By: Dawn Zoldi (Colonel, USAF Ret.)


  • Attacks and attempted attacks on critical infrastructure in the United States have ramped up and become increasingly complex with the use of uncrewed aircraft systems (UAS).
  • The limited legal authorities for a handful of Federal agencies to detect and mitigate rogue UAS remain on track to expire.
  • We need not just a continuation of these Federal law enforcement agency authorities, but an expansion of such authorities to our homeland security partners, local law enforcement and critical infrastructure owners.

The Threat

  • UAS can overfly traditional security measures to conduct surveillance, inflict damage and access unsecured networks and critical operational components.
  • They are cheap and easy to buy: by 2027, the recreational small UAS fleet will peak to approximately 1.82 million units and registered commercial UAS to about 955,000.
    • The FAA receives hundreds of airport drone sighting reports every month.
    • The DHS witnesses thousands of border incursions annually.
  • Yet UAS often evade detection. This creates specific challenges for the privately-owned critical infrastructure community:
    • Disruption/Destruction: A perpetrator used an uncrewed aircraft (UA) rigged with dangling rope and copper wires in an apparent attempt to short circuit the power grid in Pennsylvania in 2020.
    • Surveillance: Non-modified UAS have been conducting significant numbers of incursions on dozens of U.S. nuclear reactors and fuel storage sites for years.
    • Espionage/Intellectual Property Theft: The Louisiana Chemical Association, Apple, Facebook, Tesla have all reported incidents of UAS-conducted aerial espionage.
    • Delivery Vector: Perpetrators employ UAS to drop contraband into prisons. Last year, two inmates pled guilty to masterminding a year-long drone-smuggling operation at Fort Dix, New Jersey.

Legal Limitations

  • Congress has only affirmatively authorized the deployment of counter-UAS technology by the Department of Defense (DOD), Department of Energy (DOE) and certain portions of the DHS and the Department of Justice (DOJ).
  • A major gap remains because some of the biggest and most likely threats to critical infrastructure reside at the state and local level.
  • The Administration, Executive agencies and bi-partisann members of Congress recognize the threat and that Federal agencies lack the resources and capacity to protect it all and need help from our homeland security partners:
    • Administration: The Domestic Counter-Unmanned Aircraft Systems National Action Plan recommends working with Congress to expand counter-UAS authorities to other Federal agencies as well as to state, local, territorial and Tribal (SLTT) law enforcement agencies and critical infrastructure owners/operators.
    • Congress: The Safeguarding the Homeland from the Threats Posed by Unmanned Aircraft Systems Act of 2022 proposed to reauthorize Federal government counter-UAS authorities and extend authorities for tracking and detection to SLTT agencies and critical infrastructure. It included a pilot program to expand mitigation capabilities to 12 SLTT agencies/year, conditioned on proper vetting, training and use of operational and privacy rules.
    • DOJ: Brad Wiegmann, deputy assistant attorney general, national security division – it’s “only a matter of time” before a UAS attacks a mass gathering in the country.
    • DHS: Acting Assistant Secretary for Counterterrorism, Samantha Vinograd – “DHS…can’t be everywhere…What we know is that the threat posed by UAS is widespread across the country, and it is critical that our partners have the authority to help protect the homeland.”

Overcoming Concerns

  • Concerns surround the safety of counter-UAS technologies.
    • Safety: Some mitigation tools, such as kinetic or jamming technologies, can create a risk of collateral damage.

      • Safe and proven mitigation solutions exist and have been employed successfully.
      • One solution replaces the controller’s RF signal with a command to land in a pre-defined safe landing zone. The takeover and safe landing can be manually triggered or occur automatically when a UAS enters a designated no-fly zone with no collateral risk to civilians and physical property. It also enables the identification of an illicit UAS operators’ location.
  • Privacy and civil liberties: With the upcoming implementation of the FAA’s Remote Identification rule (RID), those issues will be nullified.
    • Under RID, small UAS must broadcast RF packets to the public that include the UAS’ unique identifier, latitude, longitude, geometric altitude, and velocity, control station location or take off/landing location, longitude and geometric altitude.


We recommend Congress:

  • Review the Peters bill as a baseline. Every relevant Federal and SLTT agency supports it, as do key advocacy groups  and the majority of UAS and counter-UAS industry.
    • Reauthorize the Federal agencies who have already been deploying counter-UAS technologies for the past 5 years without incident
    • Approve detection capabilities and non-collateral takeover mitigation technologies for our homeland security partners: SLTT and critical infrastructure owners/operators
  • Similar provisions should be included as an amendment to the upcoming FAA Reauthorization Act, as with the 2018 Preventing Emerging Threats Act.