Biden Administration Releases ‘National Action Plan’ to ‘Set New Ground Rules’ for Drones

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Isiah Enriquez launches a Switchblade Drone during a training exercise at Camp Lejeune, N.C., July 7, 2021. The U.S. military is sending similar Switchblade systems to Ukraine. (Photo by Marine Corps Pfc. Sarah Pysher)

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Isiah Enriquez launches a Switchblade Drone during a training exercise at Camp Lejeune, N.C., July 7, 2021. The U.S. military is sending similar Switchblade systems to Ukraine. (Photo by Marine Corps Pfc. Sarah Pysher)

( – Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), or drones to the layman, « have become a regular feature of American life, » the Biden White House said Monday in a fact sheet explaining how it plans to expand regulation of them.

« Malicious actors have increasingly used UAS domestically to commit crimes, conduct illegal surveillance and industrial espionage, and thwart law enforcement efforts at the local, state and Federal level, » the fact sheet says.

« Today, the Biden Administration is releasing the first whole-of-government plan to address UAS threats in the Homeland. Through the Domestic Counter-Unmanned Aircraft Systems National Action Plan, the Administration is working to expand where we can protect against nefarious UAS activity, who is authorized to take action, and how it can be accomplished lawfully.

« The Plan seeks to achieve this legitimate expansion while safeguarding the airspace, communications spectrums, individual privacy, civil liberties and civil rights. To achieve this balance, the Administration is calling on Congress to adopt legislation to close critical gaps in existing law and policy that currently impede government and law enforcement from protecting the American people and our vital security interests. »

The plan includes the following eight recommendations:

— Work with Congress to enact a new legislative proposal to reauthorize and expand existing counter-UAS authorities for the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, Defense, State, as well as the Central Intelligence Agency and NASA in limited situations. The proposal also expands drone-detection authorities for state, local, territorial and Tribal (SLTT) law enforcement agencies and critical infrastructure owners and operators.

— Establish a list of U.S. Government-authorized detection equipment, approved by Federal security and regulatory agencies, to guide authorized entities in purchasing UAS detection systems.

— Establish oversight and mechanisms to enable and support critical infrastructure owners and operators in purchasing counter-UAS equipment for use by authorized Federal entities or SLTT law enforcement agencies;

— Establish a National Counter-UAS Training Center to increase training accessibility and promote interagency cross-training and collaboration;

— Create a Federal UAS incident tracking database as a government-wide repository for departments and agencies to have a better understanding of the overall domestic threat;

— Establish a mechanism to coordinate research, development, testing, and evaluation on UAS detection and mitigation technology across the Federal government;

— Work with Congress to enact a comprehensive criminal statute that sets clear standards for legal and illegal uses, closes loopholes in existing Federal law, and establishes adequate penalties to deter the most serious UAS-related crimes; and

— Enhance cooperation with the international community on counterUAS technologies, as well as the systems designed to defeat them.

The fact sheet notes that drones « serve many beneficial commercial and recreational purposes. »

But — « to protect our Homeland and prevent their growing use from threatening the safety and security of our people, our communities, and our institutions, this Counter-UAS National Action Plan will set new ground rules for the expanding uses of UAS and improve our defenses against the exploitation of UAS for inappropriate or dangerous purposes. »

The action plan, announced on April 25, comes as the United States ships advanced drones to the battlefield in Ukraine.

The Pentagon already has sent at least 700 Switchblade drones to Ukraine, and last week, it announced it is sending « over 121 Phoenix Ghost Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems, » a drone that was in development before Russia invaded Ukraine.

The Switchblades are described as a « loitering » missile with high-precision, GPS-guided, tank-busting capability.

The secretive « Phoenix Ghost, » developed by the Air Force, will « very nicely suit » the needs of fighters in eastern Ukraine, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters.

« I am not — just not going to get into great detail about the specifications here. I would just tell you that — that this unmanned aerial system is designed for tactical operations, » Kirby said on April 21.

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