US government report finds ‘limited capabilities to counter illicit unmanned aircraft systems’

A report commissioned by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published on 25 June 2020 found “DHS’ capability to counter illicit UAS activity remains limited”. It reports the absence of a “uniform approach” and omission to “request the funding needed” to develop “a realistic work plan and issuing complete department-wide C-UAS guidance”.

The DHS issued an internal memorandum calling for a uniform approach to DHS’ expansion of its Counter-UAS (C-UAS) capability under the Preventing Emerging Threats Act in November 2018 and assigned the Office of Strategy, Policy, and Plans as the Department’s lead over components with authorised C-UAS missions. Government agencies were instructed not to take any actions towards C-UAS expansion until the Office of Policy completed a uniform approach for doing so.

“However, the Office of Policy did not execute a uniform approach as directed because it did not request the funding needed to obtain subject matter experts to fulfill all of the Secretary’s requirements for the uniform approach, including developing a realistic work plan and issuing complete department-wide C-UAS guidance. According to DHS officials, funding for C-UAS expansion unsuccessfully competed with other mission priorities for budget resources. Consequently, DHS will remain vulnerable to increased security risks and emerging threats from unmanned aircraft until it expands its capability to counter illicit UAS activity.”

The DHS concurs with the report findings and has initiated corrective actions to address the findings.

According to the report:

“The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) projects the recreational UAS fleet to grow from 1.2 million units in 2018 to 1.4 million in 2023, an average annual growth rate of 2.2 percent. Additionally, the commercial UAS fleet is forecasted to nearly triple from 277,386 in 2018 to 835,211 in 2023, an average annual growth rate of 24.7 percent. Further with more than 900,000 UAS owners registered as of December 31, 2018, the FAA estimated there were about 1.25 million model drones in circulation. As described, the legitimate use of UAS is on the rise. The increased availability of drones on the open market continues to amplify security risks and emerging threats for the foreseeable future.”

Among areas of concern, the report found the following shortfalls:

Lack of subject matter experts; unrealistic work plan; and incomplete C-UAS guidance.

The report concluded:

“Until DHS funds the C-UAS initiative, and authorized components expand their capability to counter illicit UAS activity, the homeland will remain vulnerable to increased security risks and emerging threats for the foreseeable future. Without subject matter experts, a realistic work plan, and fully developed C-UAS guidance, DHS’ ability to coordinate component C-UAS efforts will continue to be hindered. Further, without proper coordination across components and a uniform approach to expansion, C-UAS capabilities could be significantly delayed or altogether ineffective.”

The report made four recommendations:

Recommendation 1: We recommend the Under Secretary for Strategy, Policy, and Plans identify its budget requirements and convey those requirements to the Office of the Chief Financial Officer for consideration as identified in the Secretary of Homeland Security’s memorandum dated November 8, 2018.

Recommendation 2: We recommend the Under Secretary for Strategy, Policy, and Plans conduct an objective workforce analysis of the C-UAS Program Management Office to determine the appropriate staff needed to accomplish the office’s mission cost-effectively.

Recommendation 3: We recommend the Under Secretary for Strategy, Policy, and Plans develop a timeline with achievable goals for C-UAS capability implementation across the Department.

Recommendation 4: We recommend the Under Secretary for Strategy, Policy, and Plans complete the Secretary’s Counter Unmanned Aircraft Systems Policy Guidance, including the annexes specifying processes and procedures the Department needs to conduct C-UAS operations and ensure program uniformity and consistency.

The Office of Policy concurred with the four recommendations and is taking steps, or has implemented actions to address them.

For more information visit:

https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2020-06/OIG-20-43-Jun20.pdf

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