Unmanned Systems and the Homeland Security Enterprise

Unmanned Systems and the Homeland Security Enterprise

Client: Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate

In a joint effort with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, an HSSAI research team undertook an eight-month Core Research Program task to examine the implications, for the homeland security enterprise, of unmanned systems; and how stakeholders in the homeland security enterprise should be postured to effectively integrate unmanned systems into their missions. The team researched the topic through extensive literature review, interviews and a series of working group discussions, ultimately producing an unclassified report for public release.

The report, Unmanned Systems in Homeland Security, explored the use of remotely operated aerial, ground, and maritime devices throughout the homeland security enterprise. The report chronicled the way such systems are employed for homeland security, explored possible future uses, and analyzed the constraints–legal, societal, and practical–on such uses. The report laid out its findings and offered recommendations to DHS regarding policy, operations, and organization to respond to existing and emerging opportunities and threats.

The team found that, among other things, current use of unmanned systems for homeland security is largely limited to deployment of aerial systems for border security missions by DHS and ground systems for ordnance disposal by law enforcement at the federal, state, and local levels. Small aerial systems and maritime systems appear to be used infrequently. Overall, unmanned systems appear to hold promise for the homeland security enterprise. At the same time, the constraints surrounding government and civilian use of unmanned systems are significant; public perception and safety will continue to be the biggest obstacles. Fairly or not, unmanned systems in general and aerial systems specifically play a central part in the public discussion of mass surveillance programs by the government.

The team recommended that:

  • The Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security convene a 12-month internal working group to assess how DHS should best organize and posture to respond to the existing and emerging opportunities and threats presented by unmanned systems.
  • DHS seek to incorporate unmanned systems into virtually all of its exercises.
  • U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and the U.S. Coast Guard begin testing operational use of small unmanned aerial systems in the border security mission.
  • DHS and the National Institute of Justice collaborate closely in helping to set standards for state and local operators of unmanned systems.
  • DHS operators and technologists continue to liaise with federal partners.
Homeland Security Studies and Analysis, Homeland Security Studies and Analysis Institute Projects