FAA UAS Symposium 2017 C-UAS Security Challenges

FAA UAS Symposium 2017 C-UAS Security Challenges

The UAS Security Challenges break out group was part of the FAA UAS Symposium in Reston, VA. Let me start off by saying that I was very impressed with this panel. There were roughly one hundred people in the room who were eager to hear what is being done to help improve security issues and identify “bad actors,” who from the FAA’s view, can be anyone posing a threat to safety, including acts of terrorism to airspace violations.


  • Marke “Hoot” Gibson, Senior Advisor on UAS Integration, FAA

Panel members

  • Angela Stubblefield, Deputy Associate Administrator, FAA Security and Hazardous Materials Safety
  • Pat McNall, Deputy Chief Counsel, FAA Office of the Chief Counsel
  • Brendan Schulman, Vice President of Policy and Legal Affairs, DJI
  • Mark Aitken, Director of Government Relations, Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.

After a brief scan of the room, I concluded that there were very few uniformed law enforcement or service members. These individuals could have easily been dressed in civilian clothing and no one would have known; however, I believe they are having their discussions outside of the drone community and could very easily be shaping how this emerging technology will assist their current operations from behind the scenes.

For those who are unfamiliar with the acronym C-UAS, it represents counter unmanned aircraft systems. The threat of drones is unique, not only because they are airborne, but also because of their low cost and ease of use.

The systems are becoming more sophisticated; therefore, the level of complexity of their threat increases. As the size of the drone increases, the payload increases, which significantly increases the threat. There are some basic guidelines on strategy. In the drone industry, you will hear the phrase “detect and mitigate,” which is the basic principal to C-UAS. First, a threat needs to be identified; this is part of the detection phase. They can be identified using many methods. This is the easy part because no laws are broken when you are simply detecting drones.

The next part is when things get tricky. If an individual mitigates a drone by disrupting its signal, causing it to fly back home, or shut off and stop flying altogether, they are breaking current laws that were designed for other criminal operations, not specifically counter drones. This is not my area of expertise, so I will leave it to the attorneys to go into more details about this. Other mitigation methods include kinetics, which involves the use something physical to knock the drone from the sky such as bullets, nets, and even lasers.

The FAA identifies “bad actors” in different categories. The first category includes individuals who have no ill will and should be educated because they are purely ignorant to the fact that they are not following proper protocol. The second is someone who knows they are in violation, but doesn’t care about the regulations and violates airspace; these people have the potential to become increasingly more recklessness in nature. The third are the true “bad actors,” who have the intent to damage people or property. Without the detection of the threat and an evaluation of the actor, it would be tough to determine the best mitigation effort to eliminate the threat. The FAA’s role first and foremost, is with safety, which covers the full spectrum from the ignorant flyer to someone criminal in nature onwards to terrorism.

The FAA further drilled down the specifics of which laws counter drone users would be violating, what equipment is currently being used, and how the mitigation efforts vary. I will save those discussions for another reporter who is more familiar with the technicalities of using C-UAS and concern myself with readers who want to learn more about the panel speakers and get an enlightened sense of what is at stake.

I was impressed with Marke “Hoot” Gibson, Angela Stubblefield, and Pat McNall, three FAA employees who are the go-to leadership for the FAA on C-UAS.  

Hoot is one of a kind and reminds me of how aviation was back in the 80’s. It was aviators speaking with aviators, telling war stories, and sharing stories of aviation safety. If anyone should be the point on the spear for C-UAS and all things related, it should be him.

I had not had the pleasure of meeting Pat McNall or hearing her speak; although, I would like to say she is on our side and is a great thinking attorney who says she likes to argue with many of her legal peers on issues that require deeper levels of understanding, not just the blanket law.

I find this to be a trait of many true leaders in innovation, because pioneering requires many deeper levels of review. The outcome alone in law can have ramifications that can last for years. Just look at a few of the blunders the industry has had to endure because the leadership did not think through these best laid plans. Leaders who not only think on their own, but also know the regulations inside and out should be people we can rely on to make great decisions on behalf of forwarding our industry.

I believe AUVSI could have done a bit better with their choice of other speakers on the panel. Although Brendan Schulman understands the issues and has a background in internet discovery law, he does not have a background in system engineering, electronics, surveillance, intelligence gathering, signal processing, military, or law enforcement, which I believe to be the core attributes of representation of the industry in C-UAS.

This leads us to the last panel member, Mark Aitken. I will not for the life of me understand why he was on the panel. He could only speak on the surface level of anything counter related and in my opinion, he wasted valuable time going on and on about issues almost everyone in the room should be well aware of. It was as if he was reassuring himself and the audience of his knowledge, which in my opinion, never really developed. He is a nice enough guy, but where are the qualifications?

The questions from the crowd were questions you would expect to hear. Everyone in the room wants to know how they can either make the technology work for an FAA integrated C-UAS product they are developing or collaborating on, or they want to use a C-UAS product for security purposes. Both have their difficult up hill battle before them.

Those who want to build a product must navigate the challenging US laws that were not written when C-UAS was even a thought; this is the biggest challenge – the rewriting or clarification of the various laws on mitigation use.

Those who seek to use C-UAS must wait until they have a product that has been certified through the agencies for use. If they are at the federal level, then more solid considerations will be necessary for purchasing or testing products. The industry is steadily progressing in regards to C-UAS, but it still has many regulatory obstacles in its path.


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Rob Thompson

Rob Thompson is the co-founder of Falcon Foundation, a 3rd generation commercial multi engine pilot, Part 107 holder who also holds a Master of Science from James Madison University for his work in aviation system designs and technical & scientific writing. Falcon Foundation provides leading advocacy efforts in the unmanned aircraft systems industry, managing government relations, committees of association, executing legislative and regulatory strategies and creating law through the corresponding legislative committees. By working independently on advocacy issues, educating the clients on public policy issues quickly, and by engaging team members to facilitate successful results. Client policy issues will include aviation regulation, unmanned aircraft systems, Part 107 waivers, the regulatory process, and industry safety concerns. Client groups include aviation professionals, unmanned aircraft systems, and operators, both commercial and hobbyists, and non-aviation business sectors, including small business service and manufacturing sectors.