The Secret Service plans to begin evaluations of small surveillance drones to reduce its reliance on manned aircraft and improve operations, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
The proof of concept testing will also help support the Secret Service’s aim of establishing an unmanned aircraft system program in fiscal year 2022, DHS says in a Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) released on Tuesday.
The assessment says that the Secret Service typically relies on manned aircraft for various types of imaging collection to protect motorcade routes, sites and National Special Security Events, adding that these aircraft have limitations such as lack of persistence and can be noisy to operate for certain situations.
The initial focus of the program is to identify commercial-off-the-shelf and non-developmental UAS to take advantage of previous investments and minimize risk, and help establish requirements. The testing will include small tethered drones with day/night optical sensors for performance in weather, payload and various mission requirements to demonstrate effectiveness in boosting situational awareness protected sites during presidential and vice-presidential visits, DHS says in the May 22 PIA.
The drones will operate between 200 to 400 feet above the ground and be used to observe the outer perimeter of established secure zones. The camera systems will have limited zoom capabilities “and are unlikely to provide images of sufficient quality to permit subjecting them to a facial recognition system,” the PIA says, adding that if necessary, the focus will be on being able to physically describe a subject to aid in his or her interdiction.
It also says that the drones will not be used for recording, transmitting or intercepting signals.
The assessment also says that development of the Secret Service’s sUAS capabilities could occur in spirals, with the first focused on the protective mission and the second adding the investigative mission, and eventually others such as countermeasures.
Within DHS, Customs and Border Protection and the Coast Guard have established UAS programs to further aid their missions.