DOD, DHS Increasingly Concerned About Drone Attacks

By Susan Jones | May 10, 2018 | 9:47 AM EDT

The University of North Dakota is home to the first unmanned aircraft systems degree on the collegiate level. (Photo: Screen capture/YouTube)

( - Drone incursions over U.S. military installations are an "increasing problem," Defense Secretary Gen. James Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday: "It's only a matter time before the threat manifests in a -- in a violent way," Mattis said.

One day earlier, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen also expressed concern about drone incursions at the U.S. border: "It's only a matter of time, we fear, when we watch them use it to actually transfer IEDs or other explosive materials," Nielsen told the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security.

In his testimony on Wednesday, Mattis said the U.S. military now tracks "every overflight of our bases, ships, airfields." Mattis said he's been surprised to see "just how much of this is being dealt with."

Mattis told Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.):

We probably are going to have to come in to the FAA and perhaps even to Congress and ask for additional authorities. We have the authority, as you know, over certain sensitive sites. You know of some of them well.

But we do not have the authority to take these down over many other sites -- the normal military base. The problem is, it's only a matter time before the threat manifests in a -- in a violent way.

So we're going to have to come in with a very clear statement, what we need from the Congress or the FAA, and then get that authority out, get the systems out to take them down and make certain we're not running afoul of any-- and we got to be careful, again, that some of things that we would take a UAV down with, we don't want to take down a passenger jet, for example.

There's a reason it's got be integrated. We're working this, and we're tracking every incursion now, every single one, sir.

Both the Defense Department and the Homeland Security Department are developing a "counter-UAS" strategy, Nielsen told Sen. Hoven at a different hearing on Tuesday: (UAS stands for Unmanned Aerial Systems.)

Hoeven told Nielsen the U.S. needs unmanned aircraft for surveillance, but the country also needs to worry how drones may be used to attack the homeland. Hoeven asked Nielsen if her Department has adequate funding for counter-UAS activities:

I thank you for the question, because this is an emerging threat and one that's very top of our mind. We see how UAS's are used in theater, but we also have already seen them used by TCOs to transport drugs across our border. It's only a matter of time, we fear, when we watch them use it to actually transfer IEDs or other explosive materials.

They disrupt our surveillance and cause problems with our communication already. So we have put together a legislative request for authority that would help us surveil and disrupt. It's not dissimilar to what the Department of Defense has. We're working with DOJ to finalize that language, but I would very much look forward to working with you on that so we can protect our border.

Nielsen said DHS already has partnerships with the private sector involving unmanned aerial systems.


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