with model airplanes and kites. A noticeable shift in the attitude of authorities towards consumer drones began around 2014 following a number of high-profile incidents involving drones:

  • October/November 2014Unidentified drones are spotted hovering over 13 separate nuclear power plants in France in what the Secretariat-General for National Defence and Security describes as an “organized provocation”
  • January 2015 – A drone ends up on the White House lawn in Washington, DC after the drunken pilot loses control of the device. The incident provokes a Secret Service investigation and raises concerns that the US capital could come under threat from consumer drones
  • April 2015 – A drone carrying a small amount of radioactive material is discovered on the roof of the offices of the Prime Minister of Japan. The pilot, who was protesting the use of nuclear energy in the country, received a suspended two-year sentence

Authorities Take Action

As complaints and reported incidents began piling up, taking many civil aviation authorities by surprise, a serious movement to bring drones and their operators under some sort of government control began taking shape. Although uneven, some common elements appear:

  • Limiting maximum flight altitude, often to around 120m (400ft)
  • Restricting drone operation to within line-of-sight and daytime hours
  • Banning unauthorized drone activity near airfields
  • Banning or restricting drone flights over populated areas
  • Prohibition of drone operation in disaster areas or near emergency operations

Still, drone regulations remain a subject of confusion for many including drone pilots themselves.

CerbAir’s Newest Anti-Drone Resource

That potential for confusion among pilots and security administrators alike was a major motivating factor when it came to determining the subject matter of our new White Paper. We wanted to give readers a global look at the current state of drone-related legislation: perhaps to inspire them to push for new ideas or reform in their own regions or simply to inform them of their rights and responsibilities under existing laws.

We’re excited to present our newest White Paper and anti-drone resource: A Survey of Drone Regulations Around the World. Within you’ll find an overview of drone-related legislation in five countries around the world as well as helpful links and resources to learn more.

Click here to get your copy.

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Sofins 2019 – The Crossroads of Technology and Defense

CerbAir will be present at the 4th annual Sofins expo from 02-04 April 2019, held at Camp de Souge military base near Bordeaux, France. We’ll be conducting demonstrations of our anti-drone solution (more details below) and a conference on UAS terrorism.

We look forward to seeing you at our stand D54. Click here to get visitor access. Be sure to register before the cut-off date: 26 March 2019!

What Is Sofins?

Sofins began as the culmination of years of effort by members of the Cercle de l’Arbalète to improve the ties between the French technology and defense sectors. Observers on both sides are increasingly alarmed by the growing role of new technology in emerging security threats.

Cheap and commercially available hobby drones appeared in the Middle East around 2014 as part of the Islamic State’s asymmetric push to dominate the region. The tactic was soon picked up by other non-state actors from Latin America to Eastern Europe and even by some cash-poor professional militaries.

Meanwhile, the falling prices of nano-drones and software allowing multiple UAVs to be controlled by a single operator means the threat of weaponized drone swarms capable of overwhelming traditional defenses is now looming over the military world. Add to this advances in cyber-warfare, 3D printer-based arms production and other menaces and the need to bring the tech and defense sectors together becomes obvious.

Sofins is a forum that allows new ideas and relationships to flourish, sparking innovation.  As Sofins’ website makes clear, the mission promoted by its organizers is to:

“Raise the profile of special operations by celebrating and nurturing the innovative spirit of micro-enterprises, SMEs and large industrial groups working in this area.”

At Sofins technology developers have a chance to promote and educate visitors on the newest innovations while defense sector players can test those innovations out, attend demonstrations and conferences and expand their network in the tech sector. The security “challenges of tomorrow” thus become more manageable. As a provider of innovative and reliable CUAS solutions, CerbAir is eager to share its technology and security expertise in the effort to produce a safer world for all.

Anti-Drone Solution Demonstrations & Informative Conference

In the vein of sharing our expertise and spreading knowledge about advances in anti-drone technology, CerbAir has scheduled two live demonstrations of our CUAS solution. Come discover for yourself on the following dates:

Tuesday, 02 April 2019 at 10AM

Thursday, 04 April 2019 at 10AM

We’re also excited to announce an informative talk by our Director of Business Development and Security Export Thomas Guedet on the topic of Civilian UAS-based Terrorism: An Asymmetrical War – a concise, but detailed look at the rise of the use of civilian drones in terrorism and war:

Civilian UAS-based Terrorism: An Asymmetrical War
Salle de Conférence du Sofins
Wednesday 03 April
11AM

Perhaps you’ve been looking for innovative answers to your security challenges, you like to keep abreast of the latest advances in defense technology or you’re trying to expand your network. Sofins, the crossroads of technology and defense may be just what you’re looking for.

UAS Technology Catches the Eye of UK and US Militaries

UK Defence Minister Gavin Williamson’s announcement that British armed forces are in the midst of developing drone “squadrons” created a buzz in both the defense and UAS worlds. Appearing at an engagement at the Royal United Services Institute, Mr. Williamson spoke of swarms of tiny UAS steered by a single pilot and designed to saturate and eventually completely overwhelm enemy air defenses.

The move comes as the Minister maneuvers to close budget and manpower shortages by employing AI and a combination of commercial and military technology.

The US Air Force Joins the Game

Britain is far from alone in its interest as cheaper drone models are seducing military strategists worldwide. In 2018, the Pentagon included UAS among the emerging technologies it was looking to incorporate into its new “Flight Path” strategy for the US Air Force. It came to that conclusion after Red Team exercises revealed that traditional staples of US air power like Predator and Global Hawk military drones were becoming a thing of the past.

“Gremlins” – DARPA’s project to “develop a full-scale technology demonstration featuring the air recovery of multiple low-cost, reusable UAS.”

“What we see is that the traditional big wing ISR has been routinely losing effectiveness over time,noted Kenneth Bray, the Air Force’s deputy chief for ISR, at a conference held in August 2018, adding that the Pentagon was not going to wait to move forward with new innovations, even if there will still a few kinks to work out.

Drones, specifically devices made of lower cost, sometimes mass-produced materials, provide an interesting alternative to the much more expensive Predators of old. And they bring with them the additional benefit of speed, with their artificial intelligence powered sensors and processors allowing airmen more leeway to think critically rather than merely process data according to another official.

From a Trickle to a Torrent

Of course, those in know are aware that expensive materials and sophisticated AI aren’t obligatory to turn a drone into a military asset.

The separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine has been marked by a steady stream of commercial and locally produced drones employed by both sides in a surprisingly wide variety of roles: providing surveillance footage of on the emplacement of artillery, tanks, and rocket systems, smuggling of provisions and even “kamikaze” drones designed to be sacrificed in an attack on enemy forces.

An emphasis on surveillance and attack was similarly observed in fights with the Islamic State during the Syrian Civil War as well as the effort to push the jihadist fighters out of Mosul, Iraq. Coalition troops regularly reported being harassed by quadcopters and dozens of Iraqi troops were killed or wounded by 40-millimeter grenades and light explosives dropped from UAS buzzing just out of reach, described by one serviceman as “killer bees.”

In most cases the devices were either off-the-shelf hobby drones modified to carry a single explosive or locally-produced UAS whipped up out of mix of homemade and commercially available parts, often sourced through third parties from unsuspecting wholesalers in Europe and Asia.

Beyond the Middle East, Islamic State affiliates in the Philippines, Libya and Yemen have reportedly used drones for surveillance as well Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

For Dan Gettinger, co-director of the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College, nothing can stop the coming flood of UAS expected to darken the skies of battlefields all over the globe: “The U.S. military and any military has to prepare for an operating environment in which enemy drones are not just occasional, but omnipresent,” adding, “Whether it’s a small, tactical UAS, midsize or strategic, drones of any size will be commonplace on the battlefield of the future.

The Chinese and Iranian Factors

The easy availability of drone technology itself might be partly to blame for their increasing presence in war. The devices can be mass-produced cheaply, parts are simple to procure and online vendors can ship them to virtually any part of the world.

Even for UAS specifically conceived for combat, prices are falling as producers like China are challenging American dominance in the field in more ways than one. A report on drone proliferation in the Middle East released by the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies noted that in addition to the relatively low cost of Chinese made drones, China’s “no questions asked” sales methods did much to contribute to the jump in drone numbers in Middle Eastern nations:

“Purchasing armed drones from China, a country which does not abide by the MTCR, enables them to gain access to this technology without being barred by international norms. Although Chinese operators often conduct initial sorties, including combat ones, they do not appear to insist on particular procedures but instead enable and teach new users to employ their armed UAVs as they wish.”

The report also names Iran as an emerging manufacturer of low cost (and no strings attached) UAV technology, noting that Iran does discriminate between state and non-state actors such as insurgent groups. Though evidence and details are still “feeble”, it is suspected that Iran “might have supplied armed drones to Hamas, Hizbullah and the Houthis as well as the regime of Bashar Al-Assad in Syria.

As noted in a previous blog post, some non-state groups have become particularly adept at adapting Iranian or Chinese low-grade military drone technology with the addition of commercial parts or technology to produce a sort of “Frankendrone” that while clunky, gets the job done.

The Houthi rebels of Yemen are an excellent example of this. In January 2019 they sent an armed Iranian-made Qasef-1 fitted with civilian GPS to attack a Government military parade, killing several including a high-ranking intelligence official.

A Problem of Speed

Even though militaries appear to be enthusiastic about the potential of UAS and well aware of the risks stemming from its proliferation – actual rollout of reliably functional battle drones seems to be proceeding at a slower pace than many would prefer.

In the case of the UK, many were skeptical of Williamson’s promise that the UK could develop drone swarm squadrons “ready to be deployed by the end of this year (2019)” with one expert stating that the idea of swarm drones was “very much at the concept stage, and it’s very unlikely he can meet the deadline of the end of the year.

Indeed, for the moment the most dynamic players in the new drone arms race appear to be non-state actors, who faced with the overwhelming fire power and budgets of traditional state militaries are making due with what they can find and in an often very effective and potentially deadly way. It seems necessity really is the mother of invention.

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