Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Thursday will be in North Dakota to discuss border operations and receive briefings on unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and the development of technologies to counter UAS, the Department of Homeland Security said on Wednesday.
Nielsen will be in Grand Forks, which is home to one of Customs and Border Protection’s National Air Security Operations Centers, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s Northern Plains UAS Test Site.
DHS said that Nielsen will address her department’s concerns about threats from UAS and its backing of legislation to obtain legal authority from Congress to mitigate UAS threats.
Current law prohibits the downing of aircraft, both manned and unmanned, in the U.S. although the Departments of Defense and Energy have limited authorities to protect some of their domestic facilities from drones. Counter drone legislation has been introduced in the House and Senate to give DHS and the Justice Department limited authorities to also protect certain assets from potential UAS threats.
The legislation in the House and Senate is important too because it would allow DHS to test technologies to mitigate drone threats, something that it is currently prohibited from doing.
DHS and DoJ officials are concerned with the proliferation of small UAS, the type that can be purchased off the shelf and are increasingly used for recreational purposes, because of their use in transporting drugs and contraband over the border, into prisons and for surveillance purposes of sensitive facilities. They are also concerned with the potential of small drones to be weaponized, much like the way the Islamic State in Iraq has used the aircraft to drop small bombs and, last Saturday, in an failed attempt to assassinate Venezuelan leader Nicholas Maduro.
DHS supports the Counter UAS bills in Congress and last month the White House issued a statement in support of the legislation. During her visit, Nielsen will also participate in a roundtable discussion on efforts to integrate UAS into the national airspace and supporting technologies.
Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), who is a member of the Senate Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee, will join Nielsen.