A Department of Homeland Security plan to authorize the Transportation Security Administration’s Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS) to operate anti-drone technologies at U.S. airports goes against law passed by Congress last year, the top Republicans on two House Committees said last Thursday.
“We believe this concept of operations is wholly inconsistent with, and contrary to the legislative intent of, the limited C-UAS authority provided by Congress to DHS,” Mike Rogers (Ala.), ranking member on the Homeland Security Committee, and Sam Graves (Mo.), ranking member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, wrote in a Nov. 14 letter to Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf.
Graves and Rogers say the DHS plan is to have FAMS use Defense Department C-UAS equipment. C-UAS refers to counter-unmanned aircraft system.
The DoD has more operational experience with technologies to detect, track, identify and defeat UAS than any other federal agency, having deployed these systems for years overseas. Congress in fiscal years 2017 and 2018 also gave DoD and the Department of Energy authorities to protect certain of their domestic assets from drone threats.
Congress in October 2018 also gave DHS and the Department of Justice authorities to mitigate threats from small drones when there is a threat to a “covered facility or asset,” and to work with the Federal Aviation Administration to ensure C-UAS systems don’t present a safety hazard to the national airspace.
Graves and Rogers point out that the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, which contains the C-UAS authorities granted to DHS and DoJ, “includes facilities and assets relating to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the United States Secret Service (USSS), and buildings protected by the Federal Protective Service. They also say the C-UAS authorities were only given to the Coast Guard, CBP and USSS, not TSA or FAMs.
“Beyond the clear lack of Congressional intent to authorize the TSA and FAMS to carry out this kind of C-UAS activity, DHS’s experience in operating C-UAS equipment, particularly within complicated airspace with civilian air traffic over populated areas, is sorely lacking,” they say, adding that FAMS has no “experience in such matters.”
Last month, Angela Stubblefield, deputy associate administrator for Security and Hazardous Materials at the FAA, said the White House National Security Council is developing a concept of operations (CONOPS) for detecting and mitigating potential drone threats to airport operations. She said at an FAA Drone Advisory Committee meeting that currently no one has the authority to provide C-UAS protection at airports.
Stubblefield also said the NSC was in the final stages of completing the CONOPS.
The FAA in a Nov. 15 statement told Defense Daily that “The FAA, TSA, FBI, and the Department of Defense worked closely to draft a national federal response plan to address a persistent UAS disruption in the airport environment. This plan ensures these agencies closely coordinate so that any use of counter UAS mitigation systems at or near an airport does not threaten the safety of the national airspace system.”
The FAA also highlighted that the FAA Reauthorization Act authorizes the agency to “to conduct a pilot program testing UAS detection and mitigation technologies at five U.S. airports. The FAA is currently working to implement this pilot program in coordination with our federal partners.”
In late October, the DHS Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate and the FAA issued a Request for Information seeking vendors to participate in technology evaluations next year for detecting, tracking and identifying UAS and other small aircraft, including manned, in certain areas of the homeland.
S&T is primarily focused on helping CBP detect, track and identify these aircraft in environments along the northern U.S. border. If there is a solution of interest to the FAA to meet its requirements, which would typically be in airport environments, S&T will evaluate the counter UAS component as part of a demonstration, Tim Bennett, the program manager for Air Domain Awareness at S&T, told Defense Daily earlier this month in an email response to questions.
The Coast Guard, which in September deployed counter drone systems in support of the Secret Service during the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York City, in 2020 is planning a year-long pilot of C-UAS systems to develop operational processes and capabilities for detecting and defeating drones near certain facilities and assets. The Coast Guard effort is intended to lead to a procurement for ship-mounted C-UAS.
The Coast Guard will participate with S&T in the maritime portion of the air domain awareness demonstration to “make sure they also have systems that meet their needs,” Bennett said.