GSA adds drone countermeasures to security schedule

The General Services Administration has added anti-drone technology to its product menu for federal, state and local law enforcement, first responders and agencies, but aviation and legal experts urge discretion.

drone by barbed wire fence (Kletr/Shutterstock.com)
 

Federal, state and local agencies can now buy anti-drone systems from the General Services Administration's schedule, but the purchase can come with a slew of regulatory and legal considerations, said federal and private aviation law experts.

DroneShield, which provided anti-drone technology to the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, is now offering products through GSA's Schedule 84, its multiple-award contract for security, fire and law enforcement. The systems can be acquired online through GSA's Advantage program.

DroneShield targets trespassing drones with a  radio jammer mounted on a rifle-like stock that allows "controlled management" of unmanned aerial vehicles up to a kilometer away, forcing them to land via a controlled vertical descent. The company also has a DroneSentry system that harnesses radar, radio frequency detectors and cameras to locate unauthorized drones.

Unauthorized drones have become a bane for some federal agencies, state law enforcement and emergency responders as they buzz sensitive sites, deliver contraband to prisons or block critical emergency response work during and after natural disasters.

Errant drones, for instance, have lately harassed federal and local response aircraft fighting rampant, deadly wildfires in the western U.S. The Federal Aviation Administration on Aug. 15 issued a stark warning about private drones flying near fire zones. Thoughtlessly piloted private drone flights, it said, have resulted in the grounding of critical firefighting aircraft.

"If you fly your drone anywhere near a wildfire, you could get someone killed," said the warning.

FAA and aviation law experts advised federal, state and local agencies that due diligence is needed before deploying anti-drone systems.

The FAA, which has been testing drone detection systems with airports around the country since 2016, cautioned that federal laws can preclude the use of some systems.

"While offering this product line itself does not violate any FAA regulations, there are a number of federal legal obstacles to testing, evaluating, or using countermeasures against [unmanned aerial systems] in the United States," said FAA spokesman Les Dorr in an email to FCW.

Agencies could wind up violating federal statues regarding wiretapping, sabotage and computer fraud laws if the countermeasures are deployed without a clear understanding of the rules and regulations that apply.

"It is incumbent upon the purchasing department/agency to determine their legal authority to acquire, test, and use these technologies," advised Dorr.

The technology's radio frequency jamming as well as federal aviation anti-hijacking laws can be at odds with drone detection and some mitigation technology, aviation attorney Jonathan Rupprecht told FCW in an interview.

The Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration regulations bar jamming of radio frequencies, while federal aviation laws prohibit unauthorized takeover of aircraft, he said.

Those regulations were created decades ago and haven't kept up with rapidly evolving drone technologies and applications.  Anti-jamming laws date to the 1934 Communications Act. Only the Defense and Energy Departments, said Dorr, currently have legislative relief or are exempt from those laws and regulations.  

"No state, local, or private sector entities have been granted legislative relief," Dorr said, but said several bills now in front of Congress could grant exceptions to the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security for specific missions, assets and activities.

The DroneShield countermeasures look to be the first such products offered through GSA's schedules. DroneShield CEO Oleg Vornik told FCW that he didn't know of any other drone detection and mitigation providers on the schedule. GSA couldn't make that exact determination, however, according to a statement from a spokesperson.

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