A U.S. Air Force official is seeking permission to shoot down civilian drones that interfere with military flight operations following two incidents where drones presented an issue to U.S.-owned aircrafts.
Though flying personal drones within five miles of U.S. air bases is prohibited, the military has no authority to shoot down drones that enter their airspace.
Air Combat Command leader General James Holmes told Aviation Week of two occasions where drones interrupted military operations in early July. In one incident, an F-22 Raptor nearly collided with a small, unmanned commercial drone as it was landing. Later that week, security officers watched a drone fly into the military base's airspace and disappear along the flight line.
On July 11, Holmes spoke to congressional staff at an Air Force Association event on Capitol Hill, urging the need for better legislation in regards to dealing with unmanned aerial systems (UAS), according to Defense News.
"One day last week I had two small UASs that were interfering with operations," Holmes said before describing the incidents. "I have no authority given to me by the government to deal with that."
Legislation regarding flying drones over U.S. military bases has existed since April, International Business Times reports. Regardless of signs posted at U.S. air bases that warn people that UASs are prohibited, consumer drones have continued to be a problem in no-fly zones. Air Force officials cannot be certain that the drones do not pose a threat.
"Imagine a world where somebody flies a couple hundred of those and flies one down the intake of all my F-22s with just a small weapon on it?" Holmes asked congressional legislators, Defense News reports. "I need the authorities to deal with that."
Exact rules on who can deal with a drone and how it can be dealt with is murky. Shooting down drones is considered a federal matter and can only be done by U.S. civilian agencies, Popular Mechanics notes.
For example, in order for the U.S. Air Force to shoot down drones to protect nuclear weapons on military bases, the U.S. Department of Energy has to agree. Protecting nuclear forces is the Air Force's main priority, according to the International Business Times.
"We will likely receive authorities to defend the nuclear installations first, and then we will try to work the other ones," Holmes stated. "We need to extend those authorities beyond the nuclear sites to protect our sophisticated assets that we rely on."
Permission to shoot down drones is already in place overseas, where U.S. forces can take down ISIS drone bombers without consequence. Technology to jam drones' electronics, thus forcing them to land, also exists.
Dealing with drones is not just limited to the military, however. Drones can cause problems at airports when they fly too close to commercial aircrafts. On July 2, a UAS disrupted to two flights and caused a runway closure at the U.K.'s Gatwick Airport.
More drone-specific laws are likely to be enacted in the future as the popularity of drones is only expected to increase. The Federal Aviation Administration estimates the number of consumer-owned drones to be 3.5 million by 2021, a 2.4 million increase from the amount owned at the end of 2016.