MikeA January 2, 2020 11:51 AM

My first thought was that they are either:
someone getting something done before the mandatory ID laws take effect,
someone raising public awareness to fuel support for mandatory ID laws.

Any more-plausible scenarios gladly accepted.

Ismar January 2, 2020 3:09 PM

“ Mr. Govan said that federal officials had tracking tools to figure out where the Colorado and Nebraska drones were coming from,…”

Hmm, not sure exactly what the max range of a civilian drone would be in terms of distance /flight time but it should not be such that federal agencies would not be able to track the source of the ground control, unless these drones can be programmed with a flight path beforehand and require no other instructions from the ground during their flight time which would make tracking them to their landing site much harder.
Obviously, this brings whole new area of arms race in drone tracking/ detection technologies into limelight which might be the whole point of the exercise ????.

SpaceLifeForm January 2, 2020 4:06 PM

@ Ismar

“Mr. Govan said that federal officials had tracking tools to figure out where the Colorado and Nebraska drones were coming from,…”

Of course they do. They launched them.

And they are satellite controlled.

vas pup January 2, 2020 4:19 PM

@Anders: it very sensitive issue. Some years ago (before strong sanitation of the blog posts) it was post when guy shot down the drone hovering for a long time above his private property lawn. Somebody really immediately arrived and were very obsessed.

That case should trigger very fast response from federal legislators, but as usually they kept silence until it is not affected them directly. The simple question is how far above your private property is your private air space. As best of my memory, now it is only regulated for air planes, choppers, not drones. My guess is that private drone could violate air space above your property only at particular height and not hovering like geostationary satellite above your property. Period. For LEAs – exception should be only based on search order issued by court. Government drones should have different pattern of painting like police car versus civil car.
As soon as such rules established, you as owner should report for violations to particular (established) oversight authority for immediate actions by them in accordance with law. With even emotionally justified vigilantism towards drones, you are in trouble in US.

Clive Robinson January 2, 2020 4:30 PM

From the article,

    He estimated that up to 30 drones were flying each night, though not all in the same place.

If it is 30 drones operated by an individual entity, that’s a lot of capital investment and expediture on logistics and wages, that sort of money usually shows up somewhere obvious enough to be found.

The only witness that sounds credible is,

    “They’re high enough where you couldn’t shoot one anyway, but they’re low enough that they’re a nuisance,” said Dawn George, who lives near Wray, Colo., and whose Border collie has barked at the drones when they fly over her property.

Border collies are intelligent dogs and not given to false barking.

Do I need remind people of the “Gatwick Effect” when it comes to drones?

Or for the usuall patern in UFO sightings?

The probability is it’s only three to eight drones and multiple or misreporting acting as a multiplier.

But as for if it’s legal to shoot them down or not, anyone remember “Drone Slayer” as he got christend who had some fairly hefty charges pushed at him by the local LEO’s. Well much to the drone owners anoyance the judge dismissed all charges,

But the “pervert drone owner” who claimed his drone was worth between $1500-2500 apparently had plans to appeal to a Grand Jury, lets hope if he does the jury gives the same sympathy the judge did.

Whilst I don’t wish to have people shooting up in the air, especially over residential or city areas, legislators are not going to find their drone registration legislation is going to have any effect on rouge drone operators. As a piece of legislation it is going to be about as effective as declairing the area of a circle is 7/9 D^2

The reason is because there is no technical method of identifing a drone that can not be removed or fritzed if the intent of the operator is to do so. Just as with cars with false number plates etc.

With drug cartels using drones to move shipments the “need” and “money” to make anonymous drones a reality is definately there, and once something has been developed… Well that’s when the Great Anerican Dream to “profit greatly from your labours” will almost certainly kick in and ensure such flight systems become readily available out of China or other places where US legislation is not regarded as being of any impediment.

But whilst it’s clear that if I drive onto your property I am trespassing probably criminally so if I cause damage or behave recklessly, there is very little on what constitutes an “aerial trespass”. I’m told that you have to go back to 1946 for any clear caselaw on the issue, when the Supreme Court ruled in favour of a North Carolina farmer. In United States -v- Causby they ruled he could assert his property rights up to atleast 83 feet (if not more[1]) above his property.

If the “minimum safe hight for aviation” is held to apply and it would be sensible, then any drone under that hight over a property without the owners express consent would appear to be a trespass, and if consequential damage or theft is shown it may well be criminal trespass. It’s unclear what “consequential damage” might be but the intentional taking of photographs without consent of any “work” would be ripe for argument as a criminal act. There is also the questions relating to harassment and stalking to be considered as well.

The problem of privacy might not arise in the US, with Congress having grabed all the airspace above a property “for public use” and there being no privacy specific legislation members of your household sun bathing in minimal or no clothing is by this “on public display” which might account for why some places have made topless or more sun bathing even on private property illegal in line with other laws on public nudity especially of those below a certain age,

The simple fact is drones are withoit doubt “a public nuisance” at the best of times even when over a property with consent they can not just create a noise nuisance in adjacent propertirs modern light weight high resolution cameras can also see the freckles on a dogs nose in adjacent properties or anything else that can be in line of sight.

Interestingly the US does have a policy on camera resolution on non government satellites. In effect it is a one meter per pixle at the lowest orbit point. Thus there is no valid reason why Congress could not pass both hight and resoloution legislation on drones, not that it would be enforceable, except “on sale to the public”.

[1] The hight is that which the CAA as authorised by Congress determined was the “minimum safe hight for aviation”. Which would normally be 500 or 1000 feet. In this case the 83 feet was calculated based on the glide slope to the adjacent military airport runway. The fact that congress just ceased air rights by the naked theft of “eminent domain” broke the former property rights of “from the ground to the edge of the universe” as given by God via the Pope and the earth centric view of the universe at the time.

MarkH January 2, 2020 5:20 PM


… declaring “the area of a circle is 7/9 D^2”

Perhaps you have read about an attempt to enact a law in the state of Indiana, implying that the formula would be 4/5 D^2.

But of course, everybody knows the correct formula is 11/14 D^2.

On a more serious note, the minimum safe height rule for traditional aircraft is in some tension with height limits of less than 400 feet for consumer UAVs. If it were applied and enforced, a great many of the people who have these things would find it impractical to legally fly them … which wouldn’t bother me.

dbCooper January 2, 2020 5:41 PM

Being familiar with those parts of CO and NE there is not much in the way things to surveil. Cows certainly outnumber people by some multiple.

A generation ago some of those drones would would have been shot by now. Likely just a matter of time for it to happen.

SpaceLifeForm January 2, 2020 6:14 PM

@ dbCooper

These are huge drones, 40 foot wingspan, sat controlled. Flying at 700ft.

The cows are not armed. The drone may be armed.

This was a test flight to verify that the satcomm was functional.

And, didn’t you allegedly perish after the hijacking?

Asking for a friend.

Clive Robinson January 2, 2020 6:17 PM

@ MarkH,

If it were applied and enforced, a great many of the people who have these things would find it impractical to legally fly them

I was only talking of flying them as a “public right of access” that is not requiring permission of the land owner.

As far as I am concerned as long as they have permission from the land owner and any tenent etc, and the drones or their owners are not creating a public nuisance or causing issues on adjacent properties then I’m not overly fussed what they get upto, in fact the lower in hight the better as that reduces the potential for nuisance.

As I noted the real issues as far as criminal behaviours is the carying of light weight but high value illicit substances / weapons and the resolution of cameras and the back end signal and image processing.

The human eye has a resolving power unaided of around 1mm at 2000mm. I’ll let others work out the resolving power of 24megapixels at 11.25degrees or less viewing angle, but you will find it’s up with digital SLR’s with telephoto lenses and things like spotter scopes and small telescopes.

The point is that many drones can now see a lot further very clearly than they can be heard by people on the ground, which is worrying.

I’ve seen some calculations and designs for what are not much more than pocket sized drones with high quality diffetential GPS and high res cameras for use as a “mortar fire control system” as a student project. Extending it for other types of artillery using smart munitions would not be difficult. The important point is all the parts were readily availible consumer/comercial relatively low cost parts so easily in the “pocket change” type price range of hobbyists. The electronics suprisingly came in at way less than a mobile phone with similar GPS / accelerometer and camera systems…

Not so long ago, it was the military that had the high tech toys that would eventually “trickle down” into consumer devices over a decade or so. Now military kit is five to ten generations behind high end consumer and commercial kit, and the only way they can keep up is by repurposing consumer kit in the best way they can. The result of which as we know in the past is very low security systems, with so the story goes “shoked drone pilots seeing what they are seeing on a goat herders laptop half way up a mountain in Afghanistan”…

Electron 007 January 2, 2020 7:27 PM

@Clive Robinson

“pervert drone owner” … people shooting up in the air, … drug cartels using drones to move shipments


a great many of the people who have these things would find it impractical to legally fly them … which wouldn’t bother me.

I am not a big fan of Boy Scouts per se the organization, but boys do need the chance to be boys, explore, and do the sorts of things that Boy Scouts do. Drug cartels, drug dealers, druggers, drug addicts and drug cops cannot be allowed to set all the rules the rest of us are expected to abide by while they carry on their drug economy without any apparent hindrance or discouragement from law enforcement.

Godel January 2, 2020 7:45 PM

@SpaceLifeForm: I think that’s wing spans of up to 6ft reported in NYTimes, although that’s big enough and they could weigh quite a bit.

Frank Alpha January 2, 2020 8:21 PM


The government wouldn’t be using what are likely mid-range (ca. a couple to few thousand dollars a piece) commercial drones made in China by a company like DJI.

With the MQ-9, MQ-1C, and the RQ-170 (among others) the Government have no need to do so, plus there are plenty of manned rotorcraft and fixed wing aircraft they can and do use to find Farmer Bob’s field full of ganja or poppies.

Mid-range commercial drones also don’t have a SATCOM, there’s not enough room, look at an MQ-9, MQ-1C or an RQ-170, which do have SATCOMs, those good sized bulges on the front end on the Predator derived designs are the transceivers and the two bulges on the RQ-170 close to the wings are the Tx and Rx antennas. I will say that it would be very enlightening to take a higher-end SDR and put an antenna up in the likely signal pathway and intercept like crazy, as its probably UHF or SHF line of sight, its probably not encrypted and it would probably spell out exactly who’s operating them.

I’d be willing to bet that its an oil or gas company doing surface exploration or a biotech firm looking for anyone who might be using their IP illegally (copyrighted franken-seeds that might give off a tell-tale IR signature. Monsanto, Cargill, ADM, and Dupont could definitely do this and the amount of money they get for suing Farmer Bob out of his farm is worth the overhead to them) or its Amazon looking for a faster route between some of their fulfillment centers for drop-shipping small quantities of items between them without having to use the existing logistics infrastructure, whether their own or one of the common carriers.

dbCooper January 2, 2020 9:51 PM

Credible reporting places the size at around 6′, not 40′. Where has it been ascertained they are sat controlled?

Obviously the livestock are not armed. If you are at all aware of this region of the US I can assure you the ranchers are all well armed.

Rob Corelli January 2, 2020 10:34 PM

I have read that some people have had remarkable success training birds of prey to take care of the problem. One picture was pretty awesome.

Bruce January 2, 2020 10:46 PM

@Rob Corelli

Birds of prey against 6′ wide drones? You might take out the drone, but the bird you just killed is worth more than that.

me January 2, 2020 11:29 PM

@Frank Alpha —

Your argument may have made sense 15+ years ago. But these days, with the ridiculous megapixel cameras on satellites and planes? I’m not buying it. Farmers and Monsanto just need to see whether the crops are impacted by floods/weevils/whatever, and existing tech can do that easily and cheaply. Flying closer to the ground leads to stampeding cows and updraft, both of which poisons the kind of data Midwesterners care about. So why do it? Why aggravate your neighbors — who are also your CUSTOMERS — by flying in their airspace?

I also don’t see the benefit to flying in formation. Agricultural cameras and surveying equipment tend to malfunction when they’re near other members of their kind, so I don’t see why someone would try to use a bunch of them right next to each other.

The formation flying feels military to me. I think someone from some agency is testing an automated script for mid-range drone formation flying.

I really, really hope it’s someone preparing for an air show or a PR firm like Edelman trying to control the discussion over regulating air space.

MarkH January 3, 2020 2:08 AM

“Obviously the livestock are not armed”

The livestock perhaps … but beware the wildlife. The constitution guarantees our right to arm bears!

Gerard van Vooren January 3, 2020 6:17 AM

I think that you have to be careful with those UFO’s. Since they can apparently be viewed from the naked eye, these machines could also watch back and of course these machines could also carry anything such as weapons.

(Well, of course someone knows. And my guess is that it’s likely that we will know soon.)

Unless it’s military. But then you could be right again. Because the military always has to show it’s “inventory” to the enemy (and the world) to show them when the “problems” arise.

Clive Robinson January 3, 2020 8:07 AM

@ dbCooper,

Where has it been ascertained they are sat controlled?

Depending on your meaning, nearly all medium sized or larger drones are satellite “controled” as are most mobile phones.

You need to remember that the L-Band patch antennas used to receive GPS can just as easily receive other L-Band satellite signals just as commercial aircraft, ships and sat-phones do.

The data bandwidth to control a drone does not have to be very high, infact a few bits/second is enough to send “waypoint information”.

Further it does not need to be a satellite control system. A high flying aircraft or other UAV could use UHF or low band microwave signals to control the low level drones. After all the likes of Google and Amazon are looking at high altitude UAV tech to deliver broadband Internet to the more remote parts of the world.

I can tell you from the prototype cube-sat on my bench, the electronics required to act as a Narowband voice bandwidth repeater can be built on less than a 2×4 PCB and have cross polarised “fine spring wire” antennas in just a few grams. Further using modern LiPo batteries and no more than 20mW of output power you could get around a week of usage from it and not only would it be bi-directional the line of sight range would easily be across a state. So you could hang it off of a cheap weather balloon…

Remember drone pilots do not need to “see out the cockpit” provided the pilot has an up to date map and aviation chart, or just Google Earth they can fairly safely fly on an autopilot. Modern digital cameras with memory card storage are tiny and can run for considerably longer than any drone flight time.

But running on auto pilot also means the drone does not need to receive or for that matter emit any RF signals by which it can be tracked or identified or be “taken over with”…

Clive Robinson January 3, 2020 8:14 AM

@ MarkH,

The constitution guarantees our right to arm bears!

My turn to say “all jokes aside”…

Some people are mightily scared of Cybergedon where enterprising individuals bring down large parts of the Internet. By and large humans have not been as successfull as our furry little friends with ever growing sharp teeth and a must do habit of cheewing to wear them down, coupled with a tast for plastic wrapped metal. Squirrels appear to be the number one perps for Cybergedon 😉

Bob Paddock January 3, 2020 12:05 PM

What are the legalities of me landing my own Tiny Drone with GPS tracker on one of these bigger drones while it is over my property? Am I trespassing on their property?

A drone with some ‘sticky’ something to stay attached.
Honey comes to mind. Not sure why.

When the Big Drone returns to home-base can I charge them with theft of my Tiny Drone when the remove it? As in the case of someone removing a GPS tracker from their personal vehicle placed there by Law Enforcement, setting precedent?

scot January 3, 2020 12:12 PM

@ Clive

“The human eye has a resolving power unaided of around 1mm at 2000mm.”

That is quite a bit low; the typically given value for human eye resolution under good conditions (adequate lighting, high spatial contrast) is 1 arc minute, or about a 1:3440 ratio.

Augustus De Morgan January 3, 2020 1:56 PM

@Bob Paddock, regarding the principle that one catches more fleas with honey

Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite 'em,
And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum.
And the great fleas themselves, in turn, have greater fleas to go on;
While these again have greater still, and greater still, and so on.

Clive Robinson January 3, 2020 2:28 PM

@ Bob Paddock,

Am I trespassing on their property?

Yes, and perhaps more peversly you may be offending under wire tap legislation, criminal damage, and even possibly reckless endangerment of a flight or what ever they call it these days when somebody gets drunk and starts singing, or soberly says their prayers.

Mind you as you note if you were an LEO, you could put your tracking device on the drone, then accuse the drone owner of theft if they take it away etc. But as a private citizen, nope, they would probably shoot you for littering :-S

It sometimes amazes me of just how many ways you can stretch unrelated laws and judges let prosecutors get away with it.

SpaceLifeForm January 3, 2020 3:14 PM

@ Frank Alpha, me

If it was all about a survey, then it would likely not occur at night. And, over multiple nights.

If you think 40ft wingspan is big…


Note: Strait of Hormuz (back in the news)


“It is concerning because you know, one of the reports I had last night was that the drone is way bigger than 6 [feet]; it sounds like a small jet engine when it’s flying,” Stivers said. “These are not drones that people in our county can just buy.”

[The denial by Buckley is not convincing. So many golf balls at Buckley]

Clive Robinson January 3, 2020 5:14 PM

@ Steve,

How about sending another drone up with a big net?

Ever heard about what happens when a nuclear sub ends up in a trawler net?

If you are on deck on the trawler you’d better hope you know how to cut-away quick, as most trawlers are not designed to be dragged backwards and downwards, their low sterns just dig in fast.

A similar problem would happen with your net carrying drone, it would in effect make a circular orbit around the point of contact between the net it is carrying and the drone it has caught…

I’m not aware of any drone flight system currently that could deal with those sorts of sudden changes gracefully.

Anders January 3, 2020 5:43 PM

I have better idea with the net.

Let’s say i have a tennis ball shooter, 4 barrel.
Each tennis ball is tied to rope and end of that rope is
tied to one corner of the big net.

I launch all 4 tennis balls along with the net.
The net wraps around the drone propeller, jams it,
flight control goes out of order and drone drops down.

Effect is like using bolas.

Clive Robinson January 3, 2020 9:31 PM

@ Rachel,

Samy Kamkar Skyjack

Nice find, and interesting proof of concept.

Sadly from what Samy says it only –currently– works with drones from a particular manufacturer (Parrot) that set up their own WiFi network so an operator can join the network to control a given drone on it’s unique MAC address.

I’m not sure how well that concept will work with other manufacturers low range drones that use WiFi chip sets. But I suspect something “similar but different” could be done with appropriate software updates.

As for larger professional drones they may well not use WiFi chip sets at all as it’s in the very contested thus congested licence free ISM radio frequencies band, where congestion gets very rapidly worse with hight[1]. Thus pilot control could be lost at any time due to very much expected interferance from other ISM band users.

So drones designed to be flown at hight which these apparently are if they are being flown out of gunshot range (500-1000ft) are probably not using WiFi with only a 1000ft expected range at ground level.

[1] At VHF and above frequencies RF communications becomes increasingly “line of sight” thus at low hights the “radio horizon” is much much closer. As a first apoximation using Pythagoras’ formular and a little rearanging you will find that your horizon distance is related to the square of your hight (h) above your refrence plane (ground) multiplied by a constant related to the earths radius and your units of measure. Obviously you also have to do the same calculation for any interfearing source, and if the addition of the two horizon distances is greater than the distance between the drone and the interferance source, you will have interferance. But the problem gets worse, if you assume interferance sources are uniformly distributed by area[2] obviously the number goes up by the square of the radius which in this case is the horizon distance (hd) thus n ~=K(hd^2) and hd = h^2 thus n ~=K(h^4) where K is a constant relating to the density of interferance sources. But just to make it worse still the actual horizon distance due to RF defraction and other corrections is anything upto ~25% bigger…

[2] Again this is a first aproximation and reality will differ. But look at it this way, how would you expect mobile phone distribution in a crowd or busy street? Yup as dense as the number of people in the given area, thus as the number of people goes up the more uniform you would expect people and traffic to be spaced appart.

Clive Robinson January 3, 2020 9:41 PM

@ Anders,

I have better idea with the net.

A not that disimilar idea was pitched at the US Coastguard a decade or so ago.

Designed to be fired from a helicopter at high speed motor boats used by drug smugglers.

I don’t know what happened to the idea, because it occured to me if it worked a similar system could be used from ships against Somali “pirate boats”. Likewise from naval vessels against terrorist motor boats.

Also as the Straits of Hormuz is back in the news again it could also be used against the small motor vessles used by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard.

Clive Robinson January 3, 2020 10:02 PM

@ dbCooper,

Unclassified critter attacks that have been verified are documented on this site

When you consider that just about every new vulnerability gets a special name and logo these days, I can’t help but feel that a logo for “Hakzor Squirrels” is needed.

We’ve seen “Wolf Head’s” with lightning coming sideways out their mouths to represent “Hell hounds” and similar.

I can not get the idea of an otherwise cute “squirrel nutkin” style head –or the one from Ice Age– given a make over with demonic red eyes and a cable with lightning coming out either side of it’s mouth.

I wonder how many tee shirts it would sell 😉

Jaason January 4, 2020 8:14 AM

If you want to worry, worry about a country rife with Google and Amazon drones cluttering the sky under the guise of “delivery” and using downward facing cameras.

You’re about to be covered by a mesh of commercial drones flying overhead, using 5G, high res cameras and providing an excellent opportunity for surveillance.
It isn’t the person down the street with his DJI drone you need to worry about, it’s the corporations with strong ties to government that are the concern.

Once the drone ID program is enabled, the person down the street with the model drone won’t be able to fly any longer, it will just be the likes of Amazon hovering over you.

Anders January 4, 2020 8:51 AM

@ Rachel

Military drones have their mission flight schedule
pre-programmed on ground before flight. Of course
there’s option to change it during the flight, but
they don’t use wifi.

But here’s an opportunity. Any frequency spectrum
recordings during those flights? Any HAM with SDR?
This would reveal drone types. Civilian types usually
don’t have their mission pre-programmed and thus need
constant controlling – radio connection. If we find out
controlling frequency we can start narrowing down drones.

SpaceLifeForm January 4, 2020 2:14 PM

@ Anders

Interesting thought.

How many SDRs and HAMs needed?

To catch a freq that varies?

To catch a very random or intermittent transmission?

Fools Errand IMO.

This is how MIL ops function.

Maybe Clive has a way to make it practical, but I seriously doubt it.

MarkH January 4, 2020 2:22 PM


I know little about commercial UAV operations, but my understanding is that a pretty standard application is to overfly farmland making many zig-zag passes to collect data on soil and crop conditions.

Surely a pre-programmed flight path is far better for such an application than an operator constantly on the joystick.

For commercial (as opposed to hobby) UAVs, pre-programmed flight might be an often used mode of operation.

SpaceLifeForm January 4, 2020 2:52 PM

logo for “Hakzor Squirrels”

I envision a squirrel with a cell phone.

“deliver nuts. I mean it!”

“be a shame if something happened to your wires!”

Anders January 4, 2020 3:09 PM


60’s and 70’s are over.

With SDR you can monitor and record the WHOLE available
freq bandwidth and notice even the shortest burst transmission
on the waterfall.

For example look at

First thing is here to ID is there ANY transmission during
those flight or not.

SpaceLifeForm January 4, 2020 3:54 PM

@ Anders

No. You can not, via SDR, see all the freqs that are likely in use.

Just is not going to happen.

The SDR just can not handle the load.

Clive may correct me on this, but I doubt.

Anders January 4, 2020 4:07 PM


I correct you on this. With proper SDR receiver
you can record the whole spectrum from DC to
multi-gigahertz. Without gaps. Been there, done that.

Electron 007 January 4, 2020 4:35 PM


a pre-programmed flight path is far better for such an application than an operator constantly on the joystick.

For commercial (as opposed to hobby) UAVs, pre-programmed flight might be an often used mode of operation.

True. Established commercial anything is very strongly opposed to hobby of any sort these days. Doing anything whatsoever in this life “as a hobby” is always considered a felonious criminal trespass against the established profession of those who do it commercially. They’re making too much money, and misusing the 911 system to call the cops with false reports and frivolous criminal charges in order to shut out any potential competitors. SLAPP suits [1], but even worse than usual.

The software is all 100% proprietary. FAA + the entire aviation community are too wealthy, too established, and too far out of touch with everyday citizens. They are heavily invested through hedge funds and other private equity in proprietary software and a privately funded mercenary Military-Industrial Complex, and as a consequence they are politically and even militarily opposed to any and all free and open source software [2], which they consider an illegal infringement on their mercantilist intellectual property rights, regardless of the circumstances of war or peace, or causes of freedom and liberty for those who have been rudely and irrevocably shut out of interstate commerce markets for alleged mental health or other reasons by businessmen who fail to mind their own business.

Thus none of the drones on the market are programmable or even reparable by hobbyists.

Everything on the market is either a commercial drone or nation-state spy drone or a toy restricted to a very limited use in a playground or park. No user serviceable parts inside. There is nothing for hobbyists or for anyone who wants to start a business to serve or cater to hobbyists.



Clive Robinson January 4, 2020 5:17 PM

@ SpaceLifeForm, Anders,

How many SDRs and HAMs needed?

Ranges from maybe one or two through to hundreds.

First off as mentioned any control channel is going to be VHF or above, most likely in the low UHF from 400MHz up to mid microwave around 5000MHz. This is due to effective antenna size on the drone. It has to be small but sufficiently wideband for the data rates used and sufficiently wide angle but still with some gain.

For surveillance work of this type your RX antenna needs to have very broadband capabilities and some gain as well as being omni-directional in scan or “find mode” or with a broad directivity in track or “follow mode”. So a biconical or discone or low turn number helix for the former and an LPDA or variant for the latter. There are also other antenna types that can be used that are based on “transmission line” rather than “resonant” principles one such would be an array of rhombics with the modern equivalant of a Bellini-Tosi Goniometer such as a PIN diode phasing unit to obtain a direction signal. Look up an original Adcock H antenna which are still used in modern ships/aircraft in the 0.5-2000Mhz range to get a direction fix, and the “Dopler array” used on police cars to find stolen cars with certain inbuilt locating devices).

The next question is what type of receiver (RX) and this has changed over the years. The earliest type were TRF Crystal sets with a mechanically tuned front end a wide band lowish gain amplifier and a wide band post amplifier tuned circuit driving either a single diode detector or in more sensitive systems anti-parallel biased diodes. The DC-low MF signal from this diode “envelope” detector was then further amplified and filtered and displayed in various ways. With a “Watson-Watt” display made with an osciliscope and a motor and potentiometer that drove the mechanical tuning system and Y-axis signal and envelope detector driving the X-axis signal you had what was originally a tool to investigate what Watson called the Ionosphere but also became a form of spectrum analyser (with the pot/motor connected to the bottom of a rotating antenna it also became the first RADAR display, though the Germans were as far as we know the first to design it for direction finding).

During the 1960’s/70’s with transistors making very good “log amps” spectrum analysers using hetrodyne systems to generate “video signals” –ie wide band IF– to be down converted to DC became easier to make and spectrum analysers became the tool of choice for what became known as Electronic Warefare or EW-Receviers” since then spectrum analysers have remained and the equivalent is built into most modern Ham equipment as a “Band Scope”. Also during the 60/70’s “signals analysis” became automated with early analog to digital converters and computers this required what are still called IQ-Recivers because having two IF outputs at 90degrees to each other alowed all sorts of algorithms to be used. In effect the I and Q outputs were recorded on very widebandwidth recording tape, this would then get playrd back very slowley into the high end computers of the time. During the 1980’s advances in micro electronics made Analoge to Digital conversion much easier and faster and specialised Digital Signal Processing (DSP) chips appeared at rapidly decreasing price. By the 1990’s home builders were experimenting with radios and these chips to get what we called “Digital IF’s” I even designed one using a microprocessor to load values into two 16k Bytewide RAM chip that had such a rapid access time I could build maps that were the equivalent of algorithms and use “1bit oversampling” of a 10.7Mhz IF signal and have a high quality 8bit I and Q outputs at ~42kHz that could then go directly into the DSP chips of the time. It was a way cheaper way than using FPGA’s or even thinking of going to ASICs.

All of which brings us to modern Software Defined Radio’s two decades later that can be so inexpensive they can cost less than a daily smoking habit, or “bucket of chicken”.

The problem though is the IQ bandwidth even with the best fast clocked soundcards that can do 384kHz you can only get a bandwidth of a little over 500kHz. Which is nowhere near enough. However the price of FPGA’s and with USB 3 bandwidths 20MHz or more becomes possible for a few hundred dollars. Which is why we have “internet receivers” that cover the whole HF spectrum that several people can use at the same time world wide.

If you use a high end SDR what tends to limit you these days is the computer you use. Howrver it is for around 2000-4000USD posible to cover the entire 100Mhz – 6000Mhz frequency span. With high end Flash hard drives it would be possible to set up recording stations on individual farms several miles appart and “make recordings” you then take those recordings and run them through a cluster of computers using software not to disimilar to that used by SETI and for VLB radio astronomy and find any RF emmissions from anything in a hundred mile radius area. Then eliminate what is known untill all you are left with is the unknown. As you would also pull out doplar shifts as well as phase related to each receiver working out what is “at flying speed” would not be overly difficult then it’s flight path at any given time these can be correlated with barking dogs and human sightings fairly easily.

At which point “somebodies goose is going to be cooked”.

Even if they are using the more traditional LPI type systems such as frequency hopping or spread spectrum the software will given time find them…

It’s of course no real secret that some existing military systems do this sort of thing already, but as with the “Never Say Agency” the military tend to be a little quiet about such things. But due to the likes of Congressmen the military have to “buy in of the shelf” these days, and those that make such equipment obviously want to make profit, thereby they do advertise and thus the capabilities end up in various journals including at the low end “Jane’s”.

The point to remember is that these days the Telecommunications Industry has more need of “high tech” to service consumer communications expectations than the military has need to do both ElInt and SigInt. Thus equipment from the Teleco Industry has vary high churn rates thus what was bleeding edge as little as five years ago is getting End of Lifed and available at “scrap pricing”… Have a look at what’s needed for 3/4G-LTE, as it will be scrap in the not to distant future, then think laterally about how you might repurpose it.

But if you have spare folding stuff currently you could start by taking a look at some Lime-SDR products. They started out in Guildford University (Surrey UK) “science park” next door to Surrey Satellite Limited.

So the answer is yes it can be done by Ham’s and at not eye watering prices. But I think it would be unlikely to happen, as the powers that be have got way over nervous about how covert CIA and FBI “flights” have already been outed by ADS-B enthusiasts using little more than 100USD of SDR dongle, low loss semi-rigid coax and quite modest costing home built antennas. In the process outing the “front companies” these US Government agencies had set up at great cost. This is just one of several stories that have got various panties in a wad,

The use of ADS-B is mandatory for aircraft of a certain size and larger, and a number of drones do fall into that size requirment…

Also if those drones are being “flown/piloted” from a light aircraft, it’s possible that the world wide ADS-B database might have relevant information in it already that can be dug out.

It’s funny how just a few like minded hobbyists can get together on the Internet and bust the crap out of complacent / out-of-date OpSec by over funded government agencies.

Clive Robinson January 4, 2020 5:54 PM

@ SpaceLifeForm, dbCooper, ALL,

logo for “Hakzor Squirrels”

Nice 🙂

My thought was a round logo with the Ice-Age squirrel or similar in it with teeth alredy around the cable with a few sparks comming out either side.

Circling it at the top “Hakzor” and beneath “squirrel”.

Then a small space and three lines of text,

1, “Bringing Cybergeddon”
2, “To a Hot Spot near you”
3, “Real soon now”

If my memory serves me well in one of the Ice-Age films the squirrel ends up falling of a cliff or some such and you get a head on shot of him falling arms out stretched with a terrified look on his face.

It would not be very difficult to lift him out put a cable through on paw, into his mouth, and out through his other paw and add a few zap marks, his look with just a tiny touch up would turn from terrified to shocked, and making the eyes red would give a demonic look as well.

Whilst I can “concept” my drawing skills are shall we say “drunken spider walk” like having turned from Art to Technical Drawing around four and a half decades ago… If you want a circuit diagram, PCB layout, or mechanical or building drawings no problems, I can wizz those out as you talk to me. But “still life” nope, most definitely not. If I tried to draw a squirrel it would end up looking at best like a bulldog straining hard to beat constipation 🙁

MarkH January 4, 2020 6:01 PM

@SpaceLifeForm, Anders:

Unless radio tech has changed completely since I got my license (maybe it has), even the fanciest receiver will show you a broad spectrum by sweeping over the broad range at some limited bandwidth.

Such a technique may reliably find transmissions which are continuous, or on a high duty cycle.

If the transmission is very intermittent and/or frequency-hopping, detection by broad-spectrum sweep is much more difficult.

Anders January 4, 2020 6:45 PM


Technology has changed indeed and it’s name is SDR.

Consider ideal SDR as just an antenna and A/D converter.
Everything is just limited with antenna performance (bandwidth)
and A/D performance. You don’t tune or sweep anything in analog
world anymore, you convert everything into digital and then do
everything in digital.

Of course ideal SDR doesn’t yet exist (current technical limits),
but we are slowly getting there. Three letter agencies have this
kind of spectrum monitoring for some time now and they have
capabilities of finding even smallest burst transmissions, going back
in time, if needed. They record everything in such way.

Clive Robinson January 4, 2020 7:05 PM

@ Anders,

Those Haxor Squirrels…

In a sepia photo no less, impressive find.

Not quite what I was imagining, but most definitely “still life” 😉

Phaete January 4, 2020 7:22 PM

@ Clive et al,

In the ’80s and ’90s we had a flourishing pirate FM community locally.
Their bane were cars with big antennas that were able to trace them.

The same could be applied here, the problem seems quite local, send some cars with SDR ‘wardriving’ laptops on the road, get their frequency based on proximity, and start messing on that frequency.
Is there really need for mass on computing on all bandwidths, won’t fast scans work if you are near it?

SATCOMEDIAN January 4, 2020 7:58 PM

@Frank Alpha

Not every drone needs a full blown satcom ala Aero H with safety services, SBB or Ka band, with a phased array or mechanically steered helical HGA. Just think iridium SBD modem, or a simple lsat phone sized like an old late 90ies motorola connected to a gps style antenna. More than enough to feed waypoints into an autopilot.

Electron 007 January 4, 2020 8:25 PM


Unless radio tech has changed completely since I got my license (maybe it has), …

I’ve never had a license or used radio tech that needed one.

By the time you get a federal license for some “hobby” shit like that, you’re a f***ing professional at it, and you’re 2/3 the way into the federal penitentiary with it, because they’re trying to put you in prison at drop of the hat or any excuse whatsoever they can come up with.

It’s yet another terrorist watch list, and the damned feds never stop investigating you, because they never trust anyone with a hobby or pastime other than government-approved consumer entertainment.

And anything at all to do with free and open source software, the feds are already trying to put us in prison for child pornography or copyright violation or DMCA circumvention, or not paying our taxes or some crap like that out of left field straight from the mayor’s office in city hall.

MarkH January 4, 2020 10:05 PM


I didn’t mean to suggest the limits of what’s possible, but rather what’s accessible.

The capability of continuously monitoring wide RF bands was developed by the 1970s for EW/ECM (military) applications. Those receivers cost millions of dollars; of course it’s a lot cheaper now … but still too expensive for random individuals searching for UAV signals.

Probably a relatively affordable method would be to assemble a few dozen cheap SDRs, tuned to adjoining bands. This would also enable more suitable antenna selection.

Still, detection of spread-spectrum frequency-hopping transmissions may be quite difficult.

If control is by satellite, the problem is even harder: the satellite signal may bathe a vast area whether the UAVs are present or not. You could certainly detect the satellite signal (among an enormous profusion of other background signals) … but if it’s continuous and encrypted, how could you associate it with local UAVs, or any other particular phenomenon?

It’s a different matter if the UAVs transmit, but they could very well fly in radio silence.

lurker January 5, 2020 12:20 AM


a Bellini-Tosi Goniometer

It’s been fifty years since I (heard) someone use those words. And yes I made one once for a project. It still amazes me how such things can be simulated on pcb with some magic diodes.

Clive Robinson January 5, 2020 5:22 AM

@ Phaete,

The same could be applied here, the problem seems quite local, send some cars with SDR…

The problems are quite different to that of finding a MW or FM Pirate radio station and putting it off the air. This is due to the limitations of the standard DF “Find, Fix and Finish” (FFF) cycle. That is the target “Fox”
Drone has very different characteristics probably beyond the more traditional chasers “hounds” capabilities[1].

Firstly unlike a Pirate Radio station that most definitely does want to be heard and is very overt, these Foxes may be fairly covert using Low Probability of Intercept (LPI) communications if any and fairly intermitently and randomly at best, thus the first step in the “Find” in the FFF cycle could be extreamly difficult at best.

Secondly unlike a Pirate Radio station that is usually[2] at a fixed location, the target “Fox” in this case is not “fixed” at all and is in fact highly mobile and easily capable of moving considerably faster than the cars “Hounds”. Importantly it can fly in any direction at will at any time unlike the “Hounds” that are limited to sparse roads and speed limits. To see just how badly this hampers the “Hounds” watch a few of those “Tornado Chaser” programs (apparrntly there is now an app for peoples android phones that enable people to follow the chasers in near real time, if you want the thrill of the chase from your office / home chair).

As for Finishing these “Foxes” you have to be able to get at them or more importantly the remote people behind them. As they are in the air in the dark and highly mobile you may have to wait untilly they get back to their “lair” be it the start point or more likely a different end point.

Getting at the “pilots” might be simpler but there are a whole bunch of tricks they can use over and above LPI and mobility, I’ve mentioned some of them in the past.

One “crazy sounding” but possible technique that could be used is “way point update by pager”. Think of it like sending an SMS but with the big advantage of a very small very efficient receiver that unlike a cell/mobile phone does not have to transmit it’s position to the network.

Another is to use one of many new Amature/Ham digital communications modes and MF or low HF communications via something called Near Vertical Incident Skyeave (NVIS). The military use NVIS because of it’s tactical advantages, with a little thought a carefully placed transmitter because it sends most of it’s power upwards is very difficult to impossible to DF by conventional hounds.

Because of this and other tricks (such as Pirating US Mil satellites that some drug cartels do) you need to radically change tactics.

The “Find” stage would need to be,

    From DC to Daylight, blanket cover the region 100% of the time.

Only when you have actually found potential control systems –if there are any– could you move onto trying to “Fix” their position again over a vary large not easily accessable area.

Whilst not impossible conventional “Hounds” and their conventional “techniques” are not going to catch these foxes except by pure chance.

For various reasons I’ve played this game in jeans, the greens, and suits, and I know how to give a Fox an advantage that would give a Boeing a run for it’s money.

As I’ve mentioned I have a cube-sat prototype on my bench, I also have some “pico-repeaters” that are about the size of a large coin including the battery. One of the issues in EmComm in disaster areas is lack of repeaters. Such cross band pico-repraters can be “lofted” in a number of ways, satellites obviously, likewise high altitude aircraft, some of which could run on solar electricity, weather ballons, kites, teathered balloons, and drones.

The latter two can be very cheap to deploy and the required kit easily single person portable… There is some interest in both military and comercial markets for such a product.

[1] The reason for the terms fox and hounds, imparts some part of the reason why people find what in DF terms is called “Foxhunting” an exiting hobby. Also why it has progressed into an interrsting form of orientering, where instead of map grid locations you get a list of frequencies, sometimes just the first one, which you have to DF because the frequency of the next one is written on it and so on untill you have your 8-16 foxe locations written down or mark stamped on your list. DF is also used as a more diverse form of the “geo-caching” hobby.

[2] The Pirate Radio “scene” in London and South East England, when on mediumwave was a fairly gentlemanly game. Unfortunatly a change in personnel of those hunting the Pirates caused major issues, one of whom behaved like he was on “a misson from god” and landed up with a criminal conviction and clearly purjured himself in court (search for “Eric Gotts”). Because of his behaviours when Pirates had moved to VHF they became a little more savvy one of which had multiple sites and used to randomly switch them if they had reason to belive “Eric and the goons” were out and about. Even Eric was clearly failing and UK authorities decided on another tactic which was “community station licences”, because they did that wrong Pirates are still clearly present in London as you tune up and down the band which is ehy the UK Gov has wasted hundreds of millions trying to push “DAB Radio” which realy is the worst of Digital Broadcasting, and is upsetting peoplr eho find they sprnd a lot of money on a DAB receiver that eats batteries like a pig eats slop, has poor coverage, often not working on the ground floor of peoples houses, and worst of all things get “updated” and their expensive receiver stops working…

Anders January 5, 2020 8:24 AM

Clive Robinson January 5, 2020 9:51 AM

@ Lurker,

It’s been fifty years since I (heard) someone use those words.

Sadly that’s the way of the world. Worse in high tech industries we are “loosing our history” every so often someone “invents” some new technology, only to find eventually that someone has done it befor.

For instance the principles behond the Goniometer can be used to make not just variable inductors but variable transformers as well.

Amature radio having fairly recently been given som VLF and ELF frrquencies where you end up putting a kilowatt into a highly ineficient antrnna just to get a few hundred milliwatts of Effective Radiated power (ERP) means havong to use varoable inductors the soze of “wheelie bins” used for household refuse collection.

So someone builds a Goniometer type device and then somebody “improves upon it” in some way. As they can not find anything in recent literature and they don’t think to go back to 1907, they think they’ve come up with something new and original…

Oddly perhaps in Russian radio kit even today they use a variation on the Goniometer to tune military radio finals into antennas, they also use magnetic loops made like a tubular picture window frame and the real works of art vacuum variable capacitors, that like big old TX PA bottles have a strange beauty of their own. The rich salmon pink of the unoxidized copper giving that richness and depth of colour that separates the deep luster of pure gold from the mear yellow of other metals.

Clive Robinson January 5, 2020 10:01 AM

@ Anders,

That sort of military Op would not surprise me in the slightest.

They would also be thinking EW/ECM/ECCM so LPI one way command signals would not be a surprise either.

Which makes the idea of enthusiasts like the ADS-B tracker crowd busting the military ECM/ECCM methods a pleasure to contemplate 😉

Anders January 5, 2020 10:57 AM

Link is not available in every region, so…use TOR

Chris January 5, 2020 11:16 AM

I have made an allaround detector about 2 years ago, it started with a TETRA Detector that i needed at that time

And then i added modules to it, fairly easy to catch WIFI and ADS-B stuff
TETRA not so easy but it can be done very well too.
I ended the project 2019-11-17 since it was not needed anymore, but i had around 8 different sensors in the raspberry running and detecting stuff 🙂

For WIFI i found that the best way was to look for Subtype4 and then lookup the manufacture codes for the MAC Address fields, ADS-B you can use the tool dump1090 (there is anotherone forget the name but i recall there are 2 frq for secondary radar)

I used a Raspberry for it, some obstacles that can be painful to discover
if one is going to make a project of this is, powerconservation needs to be off
correct drivers for the wifi chip needs to be put into place so that monitor mode can be used, keenerd drivers for the rtlsdr is a “must” for the SDR sniffer, i wish i could say more but its kindof sensitive subject, especially for the TETRA bit, then a way to present the output, i used a droid and ssh it also can be used when portable, and the droid can vibrate when it detects “stuff”. very handy and fun project, highly recommended if one wants to learn bash and python, and also to learn SDR stuff…

Chris January 5, 2020 11:54 AM


Do you have any web page of your project?

I am sorry but as i said its sensitive, i shouldnt have showd it in the firstplace but i guess some voyerist in me wanted to show it 🙂

But.. it can be done, this is made with RTLSDR and Raspbian in Raspberry Pi3
CPU no problemos, antenna no problemos, there is one secret that can get you going though, and thats all i can say, use rtl_power if you want to detect the TETRA well, more i cant say


Security Sam January 5, 2020 12:35 PM

All those mysterious drones
Where do they all come from?
All those floating flashers
Where do they all belong?

Chris January 5, 2020 1:00 PM

@ Anders and who it concerns
Re detector sourcecode
My detector that i have, started of when i found this codebase, and its fairly easy to get something working using this, be sure you use KEENERD drivers, if not you will have a mess with the frequency output is shown wrong and all sorts of bugs that cant be fixed easily

SpaceLifeForm January 5, 2020 1:05 PM

@ Anders

G has a cache, even though someone wants to disappear the story. Even via dns.

Swathwood’s team says the aircraft in question likely cost over $100,000 to build, ruling out most operators.

Anders January 5, 2020 1:34 PM


You really need to step to outside of your bubble.
There is also world outside.

After GDPR in my region is no longer G man cache available.
And even in your region to access the cache i need to
switch on the Javascript. So more easier is just to use TOR.

Chris January 5, 2020 8:21 PM

I love these holidays, you can get rather productive
I just started to make a new module for detecting GSM signals
and it just works, this rtl_power blows me away how fast it is
anyhow it covers “only” 700/800/900 mhz bands since the RTL stick dont go up in frq but it works thats all that counts (this one is not realtime, the scanning needs some 15-20 seconds or so to catch a ongoing tx but its alot of mhz that needs to be scanned through. And alot of phonecalls during the tests lol

root@raspberrypi:/home/droid/modules/bugdetect# tail -f /home/droid/logfiles/closecall-keenerd.csv |/home/droid/modules/bugdetect/
2020-01-06 03:07:50 899200000.0 18.56
899200000.0 ************************* GSM900 DETECTED

Lot of fun cheers

Chris January 6, 2020 6:08 AM

You are welcome, found my first “bug”
834400000.0 ************************* AKG ACOUSTICS MICROPHONE NZ2 CH07 DETECTED

Bob Paddock January 6, 2020 7:52 AM

For those that think the Antenna is the limiting factor to doing Interesting Stuff look up the book:

“Frontiers in Antennas: Next Generation Design & Engineering” by Frank Gross.

Frontiers in Antennas covers:

Ultra-wideband antenna arrays using fractal, polyfractal, and aperiodic geometries
Smart antennas using evolutionary signal processing methods
The latest developments in Vivaldi antenna arrays
Effective media models applied to artificial magnetic conductors and high impedance surfaces
Novel developments in metamaterial antennas
Biological antenna design methods using genetic algorithms
Contact and parasitic methods applied to reconfigurable antennas
Antennas in medicine: ingestible capsule antennas using conformal meandered methods
Leaky-wave antennas
Plasma antennas which can electronically appear and disappear [NE2 like bulbs have been used as 10 GHz video demodulators since the 70s]
Numerical methods in antenna modeling using time, frequency, and conformal domain decomposition methods

Clive Robinson January 6, 2020 8:42 AM

@ Bob Paddock,

Plasma antennas which can electronically appear and disappear

They can be fun.

I think I’ve mentioned I’ve played with them before.

Because obe of the problems with resonant antennas is they are bi-directional transducers. Which is a bit awkward when you want your equipment to be covert.

Without going into all the boring details you can make a system like a longrange “radar detector” if you sweep the bands of interest just as “chaff/window” did during WWII if there is an antenna resonant in those bands it reradiates the signal as though it has bounced off of it (think cats eyes in thr road on a dark night when a care headlight sweeps across).

With a plasma antenna you can switch it on only when you need to.

But it has another interesting property, if you mpdulate the “lamp” voltage, it modulates the signal that is reradiated. I’ll let you work out what advantages that has. Especially when not all plasmas emit light in the visable spectrum.

SpaceLifeForm January 6, 2020 1:20 PM

@ Anders

Sorry about your network access angle.

Not going TOR.

But, I was making a side point.

“has a cache, even though someone wants to disappear the story. Even via dns.”

It is still disappeared on the website.

DNS for is working now, but the article has been disappeared from website at this time, as far as I can see.

The drones sure look like they have 40ft wingspan, and are VTOL.

Anders January 6, 2020 3:48 PM


OK, i see, thanks!

In my region that link gives this error message:

“Sorry, this content is not available in your region.”

But over Tor i can see it even now.

Clive Robinson January 6, 2020 3:57 PM

@ Zach,

Adaptive Swarm Intelligence (ASI).

Was a thing of ScFi and journalists crystal balling about Conway’s automata (Game of life etc). Untill that is a UK prof at Southampton Uni did work on crowd control, that quite quickly spun off into measuring the value of soccer/football plays by their movments in games. Something that was, with transfere fees worth millions of GBP.

It’s been quite a while since I looked at it at another Uni with regards spotting aberrant (begging) behaviour in large public transportation crowds (for TfL) that I stopped having anything to do with when the objective got changed for more basic surveillance purposes…

SpaceLifeForm January 6, 2020 8:01 PM

It would have been better if Buckley had given a heads up to locals instead of trying to hide behind secrecy, and then later denying.

All they had to say is that they were going to be running these drone tests over multiple nights.

To minimize disruption.

Especially to the cows and the armed bears.

MarkH January 7, 2020 4:12 AM


It’s an interesting explanation, though it’s difficult for me to visualize consumer UAVs doing much harm to a Minuteman Launch Facility (LF).

In general, “prying eyes” would seem to be a non-issue. There’s nothing visible from the surface at an LF that is in any way sensitive. Typically, LFs are sited very close to roads (for practical reasons) and are frequently in plain view of local civilians.

One could get excellent photography from ordinary planes flown over the neighborhood, though nothing in such photos would compromise security.

I can see two nuisance concerns from small UAVs:

  1. They might set off intrusion alarms, which actually could be a significant problem, and by itself might be enough reason to have a program to counter them.
  2. From time to time, LFs are opened for inspection and maintenance purposes. It wouldn’t be at all funny for the people working there to get buzzed by some idiot’s remote-controlled helicopter. I suppose that in theory, someone might try to use a UAV to “shoulder-surf” code entry for the Personnel Access Hatch …

I note that the original article in Bruce’s post mentions UAVs “flying in a grid pattern in the rural area between Hugo and Karval, Colo.” By my reckoning, that’s at least 150 miles from the nearest Launch Facility. What that means, I don’t know.


Surprising an armed bear is exceedingly dangerous … likely to be the last mistake a fella would ever make 😉

Clive Robinson January 7, 2020 8:47 AM

@ MarkH, dbCooper,

It’s an interesting explanation, though it’s difficult for me to visualize consumer UAVs doing much harm to a Minuteman Launch Facility (LF).

Many years ago the “Two Ronnies” was a very popular commedy sketch show that gave us the “four candles” joke. One sketch they did was based on people imagining how usefull it would be to have an eye on the end of your middle finger…

The point being that most things are designed on the presumption you don’t have that kind of advantage…

But you need to be aware of something most “security gurus and consultants are not even when it’s entirely obvious when you are told,

    Nearly all physical security systems can be divided into two parts, “Passive or delaying” security and “Active or responding” security.


    Systems built on assumptions will fail badly if the assumptions are not 100% accurate

But to get back to the case in point,

Passive security generaly has a one off cost of building it, hence thousands of years ago mankind built defensive positions ontop of hills and if there was not a suitably placed hill build one (look up “Motte and baily defences” and the early hill forts). This developed into other types of “earth works” that were still used mid to late last century when designing secure military facilities. It’s also seen a resurgance since 9/11 and 7/7 in towns and cities where concrete barriers are put in place to form security enclaves and vehicle check points. But less obviously in business premises in “science parks” and the likes where architrcts pretend they know about physical security from reading a few trade rags. They think along the old “Ha ha” or “Saut de loup” ideas and put roads in slight depressions and make grassy covered berms or embankments and even put in a few low shrubs etc to make direct line attack physically hard, but alowing easy security camera clear line of sight advantage for the defenders. Thus any but the most well trained attackers are going to be not just seen but more importantly delayed by the depressions and embankments that in effect form a maze to be negotiated.

Thus the delay alows for increased response time to the active security defenders. This means you need less of them, thus saving on going costs and they can be more highly trained and will work as a tight coheasive unit. Unlike larger groups that are needed without the earthworks, who will almost invariably be less well trained, not train together thus more likely to get in each others way or be confused and ineffective when faced with a small group of well trained attackers, thus giving quite an advantage to such attackers (something special forces are trined not just to understand but exploit ruthlessly, which is why a “four man brick” can take out an entire air field defended by a garrison with little problem).

The problem with earthworks is there is an inbuilt and incorrect now fatal assumption which is the defenders have the “high point advantage”. That is they can see further thus cover more area where the hight advantage is effectively = h^4 (I explained why this is just a day or two ago when talking about “radio horizon” on the unknow drone thread).

Thus untill fairly recently hight advantage got “built in” quite hard, because it’s assumed an attackers hight is going to be below that of the depth of the depressions or less than the embankments, and the active response will not be encumbered by such issues. Further it was concidered because it was designed for “active response” that there was still a significant advantage even if the attackers had aerial photographs or detailed maps and plans.

The problem is you can get larger consumer drones where you can replace the cameras with those many times the resolution and improved low light level capability than they come with as standard.

Thus with a little thought attackers can use drones in three ways,

1, Get h^4 hight advantage.
2, Create fast moving, movment unencumberd distractions.
3, Rapid direct line attack on fixed position cameras thus blinding the active response defence the ebtire defence plan is predicated on.

At which point the tables are compleatly reversed the advantages the defenders had are not just gone, they have been given to the attackers so fast that there is no way for the limited numbers of active responders to be of any use at all. That is the h^4 advantage that cost the defenders millions of dolars has been given to the attackers for a few hundred dollars…

Who would not want such an advantage as a well trained attacker and have genuine mortal dread of it as a fixed point defender?

It’s one of those things people call “a real game changer”…

Just to end as I started on a “TV moment”, if you ever watched the ScFi program Eureka from a few years back there is a bit in one of them when the Taggart character explains to the Sheriff Carter caracter the advantages of “robot geese” or if you would prefere camouflaged drones. It was probably entirely lost on most viewers, but for some it was a slightly painfull reminder of where technology was heading rather fast and at what cost if you were designing defence systems.

[1] One minor point larger drones can carry upto 5kg loads these days very rapidly. If as an attacker you know when the nuclear missile silo doors will be blown open for launch, there is a window of opportunity to drop in a bomb and fill the missile full of shrapnel or the missile to blow up in it’s silo causing all sorts of extra havoc as the missile explodes in the silo and puts out a large fireball as other missiles may be in the highly vulnerable low velocity stage of launch. Just a single drone flying over a missile site in an “go for launch” situation could stop the missile doors being opened thus stop the missiles from being launched thus negate their use as a deterrent weapon…

SpaceLifeForm January 7, 2020 5:03 PM

@ Clive

Just a single drone flying over a missile site in an “go for launch”

Damn. I misread. Must eat lunch.

Whirrstling in the Dark January 7, 2020 11:14 PM

The Swarming Drone

With apologies to Iggy Pop

I am the swarming drone
And I fly and I fly
I fly through the country’s backsides
I see the stars come out of the sky
Yeah, they’re bright in a hollow sky
You know we’re in a grid that’s tight

I am the swarming drone
My camera’s glass
I look through my camera so bright
I see the stars come out tonight
I see the bright and hollow sky
Over the country’s ripped backside
And everything looks grid tonight


MarkH January 8, 2020 6:34 PM


  1. It’s not clear to me that, in general, the design of Launch Facility defenses is predicated on any assumption of “high ground”, except that they have chain-link fences around them. It’s always been clear that these could easily be surmounted or bypassed by an attacker. I suppose their primary function is to exclude wildlife, livestock, and casual trespassers (who failed to heed the signs proclaiming “Use of deadly force authorized”).
  2. As I conceive it, there are two types of attack contemplated against an LF in its usual “standby” condition: (A) to impair function, or (B) to steal the warhead or components thereof. The second category — which, if you think about it, is far more important — is beyond any practicality.

The first category has always been possible, that somebody could come along and destroy an antenna or other surface component. If cheap UAVs could enable such attacks on numerous LFs at once, that would be a more serious threat. My bet would be that this isn’t doable (yet).

  1. As I mentioned above, one of the most worrying things I can imagine doing with small UAVs against LFs would be to intentionally trigger the intrusion alarms. If done simultaneously at many sites, this could require an excessive dispersion of Military Police forces. I offer a few thoughts about this:

a) if the alarms can indeed be triggered by small UAVs, they could probably be modified so as to mitigate the threat; and

b) except as a nuisance, this kind of attack is useless unless it is intended as a cover for an actual invasion by something much more substantial … but the defenses against such invasion are pretty robust; and

c) when it comes to defending ICBM facilities, the expenditures are very generous: arguments about cost are valid, but the costs are funded.

  1. I’m not aware that cameras are part of the LF defense system (perhaps they are, but I’ve seen no mention). In any case, if the order to launch were given from the National Command Authority, I doubt that any detection of a hazard condition at an LF would inhibit launch. I anticipate that the missile would be fired regardless.
  2. The idea of “dropping a spanner” onto a missile just prior to launch is an interesting one, though I wonder how practical it might be.

Considerations in making such an attack would include UAV range and endurance, limits of time-on-station, uncertainty about when a missile might be launched, and the like. An adversary hoping to survive a first strike by such means would be looking at an awful degree of uncertainty.

It might be a useful countermeasure to decrease the time between opening of the closure and motor ignition. Based on the one video I looked at, the “Closure Door” — the 100-tonne concrete & steel lid — opened about 6 seconds before ignition of the rocket motor. Perhaps this could be cut to 1 second or less.

A crude (but perhaps effective) defense might be to fire a few simple short-range “shrapnel AA bombs” above the silo soon before opening the Closure Door. Even a suitably constructed net at the top of the silo could reduce the damage potential, without bothering the missile too much.

Though a heavy mass could certainly do damage, I think it rather unlikely to trigger an explosion. The days of the liquid-fueled Titans are long gone!

In any case, no plausible explosion resulting from sabotage would affect any of the other missiles. I’ve made the long drives between such sites; the minimum separation seems to be about 10 km (often, they are spaced much farther than that). The design predicate was to be able to launch while a 20 megaton Soviet warhead was excavating a crater where the neighboring LF used to be.

PS @Whirrstling:

As a rule, I never apologize to Iggy. However, I’m extremely deferential to The Stooges.

BlueBirdBrain January 9, 2020 8:07 PM

As an aside and fyi ~

The drone thing is spreading. In the last few days they’ve popped up in our little ‘burg just east of Boulder, Co. Authorities, et al, are equally baffled.

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