In a brief and vague statement released yesterday, the Secret Service announced that it was going to begin conducting drone exercises over the normally restricted airspace around the US capital. This follows on the heels of a high-profile drone crash on the White House lawn and the revelation that Homeland Security, in conjunction with the US military, has been conducting tests where commercial drones are armed with automatic weapons or strapped with explosives to become flying bombs.
They can be armed
While it's illegal to fly drones over DC, that can be difficult to enforce. Small consumer models don't appear on radar or broadcast their position to authorities and they don't require a license to own or operate. DJI, the manufacturer of the drone that crashed at the White House, rolled out a firmware update after the accident that it said would use GPS to prevent anyone from flying into restricted airspace. But just a week later it rolled back that update because of concerns over bugs.
The FAA recently announced its new rules for the use of commercial drones in the US, and it said that it hopes to keep small consumer grade units covered under the much looser regulations governing model aircraft. As those units grow rapidly in number, it appears our nation's top bodyguards want to learn what they can do, and how they can be protected against. Drones pose a challenge that experts have long warned the White House would need defenses against, but the recent crash has clearly elicited a more concrete response.