In response to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) detecting an increase in the use of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) by bad actors along the southern border, U.S. Northern Command reviewing how it can help the agency detect drones on the border and is conducting market research to potentially acquire solutions to monitor small drones.

The Air Force, on behalf of USNORTHCOM, on July 6 released a Request for Information (RFI) to survey the market drone detection and monitoring solutions with the objective being to help “in determining the acquisition strategy for the subject procurement,” says the notice, which was published in the federal government’s business opportunities website,

USNORTHCOM, which is based in Colorado, is responsible for defending the U.S. homeland and supports the Department of Homeland Security in its mission.

USNORTHCOM, in a response to queries from Defense Daily, said this week that DHS and its CBP component “have detected an uptick of unmanned aerial system operations south of the U.S. border, including drug cartels utilizing UAVs to transport drugs as well as cartels using weaponized UAVs to target Mexican law enforcement and rival cartels. Although cartels have not utilized weaponized UAVs on the U.S. side of the border, the use of UAVs in this manner presents a potential threat to the homeland.”

At the moment, the command said its next steps haven’t “been determined, but USNORTHCOM is committed to defending the homeland,” which “requires [it] to continually adapt to the changing threat environment.”

The command also said that if it does acquire the drone detection and monitoring capabilities to help CBP, it would free up the agency’s law enforcement personnel for other missions.

CBP has acquired its own anti-drone technology for use along the southern border. In 2019, the agency spent $1.2 million with a small company, Citadel Defense, to provide the Titan counter-drone system to be evaluated and operated along the U.S. border with Mexico.

The RFI asks respondents if they can propose mobile solutions to monitor three categories of small UAS. The first, Cat 1, weigh between one and 20 pounds and fly below 1,000 feet and no faster than 100 knots. Cat 2 drones weigh between 21 and 55 pounds, fly below 3,500 feet and less than 250 knots. Cat 3 UAS weigh under 1,320 pounds, fly below 18,000 feet and have a maximum speed of at least 250 knots.

USNORTHCOM pointed out that in defending against Cat 3 and larger UAS, North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) has the legal authorities to engage these systems within its area of responsibility, which includes the southern border.

As to whether transnational criminal organizations or other bad actors have been using larger UAS, USNORTHCOM said it “considers it possible that cartels could acquire and utilize larger-size UAVs, but neither USNORTHCOM nor NORAD have confirmed the use of larger UAVs by cartels at this time.”