The House Appropriations Committee this morning will mark up a homeland security spending bill that recommends the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) establish a second testbed related to drone security.

Late last year, TSA said it was working with Miami International Airport to set up a counter-unmanned aircraft system (C-UAS) testbed to begin evaluating technologies for detecting, tracking and identifying small drones operating near airports (Defense Daily, Dec. 4, 2019). At that time, TSA officials said they hoped to have the testbed functioning within a year.

On Tuesday, the committee released report language accompanying its Homeland Security Subcommittee’s proposed spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security in fiscal year 2021, including $3 million to “expand the C-UAS testing program to a second major U.S. airport.”

Metrics for selecting a second airport as a C-UAS testbed should include “geographic diversity, frequency of UAS intrusions, and high passenger volume,” the report said.

Last fall, following an interagency review process, TSA was given the lead in the federal response to persistent disruptions of airport operations due to UAS. The agency has assigned its Federal Air Marshals Service to the drone security mission, which initially is aimed at detecting, tracking and classifying drone incursions, although TSA said last November that in limited circumstances federal entities would attempt to mitigate potential threats.

TSA’s C-UAS authorities have been challenged by two Republican lawmakers who work for policy committees that oversee TSA and the Federal Aviation Administration. Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) and Sam Graves (R-Mo.), the ranking members on the Homeland Security and Transportation Committee, respectively, argued that the law giving DHS C-UAS authorities relates to assets and facilities protected by Customs and Border Protection, the Secret Service, and the Federal Protective Service (Defense Daily, Nov. 15, 2019).

TSA Administrator David Pekoske in March said his agency’s goal is to provide a list of qualified products for airports to use in obtaining drone security technologies (Defense Daily, March 3). In June, Pekoske issued updated guidance related to TSA’s overall strategy, including an objective to develop “expertise and operational capability” for C-UAS at major U.S. airports.

The House Appropriations Committee in its report language says that UAS operating near airports “can pose a serious threat to arriving and departing aircraft.” Once the DHS spending bill is signed into law, the committee wants a briefing from TSA within 60 days on the process for selecting a second test site and “a multi-year plan and schedule for the program.”

TSA’s FY ’21 budget request seeks $3 million to staff up its C-UAS program.