Report: Homeland Security Agencies Wary of Adopting Drone Technology

By Yasmin Tadjdeh

Red tape within the Department of Homeland Security is stifling the adoption of unmanned aerial systems within its 22 agencies,found a recent report.

“Bureaucratic resistance in components across DHS is threatening its ability to effectively acquire and operate unmanned systems,” including small systems that have become increasingly inexpensive and more capable, said a report titled “Unmanned Systems in Homeland Security.”

The report was put together by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, and the Homeland Security Studies and Analysis Institute, a federally funded research and development center operated by ANSER, a public service research institute based in Falls Church, Virginia.

“On balance, the HSE [homeland security enterprise] is not yet well poised to capitalize on, or respond to widespread commercial and consumer use of, unmanned systems,” it said. “While work is underway in DHS, for example, it appears to be largely reactive, siloed, focused primarily (though not exclusively) on the air domain, and limited to DHS vice the larger HSE. This is not sufficient for what is likely to be a disruptive technology.”

Customs and Border Protection has an established program using large Predator systems, but it has yet to fully embrace small systems, the report said.
"DHS could make significant use of commercial-off-the-shelf [small] UAS, which will outpace other unmanned systems in domestic quantity and use over the next decade," it said. Small systems "may not offer radically different capabilities than are already available in manned aircraft, but they can offer those capabilities in a more affordable way, and potentially can be fielded and operated in far greater numbers."

There is a lack of overarching policy and strategy for the domestic use of such systems which in turn creates “public safety, public affairs and economic risks,” it said.

That is largely due in part to pending rules being written by the Federal Aviation Administration, said Sam Brannen, one of the authors of the study who works for A.T. Kearney’s global business policy council.

The FAA is required by Congress to integrate small unmanned aerial systems — those weighing under 55 pounds — into the national airspace, but it has so far missed key deadlines.
Calling the rules the elephant in the room, Brannen said: “It’s only fair to say that the rulemaking process has gone very slowly, and it’s only fair to say that it has gone very slowly for a number of very good reasons, including zero tolerance for a decrease in aviation safety as a result of introducing UAS.”

“The adoption of UAS in the homeland security enterprise has been slowed by FAA rulemaking. We heard from a variety of potential users that they are simply waiting for rules,” Brannen said during a Dec. 16 panel discussion at CSIS.

Additionally, the delay in regulations is hurting U.S. companies, he said. “The U.S., from a competitiveness stand point, is falling behind other countries because of the regulatory decisions that we’re making.”

It has also resulted in a “Wild West” situation, where some businesses are shirking the rules and flying drones illegally, he said.

“The enforcement is extremely weak, the legal precedent is very murky and they’re willing to take the chance,” he said. “When was the last time you saw a realtor arrested for flying a drone? But when you multiply that across the United States, across commercial sectors it becomes very confusing and congested.”

More research still needs to be done within federal agencies when it comes to small UAS, he said.  During the report’s research period in 2014, only the FBI had small UAS in regular operations, Brennen said. Their use was limited to niche applications and line-of-sight operations.

While the report was published in January, it was only recently released. Kenneth Rapuano, senior vice president at ANSER and executive director of the HSSAI, said the delay was because of “vagaries” within the homeland security public release approval process.

Topics: Homeland Security, Robotics, Homeland Security, Unmanned Air Vehicles

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