A Counter-Drone Strategy for New Zealand

Author: Shelley, Andrew. V.1 

Published in National Security Journal, 18 May 2022

DOI: 10.36878/nsj20220518.02 

Download full PDF version – A Counter-Drone Strategy for New Zealand (457 KB)


A recent article in this journal provides a quantitative assessment of the threats from drones in New Zealand.1 The present article builds upon that risk assessment to develop a counter-drone strategy for New Zealand. Selected literature is reviewed to identify the key elements of a security strategy. The approaches adopted to countering drones by New Zealand and its Five Eyes partners are then reviewed. Australia and Canada have adopted limited measures that allow radio jamming of drones by Federal police. The United Kingdom has published an explicit strategy that will allow for organisations other than law enforcement to act against drones. The United States does not have a published strategy but has enacted legislation allowing counter-drone action. The Civil Aviation Bill recently introduced in New Zealand proposes counter-drone powers for law enforcement. The strategy developed in this article is compared with the provisions in that Bill and recommendations are provided for improving that legislation.

Keywords: Civil Aviation Bill, counter-drone, drones, Unmanned Aerial Systems, risk analysis, security strategy


Drones, also known more formally as “unmanned aircraft” or unmanned aerial systems (UAS), are aircraft intended to operate with no pilot on board.2 A drone may either be piloted remotely, in which case the broader system of which the drone is a part includes a command and control (C2) link,3 or the drone may follow a pre-programmed path and be fully autonomous.4 Drones have a wide range of potential beneficial applications including photography, movie making, survey, asset inspection, package and medicine delivery, and agrichemical application. However, as demonstrated by Shelley in his recent review of drone-related threats to New Zealand, drones can also be used in a range of criminal and malicious activities.5 The threat posed by drones is not just theoretical: globally a range of incidents have occurred which demonstrate most hypothesised threats can be readily implemented. A key problem with countering the threat from drones is that it is extremely difficult to identify the operator of the aircraft. The standard regulatory prescription by regulatory authorities to require registration of drones and licensing of operators will be ineffective if the operator does not comply with legal requirements.6 In addition, some threats from drones require an immediate response to stop the drone, not just an attribution of liability after the fact. Legal and regulatory systems struggle to keep pace with emerging technologies,7 including drone technology,8 and as demonstrated in this study often do not allow appropriate counter-drone action to be taken.

Counter-drone provisions are included in a comprehensive Civil Aviation Bill (CA Bill) recently introduced to the New Zealand Parliament.9 While several documents were proactively released when the CA Bill was introduced to parliament,10 none of those documents demonstrate that the CA Bill is part of a comprehensive strategy. Changes to legal and regulatory systems should not be made on a piecemeal basis but should be a deliberately made as part of an overall counter-drone strategy linked to national security objectives. This study develops a counter-drone strategy for New Zealand and develops recommendations for improvement of the provisions proposed in the CA Bill.

1 Dr Andrew Shelley is Managing Consultant of Andrew Shelley Economic Consulting, and Chief Executive of the drone training school run by Aviation Safety Management Systems Ltd. His research focusses on the regulation of drones and counter-drone systems. This article is derived from a research report prepared in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of International Security through the Centre of Defence and Security Studies, Massey University, supervised by Terry Johanson. Corresponding author: Andrew.Shelley@xtra.co.nz.