Another national security-based deadline for Congress is rapidly approaching. The Counter-UAS authority for the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is set to expire on November 18th. If Congress fails to extend the legislative authority granted to these two agencies, the homeland will be even more vulnerable to a security threat that is rapidly proliferating around the world.
Congress has not passed any Counter-UAS legislation since the 2018 FAA Reauthorization Act. Within the 2018 FAA Reauthorization Act was the Preventing Emerging Threats Act (PETA) of 2018. The PETA provided legislative relief from specific federal violations for the DOJ and DHS to use certain RF-based detection equipment and mitigation technology to detect, identify, monitor, track, and warn without prior consent. The authority also authorized the agencies to disrupt, seize, or exercise control; and use reasonable force to disrupt, disable, or destroy drones that were assessed as a credible threat to people, facilities, or assets.
State, Local, Tribal, and Territorial (SLTT) public safety and law enforcement, as well as critical infrastructure and others, have advocated for expanding authority for years. In recent testimony, Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray said, “If it isn’t reauthorized, there is no public safety agency in this country that can provide counter-UAS security.”
The original PETA authority expired on October 5, 2022. The authority has been temporarily extended multiple times since then and will likely see another extension announced this week.
Extending DOJ and DHS Counter-UAS authority and expanding authorities to SLTT and critical infrastructure has strong bipartisan support in Washington, D.C.
In April 2022, the Biden Administration released its Domestic Counter Unmanned Aircraft Systems National Action Plan. The whole-of-government plan sought to address the threat of drones in the homeland. The Plan recommended expanding where the U.S. can protect against nefarious UAS activity in the homeland, who is authorized to take action, and how it can be accomplished lawfully. The Plan sought to expand airspace awareness and protection activities while safeguarding the airspace, communications spectrums, individual privacy, civil liberties, and civil rights.
Earlier this year, Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) introduced S. 1631- Safeguarding the Homeland from the Threats Posed by Unmanned Aircraft Systems Act of 2023. The U.S. House of Representatives version of the bill, H.R. 4333- Safeguarding the Homeland from the Threats Posed by Unmanned Aircraft Systems Act of 2023, was introduced by Representative Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA). Both versions of the legislation are attracting bipartisan support.
This legislation’s importance to the homeland’s security can not be understated. Inexpensive consumer and custom-built drones are playing a significant role in the conflicts in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. These extremely capable drones can conduct surveillance to locate targets, accurately deliver ordnance or coordinates for indirect fire, and conduct battle damage assessments, to name a few.
In the United States, drones are already a significant problem at the border, where the technology is used to conduct surveillance to guide the flow of people and drugs into the United States. Drones are also used to transport drugs into the country and likely money or other items back South.
Prisons are being assaulted through the air with contraband deliveries via drone happening daily throughout the country. These drone drops increase the risk to staff and prisoners with the delivery of cell phones, drugs, and, in some cases, weapons or escape tools.
Drones have been and continue to be a safety risk in and around airports. In July of last year, a drone near Reagan National Airport shut down air traffic in and out of the busy airport for a short time until the situation could be resolved. Other airports worldwide report similar incidents that have impacted aircraft and passengers’ safety and created costly delays.
Although nothing more than an extension of authority is expected from Congress this week, we continue to remain hopeful that Congress will take the necessary steps to expand the use of these authorities to SLTT and critical infrastructure to increase the security of the homeland.
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