The UK Government has been working to reduce the risks associated with illegal drone use since a high-profile incident at UK’s Gatwick Airport in December 2018, when a drone sighting triggered a three-day shutdown of the UK’s second busiest airport, disrupting the travel plans of 140,000 people and affecting 1,000 flights.

To address growing security threats by drones, the UK Government has released its ‘Counter-Unmanned Aircraft Strategy’.

‘Counter-Unmanned Aircraft Strategy’

This strategy sets out our approach to countering the threat the malicious or negligent use of drones can bring"

This strategy sets out our approach to countering the threat the malicious or negligent use of drones can bring,” says Brandon Lewis, the U.K. Minister of State for Security. “It will provide the security the public and drone users require to continue to enjoy the benefits of leisure and commercial drone use and facilitate the growth of the drone industry.

Given the challenge posed by rapid advances in drone technology and the potential threat, the strategy will provide overarching direction to our efforts,” says Lewis. The strategy focuses on ‘small drones’, those weighing less than 20 kg (44 pounds).

Countering malicious use of aerial drones

The UK Counter-Unmanned Aircraft Strategy centers on mitigating the highest-harm domestic risks resulting from malicious use of aerial drones. They are:

  • Facilitating terrorist attacks, such as modifying commercially-available drones to conduct reconnaissance or attacks.
  • Facilitating crime, especially in prisons, where drones are currently used to deliver contraband.
  • Disrupting critical national infrastructure, such as airports, where a malicious incursion using a drone can have serious safety, security and economic consequences.
  • Potential use by hostile state actors.

Maximizing benefits of drone technology

The initiative will also look to build strong relationships with industry to ensure high security standards

Over the next three years, the strategy will seek to reduce the risks posed by the highest-harm use of drones while maximizing the benefits of drone technology. It will develop a comprehensive understanding of evolving risks and take a “full spectrum” approach to deter, detect and disrupt the misuse of drones.

The initiative will also look to build strong relationships with industry to ensure high security standards. Further, promoting access to counter-drone capabilities and effective legislation, training and guidance will empower the police and other operational responders.

Tactical response to drone-based threats

Because technology is rapidly evolving, the response needs to keep pace, according to the strategy document. Lewis adds, “We will therefore work to understand how drone-based threats might evolve in the future, both at the tactical and strategic levels.” 

The strategy will be to build an end-to-end approach to tackling the highest-harm criminal use of drones. It will also work to make it easier to identify malicious drone use against a backdrop of increased legitimate use. Legal drone operators will be required to register with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and to pass an online competency test before flying a drone. Retailers who follow a specific set of safety guidelines when selling drones will be designated ‘DroneSafe’.

Unmanned traffic management system

The government is working toward future implementation of an unmanned traffic management (UTM) system, which provides a means of preventing collisions between unmanned aircraft and other manned or unmanned aircraft. The current strategy includes early planning for the system.

An Industry Action Group will ensure a continuing relationship with the drone industry and help to improve existing counter-drone measures and identify new opportunities, such as use of ‘Geo-Fencing’ to restrict drones from flying in certain areas.

Regulating commercial and domestic drones

The UK Department of Transport is responsible for safe and lawful use of drones within the UK airspace

The strategy will seek to communicate the UK’s security requirements to the counter-drone industry and to encourage a thriving sector that is aware of, and responsive to, the needs of government. Regulating drones is the responsibility of two UK government departments.

The UK Department of Transport is responsible for safe and lawful use of drones within the UK airspace, while the Home Office has overall responsibility for domestic counter-drone activity.

Fast-evolving drone and counter-drone technology

Also, the Center for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI) has been involved in reducing the vulnerability of sensitive sites, including airports. New performance measures will track the strategy’s success.

Due to the fast-evolving nature of drone and counter-drone technology, the intent is to review and, if necessary, refresh the strategy in three years.

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Larry Anderson Editor, SecurityInformed.com & SourceSecurity.com

An experienced journalist and long-time presence in the US security industry, Larry is SecurityInformed.com's eyes and ears in the fast-changing security marketplace, attending industry and corporate events, interviewing security leaders and contributing original editorial content to the site. He leads SecurityInformed's team of dedicated editorial and content professionals, guiding the "editorial roadmap" to ensure the site provides the most relevant content for security professionals.

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