May 15 2018
Legislation Would Help Border Officials, Law Enforcement Monitor, Identify, & Intercept Illicit Use of Unmanned Aircraft Along Borders
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp helped introduce bipartisan legislation to provide the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) the authority to counter the misuse of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) that threatens public safety and national security.
Currently, federal agencies have very limited authority to detect and intercept UAS-related threats. Heitkamp’s bipartisan legislation would authorize both the DHS and DOJ to detect, identify, monitor, and track unmanned aircraft posing a threat to personnel, facilities, and operations along the U.S. northern, southern, and maritime borders.
“The potential for the illicit use of drones presents border security officials with additional challenges as they work to protect our borders and prevent narcotics trafficking,” said Heitkamp. “As a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, I’m committed to keeping American families safe by building the capacity to detect and intercept these advanced UAS threats. North Dakota remains a leader in UAS innovation, integration and, research, and it’s absolutely critical that we leverage our strengths in Grand Forks and across the state to both promote safe UAS development and protect against its misuse.”
Heitkamp introduced the bipartisan legislation with U.S. Senators Ron Johnson (R-WI), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), and John Hoeven (R-ND).
Specifically, this bill would provide leaders at DHS and DOJ the authorization they need to develop and use advanced UAS detection and interdiction technology to protect federal buildings and operations. The bill contains important privacy protections, and requires DHS to conduct several assessments to evaluate future threats malicious UAS activity may pose to domestic infrastructure and the general public.
This legislation builds on Heitkamp’s efforts to boost cutting-edge UAS research in North Dakota and across the country. Last week, Heitkamp joined U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao to announce that the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration selected the North Dakota Department of Transportation as one of 10 entities nationwide to help implement a pilot program to test the further integration of UAS into the national airspace, which Heitkamp helped push. North Dakota’s participation in the program will leverage the unique expertise of the Northern Plains UAS Test Site in Grand Forks. In 2016, Heitkamp played a critical role in successfully pushing the FAA to authorize the Northern Plains UAS Test Site as the first site in the country to conduct beyond-visual-line-of-sight operations.
Additionally, Heitkamp has consistently supported U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) UAS training and border enforcement operations in North Dakota. The CBP’s Air and Marine Operations (AMO) operates a National Air Security Operations Center at Grand Forks Air Force Base, which serves as the primary training ground for the CBP’s UAS pilots and crews. From Grand Forks, AMO also conducts border enforcement efforts at the Northern, Southwestern, and Coastal Borders, assists federal, state, local and tribal partners, and has been critical in addressing flooding in the Red River Valley.
Last September, Heitkamp announced a new CBP AMO pilot training program at the University of North Dakota to help address a nationwide shortage of AMO pilots.
Heitkamp has long worked to advance North Dakota’s UAS priorities, including the Northern Plains Test Site, Grand Sky, and Grand Forks Air Force Base, including:
- Securing long-term Northern Border UAS efforts at Grand Forks Air Force Base. Heitkamp pushed DHS to secure a long-term AMO presence at the Grand Forks Airforce Base, and in September 2017, DHS and Customs and Border protection heeded her call to maintain the their presence on the base.
- Promoting the strengths of Grand Sky business and aviation park. In February, Heitkamp toured Grand Sky — which conducts UAS flights in partnership with Northern Plains— to tout its role in diversifying local jobs, growing North Dakota’s economy, and strengthening U.S. national security efforts. During her tours of Northrop Grumman and General Atomics facilities, Heitkamp reinforced the critical role Northrop Grumman plays in advancing the Grand Forks Air Force Base’s Global Hawk mission – helping provide intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance for global operations. She also stressed the need to build out UAS training efforts that General Atomics has spearheaded to support international counterterrorism efforts and U.S. Customs & Border Protection surveillance along the Northern Border.
- Boosting support for Grand Forks’ Global Hawk mission. Heitkamp pushed to secure funding and long-term support for the RQ-4 Global Hawks in the defense authorization bill passed in December 2017. In September 2017, Heitkamp met with Colonel Benjamin W. Spencer, Commander of the 319th Air Base Wing at Grand Forks, to discuss efforts to strengthen the base’s role in protecting the United States’ national security, including pioneering new uses for UAS technology. And Heitkamp also welcomed General Lori J. Robinson, Commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) as she made a rare visit to see the base’s remotely piloted aircraft innovation up close.
- Removing barriers to UAS technology development and investments in North Dakota. Heitkamp successfully pressed then-FAA Administrator Michael Huerta on his agency’s efforts to improve the integration of UAS into the nation’s airspace, urging his agency in 2014 to avoid delays that could hinder the growth of the industry. Just three months later, the FAA heeded her call – announcing the UAS rule proposals she had asked for.