House GOP Leaders Oppose DHS-operated C-UAS at Airports

 - November 15, 2019, 4:19 PM

The ranking members of the House Transportation and Homeland Security committees are urging the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) not to employ counter-UAS (C-UAS) equipment around U.S. airports. 

In a letter to acting DHS secretary Chad Wolf, U.S. Reps. Sam Graves (R-Missouri) and Mike Rogers (R-Alabama) argued that DHS deployment of C-UAS around airports was outside the scope of existing federal law and beyond the boundaries of DHS’s competency. “Beyond the clear lack of congressional intent to authorize the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) and FAMS (Federal Air Marshal Service) 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,” the congressmen wrote.

The pair also noted that the enabling legislation for federal deployment of C-UAS, Section 1602 of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2012 (PL 115-254), limited that deployment to a “covered facility or asset” as defined as facilities and assets of the Customs and Border Protection, the Secret Service, buildings guarded by the Federal Protective Service, national security special events, special event assessment rating events, mass gatherings, active federal law enforcement, emergency response, or security functions. 

“The mitigation of a persistent UAS in the vicinity of an airport or in the airspace around such an airport does not fall into any of the categories listed above or in the law,” Graves and Rogers said. The pair stressed that they are not opposed to the deployment of C-UAS around airports, but want to ensure that it is executed by an agency with the proper background and congressional authorization. “If the [Trump] Administration believes that another federal agency needs additional authority to mitigate credible UAS threat near airports, we welcome discussion along those lines,” they said. Graves and Rogers voiced their concerns after learning of a plan in which the FAMS would operate Department of Defense C-UAS at airports. 

At an international drone symposium held in May, Serge Potapov, federal air marshal in-charge, openly discussed DHS’s C-UAS efforts including 3D modeling and simulations using Department of Defense (DoD) technology. Potapov said the TSA is looking at C-UAS technology but acknowledged that it is dangerous to use at airports and that the first priority in the event of a drone incursion is to locate the aircraft’s operator. Potapov’s remarks came less than a week after the FAA’s director of airport safety and standards issued a written warning to airport administrators regarding C-UAS. John Dermody reminded local and state airport administrators that the FAA “currently does not support the usage of C-UAS, which include active interdiction capabilities, by any entities other than the federal departments with explicit statutory authority to use this technology.”

DHS is currently funding a Rand Corporation study at the Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center to assess UAS threats at airports in response to the Preventing Emerging Threats Act of 2018. Data for the study was collected over the summer and will be used in a final report to Congress.