The Biden administration is proposing a major expansion of government authorities for countering drones to include state, local, tribal and territorial (SLTT) governments and certain private sector entities as the growing use of small unmanned aircraft systems include increasingly nefarious purposes.
The Domestic Counter-Unmanned Aircraft Systems National Action Plan is a “whole-of-government” plan and would expand the tools and limited authorities used by the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, Defense, State, and the CIA and NASA to currently counter, and in some cases, mitigate and defeat potential threats from small drones.
The plan is also a nod to the fact that in many instances where small drones are being used by bad actors is they are being targeted against critical infrastructures and that frequently it is state and local first responders that first have to contend with potential threats posed by these UAS.
“Malicious actors have increasingly used UAS domestically to commit crimes, conduct illegal surveillance and industrial espionage, and thwart law enforcement efforts at the local, state and federal level,” says a White House fact sheet.
The 91-page plan and accompanying legislative proposal for Congress would expand UAS detection authorities to SLTT law enforcement agencies and to critical infrastructure owners and operators. The plan would go beyond just detection, at least for SLTT agencies, by creating a federally-sponsored pilot program for select law enforcers to conduct mitigation activities and allow critical infrastructure owners and operators to purchase authorized C-UAS equipment that would be used by permitted federal and SLTT agencies to protect their facilities.
The authorized detection equipment list is another feature of the plan. The equipment would be approved by federal security and regulatory agencies as a buying guide but also to ensure the systems don’t disrupt airspace and communications.
DHS’s Science and Technology Directorate and the Transportation Security Administration for the past year have been testing and evaluating technologies that can detect, track and identify (DTI) small drones. The Coast Guard and Secret Service, which are also components of DHS, have drone DTI authorities and are also permitted to take measures to actively counter small UAS.
Some of the ongoing DTI testing is to sort out any impacts these technologies have on aircraft and airports, as well as nearby communications.
Other portions of the C-UAS plan call for establishing a National C-UAS Training Center to improve training and collaboration, create a federal incident tracking database as a repository for government agencies to better understand the domestic threat from small drones, create mechanisms to help critical infrastructure owners and operators purchase C-UAS equipment, create a mechanism to coordinate research, development, testing and evaluation of UAS DTI and mitigation technology across the federal government, improve cooperation with international partners on C-UAS technologies, and work with Congress on a “comprehensive criminal statute that sets clear standards for legal and illegal uses, closes loopholes in existing federal law, and establishes adequate penalties to deter the most serious UAS-related crimes,” the fact sheet says.
“The Biden-Harris administration’s C-UAS National Action Plan and legislative proposal are vital to enabling DHS and our partners to have the necessary authorities and tools to protect the public, the president and other senior officials, federal facilities, and U.S. critical infrastructure from threats posed by the malicious and illicit use of unmanned aircraft systems,” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement. “These threats are increasing at home and abroad, and the plan and legislative proposal call for the reauthorization and expansion of DHS’s C-UAS authority to help keep our communities safe. The plan and legislative proposal also support the safe integration of unmanned aircraft systems for recreational and commercial use.”
DHS’s current C-UAS authorities expire later this year.