To Mitigate, or Not to Mitigate Drones…Should That Be the Question?

If you’re reading this then you’re most likely in one of two camps when it comes to drone mitigation (taking a drone out the sky).

Either you want to get your hands on this technology or you want absolutely nothing to do with it.  

Mitigation technology is commonly referred to as counter Uncrewed Aircraft Systems (cUAS) technology.

Most who want to use cUAS technology to mitigate drones don’t have and cannot obtain the authority to do so.

One of the first things I hear when speaking with state, local, and private entities who are not informed on the current regulatory environment is that they will just shoot the drone down or wait for the laws to change.

While this stance often gets a few chuckles, mitigation risk in most environments explains why state, local, and private entities cannot mitigate and likely won’t be able to do so any time soon.

Read on to learn more about kinetic and non-kinetic mitigation technology and a safer, more effective approach to drone mitigation.

Kinetic Mitigation

A small number of Federal agencies can apply for legal waivers to destroy or take over drone control during national security interest level events or specific critical infrastructure locations.

Kinetic mitigation, or physical interdiction, is one of the most expensive and least effective methods as drones are small, agile targets and extremely hard to hit with ballistics or capture with nets.

Kinetic mitigation usually involves a ballistic resource being used to damage or destroy the drone, i.e. bullets, missiles, other drones fired at the target drone.

With ballistic intervention, the drone is unpredictable and can crash, explode, or attempt to return to launch when hit.

Ballistics can create collateral damage whether they hit their target or not. The kinetic mitigation scenario uncertainty creates an extremely risky situation, especially as the person who mitigates the drone becomes liable for any damage or harm caused by the mitigation.

Another form of kinetic mitigation is capture. Many capture systems attempt to ensnare the drone’s propellers to disable but not destroy. These snares can be launched from a gun,    suspended from a drone, or shot from a gun on a drone. Typically, the idea is to capture the drone for evidence and quickly disarm it as a threat.

From my experience at multiple government-organized test events, the net capture method is far from reliable and doesn’t alleviate mitigation liability concerns.

Non-Kinetic Mitigation

Since kinetic mitigation is reserved for a select few Federal agencies and even those with authority can only exercise it in certain circumstances, you may be wondering about non-kinetic mitigation.

Some non-kinetic mitigation techniques share similar collateral damage concerns with kinetic mitigation, and just as many concerns about what happens after you mitigate the drone. The more extreme non-kinetic options, lasers and electromagnetic pulses (EMPs), are being tested even though their usage carries serious consequences.

While jamming a drone’s control signal to send it back to its launch point is less extreme than launching missiles or lasers at it, liability concerns remain.

When someone jams or hacks into a drone signal to take control, that person, the remote pilot in command, assumes responsibility for the drone’s actions and consequences.

Because most technologies that can jam a drone can also interfere with emergency calls, networks and first responder equipment they are prohibited in the US.

A Safer Form of Mitigation 

For many legitimate safety reasons, no one besides four federal agencies can mitigate a drone in flight. The liability if a civilian were injured or killed by a “mitigated” drone is too great.

This may come as a surprise because security teams and law enforcement need a way to combat increasing drone threats.

The good news is they can. The safest, and arguably most effective way to mitigate drone threats is to prevent them in the first place by finding the pilot before takeoff to prevent incidents.

Drone detection systems provide security teams and law enforcement an incoming drone early warning and additional situational awareness with actionable information about the pilot’s location.

Most drone pilots are not aware they are a threat since they are most likely clueless or careless and just need to be asked to land their drone.

Those pilots with ill intent will likely not attempt an attack without practice or a dry run days or weeks in advance to determine the best attack plan and to gauge the security response.

When security forces don’t respond, the nefarious pilot may feel inspired and confident their attack will succeed. When a drone detection system enables security teams to rapidly and consistently respond, a nefarious pilot who passes themselves off as clueless, harmless pilots, may be discouraged and cancel their plans altogether.

Of course, due diligence and background checks on the individuals is an easy tool for law enforcement to evaluate who is who. When security personnel can find the pilot and mitigate the person, preventing the drone from launching, they won’t need to worry about kinetic/non-kinetic mitigation techniques.

So, “To Mitigate, Or Not To Mitigate Drones” shouldn’t really be the question unless 1) you are one of the four Federal agencies with the authority to request legal waivers to do so or 2) you consider mitigation in the sense of finding the drone’s pilot.

Check out other blogs in our Ultimate Guide to Drone Detection series: 

Threats from The Sky: Why Are Drones a Safety and Security Concern?