Unmanned Aerial Systems (Drones)
The rapid growth in military and civilian use of unmanned aerial systems (commonly referred to as “drones”) presents opportunities and challenges to agencies across the federal government.
The U.S. government has determined that drone development and acquisition supports its national security interests. As drones’ capabilities increase (as with armed and miniature drones), the military can find even more uses for them. Selling drone technology to selected allies can help strengthen the U.S. industrial base for drone production and increase their use. For example, the United Kingdom and Italy used drones purchased from the United States to collect data on Taliban activity in Afghanistan.
Figure 1: Examples of Drones
From 2005 to 2014, the number of countries that have acquired drones nearly doubled. Some of these countries are of concern because of their weapons proliferation, and they have developed increasingly more sophisticated systems. Terrorist organizations are also seeking to acquire drones that could increase their abilities to gather intelligence on and conduct attacks against U.S. interests.
Figure 2: Map of Countries That Acquired Drones by December 2011
Aside from military applications, a number of new civilian and commercial applications, such as law enforcement, environmental monitoring, and energy industry surveillance, are available for drones. However, drones’ use for these applications is currently limited by regulatory restrictions on civilian airspace, and many people have raised concerns about privacy issues.
Figure 3: Examples of Current Uses for Drones and their Altitudes of Operation
GAO-15-610: Published: Jul 16, 2015. Publicly Released: Aug 17, 2015.
GAO-15-254T: Published: Dec 10, 2014. Publicly Released: Dec 10, 2014.
GAO-13-833: Published: Sep 26, 2013. Publicly Released: Sep 26, 2013.
GAO-13-651: Published: Jul 31, 2013. Publicly Released: Jul 31, 2013.
GAO-12-981: Published: Sep 14, 2012. Publicly Released: Sep 14, 2012.
GAO-12-536: Published: Jul 30, 2012. Publicly Released: Sep 12, 2012.
GAO-17-152: Published: Feb 16, 2017. Publicly Released: Feb 16, 2017.
GAO-17-53: Published: Jan 31, 2017. Publicly Released: Jan 31, 2017.
GAO-17-73R: Published: Oct 31, 2016. Publicly Released: Oct 31, 2016.
GAO-16-671T: Published: May 24, 2016. Publicly Released: May 24, 2016.
GAO-16-527T: Published: Mar 16, 2016. Publicly Released: Mar 16, 2016.
GAO-15-461: Published: May 14, 2015. Publicly Released: May 14, 2015.
GAO-15-486T: Published: Mar 24, 2015. Publicly Released: Mar 24, 2015.
GAO-14-849R: Published: Sep 30, 2014. Publicly Released: Sep 30, 2014.
GAO-14-617R: Published: Jun 26, 2014. Publicly Released: Jun 26, 2014.
GAO-14-316: Published: Apr 10, 2014. Publicly Released: Apr 10, 2014.