FAA Tightens Drone Restrictions Near High-Security Navy Submarine Bases

FILE - In this July 11, 2018 file photo, a drone equipped with a thermal camera flies over the plants at the Pennsylvania Department of Natural Resources' Jennings Environmental Education Center on Wednesday, July 11, 2018 in Slippery Rock, Pa. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)
FILE - In this July 11, 2018 file photo, a drone equipped with a thermal camera flies over the plants at the Pennsylvania Department of Natural Resources' Jennings Environmental Education Center on Wednesday, July 11, 2018 in Slippery Rock, Pa. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)

The Federal Aviation Administration is warning amateur drone pilots that flying their aircraft near highly secure Navy submarine bases -- or the vessels operating near them -- is a no-go.

The FAA issued new guidance Oct. 26 "to address concerns about potentially malicious drone operations over certain high-priority maritime operations."

In cooperation with the Defense Department and U.S. Coast Guard, the agency is restricting drone flights near military vessels moving toward or away from Naval Base Kitsap in Washington and Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia, according to an FAA news release.

For Kitsap, the portion of the Hood Canal and Strait of Juan de Fuca extending from the base to the Pacific is included in the restricted zone. And for Kings Bay, the portion of the Cumberland Sound from the base to the Atlantic is off-limits.

Effective as of Friday, Navy and Coast Guard vessels moving in those areas are considered protected.

"Drone operations are required to maintain a distance of at least 3,000 feet laterally and 1,000 feet vertically from these vessels," the guidance states.

Violators could face criminal charges or civil penalties.

Defense Department and Coast Guard personnel are also authorized to "take security action that results in the interference, disruption, seizure, damaging or destruction of unmanned aircraft considered to pose a safety or security threat," according to the FAA.

Both bases house the Navy's Ohio-class submarines, which can be armed with ballistic missiles.

Scott Bassett, a spokesman at Kings Bay, told Military.com that base personnel have not seen an uptick in drone activities in the region.

"Above Kings Bay, we've got what we call prohibited airspace, so for the longest time, nothing has been allowed to fly over," he said.

Kitsap officials did not immediately respond to questions about any increases in drone sightings in and around their base. But in July, the Kitsap Sun reported that there had already been 16 drones spotted above Naval Base Kitsap in 2018. There were another 68 of those incidents reported in 2016 and 2017, according to the paper.

Navy officials were, according to the Sun, concerned drone pilots might be trying to illicitly shoot photos or video of sensitive military assets.

Drone pilots can learn more about the new restrictions on the FAA's website here.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @ginaaharkins.

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