Lawmakers call on Army to coordinate small-drone defenses

A bipartisan amendment would charge the Army with coordinating defenses against small drones across the Defense Department.

Army drone (U.S. Army Photo / Albert C Vogel/Dugway Proving Ground Public Affairs)

To better defend military forces against small weaponized drones, lawmakers introduced legislation calling for the Army to coordinate troop defenses against small unmanned aerial systems for the Department of Defense.

Small drones -- including small, easily acquired, commercially made drones -- are an emerging threat to U.S. forces overseas, according to Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) and Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who introduced the amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act during that committee's consideration of the NDAA.

In some countries, small hobbyist quadcopters and other commercial drones have been weaponized by terrorists and guerilla forces who steer them into people or objects or modify them to carry explosives.

Hassan and Johnson’s amendment would recognize and codify the authority of the secretary of the Army to coordinate DOD's counter-drone efforts. It would also authorize the Army to fast-track an overall strategy by September to fight the evolving drone threat and share the plan with Congress.

The danger the remote-controlled unmanned aircraft pose to U.S. military personnel was brought home to Hassan during a visit to Afghanistan.

“When I traveled to Afghanistan last year, I heard from U.S. military leaders on the ground who were concerned about the emerging threat posed by small drones,” Hassan said in a July 2 statement. “These small drones can carry deadly bombs, yet they can go undetected by current Defense Department technology.”

Meanwhile, the Defense Department also is weighing counter-drone technologies.

DOD leadership said on June 25 that it had approved assessments of vendors in several classes of drone defense technologies, including fixed/semifixed systems, dismounted/handheld systems and forward-area command and control systems.

The technologies, officials said, were initially bought to “address urgent and emerging operational needs of deployed forces.”

Beyond the initial report due in September, the proposed legislation would also provide critical oversight measures such as requiring the secretary of the Army to assess potential roadblocks or barriers to the strategy’s implementation as well as having the Government Accountability Office judge the effectiveness of its plan.