back to article Uncle Sam gives itself the right to shoot down any drone, anywhere, any time, any how

The US federal government has just authorized its staff to shoot down any drone they consider a threat. The provision was added to the routine reauthorization act for the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) – the watchdog that deals with America's skies – and has invited the ire of civil liberties groups who are unhappy at the …

  1. Jay Lenovo

    Drone Delivery, Turkey Shoot

    Postal workers now have the right to shoot down any competing drone delivery systems.

    "Threat" without clarification, can mean so many things.

  2. jake Silver badge

    Re: Drone Delivery, Turkey Shoot

    Only within their jurisdiction. In other words, any drone delivery system designed to deliver to boxes marked "U.S. Mail" would be fair game. But then it's been illegal for a long time for anybody but the Post Office to deliver to such boxen.

  3. Big Al 23

    What regulation is there of drones?

    How could anyone protect themselves from drones flown by rogue players? There is no means other than taking them out of flight. How many people have the ability to do so? We have already had numerous incidents of drones interfering with commercial aircraft. How many travelers would be OK with a drone getting sucked into a jet airliner's engine while landing or on take off? The headaches with drones has just begun and the populace is defenseless against them. All countries will be forced to address this menace.

  4. DCFusor Silver badge

    With police and other agencies now flying their own drones, it's going to be interesting when they shoot each other's down, no? After all, their record (for most values of them) at connecting the dots is what it is.

  5. Teiwaz Silver badge

    With police and other agencies now flying their own drones, it's going to be interesting when they shoot each other's down, no? After all, their record (for most values of them) at connecting the dots is what it is.

    Begun, now, the Drone Wars has.

  6. Martin-73 Silver badge

    Meh, so armed drones for civilians

  7. sanmigueelbeer Silver badge

    US Government's stance: Shoot now, ask questions later.

  8. vtcodger Silver badge

    "US Government's stance: Shoot now, ask questions later."

    The intent is probably entirely reasonable. There have, for example, been documented instances of drones unintentionally preventing water tankers from dumping water on wildfires. It's a drone. Who exactly does on ask questions to? Shooting the silly thing(s) down -- likely easier said than done -- seems pretty reasonable if the drone constitutes a significant public nuisance.

    Whether the regulation will be abused? Who knows?

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Regulation abuse

    "Whether the regulation will be abused? Who knows?"

    We are talking about a USA Federal regulation. There is no question whether it will be abused, just how long it will take. Personally, I am betting on a couple of hours max.

    AC because Trump cum suibus will take excemption.

  10. DropBear Silver badge

    Re: Regulation abuse

    "Who knows"

    Anyone with a brain, older than 11. There's no "if" in that sentence. All power gets abused all the time. No exceptions. That is the nature of the human beast. All you can do is try to create a system of checks on the use of that power and hope it's strong enough to balance abuse. Except that as long as those wielding (or granting) the power would be responsible for also creating the checks, they have zero incentive to tie their own hands, so nope - and power long stopped caring about pretending to be accountable to anyone these days.

  11. I3N

    Didn't think I needed to practice ...

    Still can picture the dirt clod missing - down and to the right ...

    Debated over rock ... which would have done more damage on the down side ... and the sparsity of clods ...

    Construction guys told me today that the gas company prohibits pictures of the lines being installed in the streets along our property ... reports to the fuzz and something about making the terrorist list ...

    Told them if this was the PRC, would be invited to have tea while being strapped into an interrogation chair fitted with leg cuffs and a metal hoop for a handcuff attachment, and are priced between $75 and $460 on Taobao.

    sigh ...

  12. Wellyboot Silver badge

    TV crew drones?

    It will be interesting to watch the first video of a federal employee nonchalantly shooting down a drone that's providing live feed at a minor public event.

  13. FozzyBear Silver badge

    Re: TV crew drones?

    Now. I'd watch that news article

  14. Peter Christy

    A bigger problem is that the term "drone" encompasses legally and safely operated model aircraft - not just autonomous or semi autonomous quad-copters.

    I can foresee some very angry US citizens when a cop shoots down an expensive (in terms of both money and time building it) model, just because he's taken a dislike to it!

    Here in the UK, the CAA (our equivalent of the FAA) has taken a more enlightened approach, and members of the major modelling associations have been exempted from the more draconian regulations, subject to some not unreasonable conditions.

    The other problem here in the UK is enforcement! The clowns that have caused the present problems by operating "drones" in unsafe ways are not going to be deterred by any new regulations, and the CAA don't have the manpower to police them. According to the documentation, that is going to be left in the hands of our already over-stretched police!

    In any case, the aforesaid clowns were already in breach of any number of regulations by operating "drones" in an unsafe manner.

    If the existing laws could not be enforced, what is going to change with the new ones?



  15. Florida1920 Silver badge

    @Peter Christy

    I can foresee some very angry US citizens when a cop shoots down an expensive (in terms of both money and time building it) model, just because he's taken a dislike to it!
    Based on my experience with police marksmanship, the odds of one shooting down a drone are small. If they're shooting at yours, just hover until they run out of ammo, then retreat while they're reloading.

  16. jake Silver badge

    "Based on my experience with police marksmanship"

    That would be "none", then? I've spent many hours at various ranges with cops from all over the US. Most can shoot better than most civilians, hunters included.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Jake "That would be "none", then? I've spent many hours at various ranges with cops from all over the US. Most can shoot better than most civilians, hunters included"

    On a range.

    In a highly charged real world situation they are (naturally) more than likely to empty their gun in a perp's direction and not be able to remember how many shots were fired.

    You seem mighty excited by firearms, BTW. Are you on a watch list?

    I'd use the troll icon, but prefer to be AC just incase you decide to come round my house with one of your "toys".

  18. jake Silver badge


    Your knowledge of police training and methodology is flawed. I suggest you refrain from commenting on such matters until you actually know what you are talking about. Unless you enjoy coming off as a typical sheeple, happily eating all the carefully picked cherries that your media god of choice feeds you.

    I'm not anymore excited about firearms than I am a hammer or a screwdriver or any other tool. Watch list? I have no idea. Probably not, though. I'm not skulking around, hiding in the shadows trying to stay hidden. All my tools are legal. Even in California.

    I wouldn't visit you with my tools in tow unless you were paying me to make the visit. Would you expect a plumber to just drop by with his tool box? An electrician? Your barber? Dreadfully sorry that your paranoid fantasies don't match reality.

  19. This post has been deleted by its author

  20. DropBear Silver badge

    Re: @AC1538884889

    "That would be "none", then?"

    None needed. Trying to shoot down a moving drone has been explicitly tested, on video, with people invited from a range of law enforcement agencies; they all failed, until the drone slowed down to a near-stop on a sharp turn of its previously agreed-upon (!) route. That is not to say there exists no sharp-shooter capable enough to reasonably likely shoot down a drone - that is irrelevant. What it does say instead is that the average law-enforcement gunslinger goon is seriously unlikely to hit a drone that isn't sitting still, from a typical "shooting range" distance.

  21. Is It Me
    Black Helicopters

    Re: @AC1538884889

    I seem to remember the video, and at the beginning all the shooters were very confident that they would be able to shoot down the drones with their pistols. They soon found out it wasn't easy.

    Later they swapped over and gave the drone pilots shotguns and the shooters the drones to pilot.

    Didn't take long for them to shoot them down with the shotguns.

    Also as previously noted bullets, even pistol bullets, travel a very long way before coming to earth and still have a lot of energy.

    When going clay pigeon shooting (aka skeet in the US I believe) I was told that the lethal range (for people) with the shot that was in the gun was about 30 feet.

    From popular media it seems that a lot of American Police cars have shotguns in them so I would have thought that will be the preferred tool to shoot down drones in most places.

  22. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

    @Jake: "I've spent many hours at various ranges with cops from all over the US. Most can shoot better than most civilians, hunters included."

    Well, this is a personal anecdote but,.... Cops aren't that good. I was guesting at a gun club with a colleague, with a view to join. Three UK Police 'Marksmen' were there, and challenged us to a shooting competition. Now, to be fair, they were using 6" S&W 686 revolvers, and we were using a Star 9mm, and a 4" Ruger .38 special, so theirs were a bit more lively. But they were utterly dire, and lost by some margin. They made excuses like 'You couldn't shoot like that under pressure' to which I replied 'You can't shoot like in the first place'.

    Several weeks later it transpired that some Police Marksmen had lost a bag of revolvers, when they drove off from a gun range, and left the bag on the roof on the car. I presume it was the same goons.

  23. jake Silver badge

    I have no idea about UK cops.

    I was discussing personal observation of US cops. Sounds like the cops in the UK need a LOT more training before being allowed to use firearms!

  24. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Oh what a Tangled Web we Weave .......

    It never ceases to constantly amaze me that the people, as in the greater general population, still doggedly believe and accept the notion that governments, which are simply an ad hoc collection of various special interest groups and sociopathic psychotic individuals with megalomaniacal tendencies, have any real interest in their greater future welfare whenever such may expose the abuse and misuse which the powers they may presume and assume themselves to have, are challenged.

    It does though very quickly get most interesting whenever a much greater enlightenment in much broader fields of information and intelligence, emerges putting such individuals and the cabals which would be servering to them into the sharp focus of an enraged and more potent surrounding enemy.

    And .... in much the same way that well orchestrated urban guerrilla warfare can effectively neutralise mass traditional defence forces, do new ethereal sources and/or CyberIntelAIgent Forces surrounding the enemy have similar relatively anonymous and autonomous advantage to exploit and expand their power bases on?

    In Blighty, to name but one Great Game Player Jurisdiction, do the suppliers of actionable intelligence there, and there be myriad agencies and self appointed and self serving committees professing an excellence of product for spouting to the masses and media there, realise the sticky wicket they be batting on ..... and the fact that they be already beaten before they even begin to play any of their confidence tricks and slick slippery moves.

    Out of this world advice ..... Changing the Game Delivers New Rules and Results. Failure to do so Guarantees Comprehensive Defeat.

  25. DropBear Silver badge

    Re: Oh what a Tangled Web we Weave .......

    It's not really people's fault though - they're all taught as a kid that honesty and good always defeats evil, and good deeds always get rewarded / bad deeds always get punished; and while sooner or later most end up understanding to some degree that's not exactly how it all works, some just never really grow up to realize how ludicrously unhinged from reality all that drivel actually is.

  26. G2

    what exactly do they define as a "drone"?

    ok.. but WHAT is their definition of a "drone"? would a Borg cube starship qualify? What about a Transformer autobot?

    Does that mean that they effectively authorized any parking officer / traffic warden / office secretary / etc. to start acts of war against any unidentified flying object?

  27. G2

    Re: what exactly do they define as a "drone"?

    p.s. hmmmmm... i see that the actual words used in the bill are "unmanned aircraft"... that means that as long as they abduct a human and hold it onboard they are not "unmanned".

  28. silent_count

    Re: what exactly do they define as a "drone"?

    I was wondering the same.

    "You shot it down."

    "Yeah. We're allowed to do that if the drone looks threatening."

    "It was a 747 coming in to land."


    "It had civilians aboard. We're only allowed to shoot down unmanned drones."

    "I didn't see 'em."

    The only good I can see coming of this is that Mr Travaglia is going to have a field day with this nonsense.

  29. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    Welcome to America

    I wonder who pushed to get this into the legislation ... probably a company that makes the kit for shooting down drones. The Government will now buy hundreds of thousands of the devices and someone's going to do very well even if none of them are ever used.

  30. John G Imrie Silver badge

    Re: Welcome to America

    It was the drone manufacturers.

    Buy drone. BANG. Bye drone. Repeat.

  31. Anonymously Anonymous

    Amazes me how this has all turned so sinister

  32. Chairman of the Bored Silver badge

    There is a very simple way to limit the law

    Include language restricting drone engagement to Prohibited Airspace (think Washington D.C.) and maybe... just maybe... some classes of Special Use Airspace. My vote would be to contemplate drone engagement in active Restricted Areas (think major sporting events, nuclear power plant sites). [×]

    If you feel a burning desire to engage drones in a certain area, man up and go through the NOTAM process and either activate existing restricted airspace or stand up a new one. That way the other airspace users know what the heck you are doing.

    If something is an imminent danger? As in credible mass casualty weapon employment? Well, Intl Law holds that states have an inherent right of self defense. No need for a regulation. Blast away and explain it on CNN later.

    [×] given 9/11, small aircraft crashes into the WH, the Mathis Rust incident on Red Square... It's unclear to me how any of this works in practice.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why do the US need new things to shoot at?

    Have they run out of immigrants?


  34. DrBed

    Re: Why do the US need new things to shoot at?

    > Have they run out of immigrants?

    > /cynic

    next level:

    - this nigga looks like a drone to me.

    - yeah, he is ready to fly... do the job!


  35. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    What the hell is that gun in the picture ?

    What kind of shoulder-mounted cannon is that ?

    Does it have auto-fire ?

  36. Dabbb

    Re: What the hell is that gun in the picture ?

    Skywall 100

  37. jake Silver badge

    Re: What the hell is that gun in the picture ?

    "Skywall 100"

    Why is it so fucking HUGE? It's just a compressed air smooth-bore ... I suspect the average T-shirt cannon can do a similar job, in a much smaller package. Hell, I bet one could make a spud-gun with better range, and equal or better accuracy with nothing more than common-or-garden PVC water pipe!

    And the range is quite limited ... Watch the video, see how far above the drone they had to fire? That's quite the projectile drop ... I think I'll stick to my old Browning. Reloads faster, too.

    I won't get into the use of carbon fiber in this boondogle ... it's quite obviously necessary, in order to sell it to the .gov's bling bean counters.

  38. FozzyBear Silver badge

    Re: What the hell is that gun in the picture ?

    That sir is the new anti drone gun. Specifically designed for easy use by all law enforcement agencies. It's integrated targeting system not only keeps a lock on the drone itself it also scans and locks onto to the source controller . Thus eliminating both high potential threats once.

    The patented high explosive is designed to ensure the drone is destroyed in the most visually spectacular way possible. Ensuring even the most anti gun nut case will instantly turn into a patriotic American (Shouts of Yeee haw! America Fuck yeah not uncommon*). This has the added benefit reducing the number of complaints afterwards. **

    (*, ** Results do vary depending on county in California ).

  39. jake Silver badge

    Re: What the hell is that gun in the picture ?

    Uh, Mr. Bear, the Skywall line of anti-drone weaponry is British, not American.

  40. arctic_haze Silver badge

    No one asked the question yet

    Is it limited to US territories or covers the whole planet?

    Also what is the upper limit? I mean, are satellites in danger?

  41. Spanners Silver badge

    Re: No one asked the question yet

    The USA, like Russia, feels that it's laws cover the whole planet. The fun bit is when the domains overlap!

  42. jake Silver badge

    Re: No one asked the question yet

    "Is it limited to US territories or covers the whole planet?"

    Same as any other sovereign airspace, I would imagine. What is it in Blighty?

    "Also what is the upper limit? I mean, are satellites in danger?"

    By international convention, the Kármán line (100km above sea level) marks the difference between "atmosphere" and "space" for this kind of thing. "Space" is (supposedly) a non-combat zone.

  43. veti Silver badge

    Re: No one asked the question yet

    It's more accurate to say that the US, like Russia and for that matter every other country, feels that its laws don't cover the whole planet, and therefore anything that happens outside its borders is no concern of its courts, and therefore doesn't need to be legal.

    It may be against some other country's laws, but as far as the US courts are concerned, that's Someone Else's Problem.

    It's more obvious with the US and Russia, because they've got the resources and the brass face to pull off these operations more often than anyone else. But every country takes that attitude.

  44. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    the routine reauthorization act

    If it's just a routine reauthorisation, how come it's allowed to add changes? I'd have thought "routine reauthorisation", by definition, meant they were re-authorising existing rules, not changing them.

    That sounds like an excellent way to introduce legislation by the back door.

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Considering the US attitude to local law outside the US, this is essentially giving itself the right to take down any drone anywhere in the world.

    It will first occur when a suspected "terrorist" - a.k.a. a 16 year old kid playing with his new drone - comes too close to a US installation or facility. There will be a bit of a fuss, but everyone will move on.

    Then US commercial interests will ensure that third parties, such as unions, environmentalists, other governments, will limit the inspection of these interests, such as mines, manufacturing, fisheries &c.

    No, there is nothing to worry about here.

  46. jake Silver badge

    Re: Extraterritoriality

    What is it about articles like this that brings about paranoid fantasies from our ACs, anyway?

  47. John G Imrie Silver badge

    Re: Extraterritoriality

    What is it about articles like this that brings about paranoid fantasies from our ACs, anyway?


  48. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    already the de-facto standard

    I'm wondering why this was not already voted in the US and elsewhere. I would bloody well shoot any drone hovering above my house !

    And I'm sure after this law, we'll see the number of aircraft near-miss in the US drop to 0, once a handful of the idiots that like to fly drones above airports will have theirs shot down.

  49. Geekpride

    Re: already the de-facto standard

    I'd rather have a drone flying near my airport than a bunch of trigger-happy numpties firing guns there.

  50. Dick

    Does it cover interfering with firefighting?

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