The Air Force is asking for permission to shoot down civilian drones that fly too close to Air Force bases or threaten military aircraft.
For decades, Federal Aviation Authority regulations have meant nothing to average Americans. With private planes typically being reserved to just the most wealthy Americans, the rules and regulations surrounding different segments of airspace have never had to go mainstream. But with the new affordability of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), otherwise known as drones, the exclusivity of the skies has given way to $400 remote controlled devices.
There have been a lot of close calls. Civilians have flown drones dangerously close to commercial aircraft landing at and taking off from major airports. Just recently, an F-22 Raptor was coming in for a landing and almost collided with a civilian quadcopter.
Because of events like these, the Air Force is requesting the authority to blow civilian drones out of the sky if they invade military airspace or get too close to military aircraft.
In many ways, this is completely understandable. The F-22 Raptor is the most advanced fighter jet in the world and has a price tag of $150 million. But even with all of its intelligent systems and non-existent radar signature, the fact remains that a couple-hundred dollar drone could take it down.
It is already illegal for civilians to fly drones -- or any aircraft -- over military bases. But because of the rules regarding military use of force on American soil, only civilian agencies are allowed to take out civilian drones. For example, drones are outlawed in Washington, D.C., especially around government buildings. The Secret Service and Capitol Police have the capacity to take drones down by scrambling their radio frequencies and forcing them to land. The military, however, doesn't have this authority on U.S. soil.
The complexity of the regulations surrounding drones in the U.S. meant that even when a civilian drone was flying above a military base and threatening an American jet, the Air Force was still powerless to bring it down.
The question is a complicated one. Should the military be allowed to shoot down civilian aircraft? On September 11, jets were scrambled and told they might have to neutralize hijacked commercial planes, if necessary. However, that authorization would have had to come from the President.
The laws and regulations deliberately make it hard for the military to shoot down civilian aircraft because the previous assumption has always been that it would lead to the loss of human life. This made sense. The punishment shouldn't be death if a small biplane gets lost in the clouds and accidentally flies into military airspace.
But now that drones have become so affordable and plentiful, the military argues that the use of force rules need to be changed.
General James Holmes, the head of Air Combat Command, explained in an interview what he is worried about.
"Imagine a world where somebody flies a couple hundred of those, and flies one down the intake of one of my F-22s with just a small weapon," the General said. "I need the authorities to deal with that."
The terrorism aspect to this debate is especially terrifying. Currently, Islamic State fighters use basic quadcopter drones to drop bombs and grenades on targets in Syria.
Israel routinely has to take action against drones flying into the country from Palestine. In one particular case, the Israeli military used a $3 million Patriot anti-air missile to destroy a $200 drone that can be purchased on Amazon.
As funny as that sounds, it shows the challenge that militaries face in proportionately dealing with civilian drones.
Much of Virginia is already off-limits for drone flying under FAA regulations. It is already illegal for a civilian to fly a drone within five nautical miles of an airport without permission from air traffic control. Someone who violates this airspace could find their drone grounded by specially armed state and federal agents. But if a drone flies over Langley Air Force Base, for example, the pilot would be violating FAA regulations, but the Air Force would not allowed to take it down.
Americans should always expect the military to use restraint when dealing with citizens. But if there's a drone flying over a military base, the Air Force shouldn't have to call a civilian agency in order to take it down ...
What do you think? Should the military be allowed to shoot down civilian drones? Let us know in the comments below ↓