Enacting Agile UAS/C-UAS Policy That Won't Hamper Innovation

Ha McNeill
August 16, 2022

The Homeland Security Enterprise Forum (HSEF)continually strives to engage in thoughtful dialogue, educate the public and inform government leadership. Today, HSEF is thrilled to share a security-related professional blog from our partner Pangiam written by Ha McNeill, Executive Vice President, Pangiam: 

Over the past several years, the use of unmanned aerial platforms has grown. From commercial to government applications, Unmanned Aircraft Vehicles (UAV) and Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) provide new capabilities for both the private and public sectors, such as increasing safety, improving facilitation, and expanding the reaches of telecommunications. Yet, UAS—and in particular, the small UAS—present an emerging threat to our nation’s homeland and national security. Given the cross-jurisdictional challenges associated with monitoring and mitigating these threats, along with issues related with regulating UAV and UAS activity in the skies, the White House recently issued the Domestic Counter-UAS National Action Plan.

This was the focus of a panel, Counter sUAS Capabilities for Protecting Critical Infrastructure, at the National Congress on Counter Unmanned Aircraft Technology, held in May in Arlington, Virginia. Moderated by Lieutenant General Michael Nagata, (USA-ret), I alongside Captain Jim Bamberger from Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) and COL Tony Behrens of the Joint Staff (J8), Pentagon, took a deep dive into efforts to defend critical U.S. infrastructure with emerging counter unmanned aerial systems (C-UAS) capabilities—not just here at home, but around the world.

A perennial challenge for homeland and national security is addressing the intersection between enacting agile policy to enable the innovative application of emerging technologies and also establishing guardrails against malfeasance and misuse. The U.S. should be a global leader in this space when it comes to developing C-UAS policy prescriptions to protect critical infrastructure, so private industry can adopt best-in-class solutions that are globally competitive.

The Administration is right to take a whole of government approach. C-UAS policy crosses over several different verticals. One of the key recommendations—pursuit of a legislative proposal—is designed to enhance and broaden C-UAS authorities. But authorities alone aren’t sufficient. For them to be deployed successfully, a few key principles should be followed:

• Defined roles and responsibilities between U.S. federal agencies and state, local, tribal, and territorial government entities (SLTTs), as well as owners and operators of critical infrastructure facilities.

• A clear legal framework for how these authorities interact with existing federal, state and local criminal statutes, privacy and nuisance laws, while allowing the legitimate use of UAS to thrive.

• Address resources as well as authorities, so that agencies will have the capabilities necessary to carry out their responsibilities.

• Maximize innovation in the UAS and C-UAS space, by leveraging existing testing and evaluation (T&E) mechanisms, such as TSA’s Qualified Products List approach, to vet and certify technologies.

• Create a force multiplier network or government ecosystem where third party certifiers can test, evaluate, and certify technologies. Results will help the public and private sectors readily identify what’s viable and what’s not.

• Harmonize international standards to permit like-minded countries to share and trust in each other’s T&E efforts and accelerate global advancements.

• Take an agile and flexible decentralized approach that recognizes the nuance of different domestic infrastructure use cases and the fact that there is no single silver bullet to protecting our critical national infrastructure.

• Apply a layered or system-of-system approach that mitigates risk to achieve the best, most resilient protection.

• Recognize that response will in most cases occur at the local level and provide those organizations with the resources and tools they need for effective C-UAS.

Enacting agile policy that has the power to champion innovation and benefit critical infrastructure are achievable goals. Congress and the Administration should work together with urgency to expand the authorities and capabilities for C-UAS.

Determining “next steps” will vary depending on who you are, and where you sit. But when it comes to protecting critical infrastructure around the world, none of us can afford to waste another moment.

Ha McNeill is the Executive Vice President of Pangiam Commercial and former CoS at the Transportation Security Administration.

Pangiam Commercial provides expert advice and consultation in the areas of CUAS…

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Ha McNeill

Executive Vice President of Pangiam Commercial and former CoS at the Transportation Security Administration.