Concerns About the Drone Threat

In recent testimony before the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Christopher Wray and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas described their concerns about the drone threat to the United States and the soon-to-be expiring Counter-UAS authorities of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and DHS.

Secretary Mayorkas expressed his concern to the committee about the drone threat facing the United States, “Just yesterday, I was meeting with experts who were speaking of the increased efficiency, sophistication and capability of drones, in terms of their visibility, the speed with which they can move, the distance with which they can move, and also, the loads that they can carry.”

Director Wray testified that “As the threat continues to grow, we are investigating, even as we speak, several incidences within the U.S. of attempts to weaponize.. drones with homemade IEDs. That is the future that is here now.”

Expiration of Existing DOJ and DHS Authorities

Commenting on the expiring authorities to Senator Gary Peters, Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Secretary Mayorkas expressed his support of the proposed Peters-Johnson legislation, “…I’m deeply appreciative of your and Senator Johnson’s bipartisan effort to propose legislation to not only continue our authority to counter unmanned aerial systems but also to expand it critically.  That need is very grave.”

Director Wray expressed similar concerns about the renewal of authorities that provide both DHS and the DOJ with legislative relief from certain provisions of Title 18 and Title 49 of the United States Code.  Director Wray testified that “It’s important for Americans to understand, if that authority is not reauthorized next month, that public gatherings like the Super Bowl in Arizona, like New Year’s Eve in Times Square, like Formula One in Las Vegas, and I could go on, none of those things will have protection from this threat.” Wray told the committee that the legislation previously passed has allowed federal law enforcement to locate hundreds of drones that have violated federal laws.

Biden Administration Recommends a Path Forward

Earlier this year, the Biden Administration released a whole-of-government plan to address unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) threats in the homeland.  The Domestic Counter-Unmanned Aircraft Systems National Action Plan released in April 2022 provided key recommendations for action to counter the increasing threats of UAS, which includes:

  • Work with Congress to reauthorize and expand the set of tools and agencies that can protect against UAS.
  • Establish a list of U.S. Government-authorized UAS detection equipment approved by Federal security and regulatory agencies.
  • Establish oversight and enablement mechanisms to facilitate the purchase of Counter-UAS equipment by critical infrastructure owners and operators for use by authorized agencies.
  • Establish a National Counter-UAS Training Center.
  • Create a Federal UAS incident tracking database.
  • Establish a mechanism to coordinate research, development, testing and evaluation of UAS detection and mitigation technology.
  • Work with Congress to enact a comprehensive criminal statute that sets standards of legal and illegal uses of UAS; close loopholes in existing Federal law; and establish adequate penalties to deter UAS-related crimes.
  • Enhance cooperation with the international community on Counter-UAS detection and mitigation technologies, as well as the systems designed to defeat them.