Air National Guard Remotely Piloted Aircraft and Domestic Missions

Opportunities and Challenges

by Stephen J. Guerra, Michael J. McNerney

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Research Questions

  1. Is there a role for ANG RPAs in conducting Defense Support of Civil Authorities (DSCA) missions, given the growth in their numbers since 2009 and limits on Customs and Border Protection's fleet?
  2. What types of DSCA missions are best suited for ANG RPAs, given their capabilities?
  3. What are the constraints in using ANG RPAs domestically?

With the nation facing a variety of domestic threats and potential emergencies, policymakers are looking for ways to respond, especially as budgets decline. They need to exploit new capabilities and optimize those that already exist. Air National Guard (ANG) remotely piloted aircraft (RPAs) may offer such an opportunity. However, significant sensitivities may arise in the use of military RPAs for domestic missions. There are also constraints at both the operational and policy levels.

In Air National Guard Remotely Piloted Aircraft and Domestic Missions: Opportunities and Challenges, the authors attempt to guide the discussion of ANG's utility in domestic missions. The report analyzes which domestic RPA missions are best suited to the ANG's current and planned capabilities and explores the policy and operational constraints that ANG RPAs face in conducting such missions. The authors gathered and analyzed data on the kinds of missions that RPAs conduct domestically, the current and future capabilities of the ANG's RPA force (such as sensors), and the policy and operational constraints the ANG faces in using its RPAs to fly domestic missions.

The authors find that the current ANG RPA force can add the most value by freeing up DHS RPAs to focus on the missions for which they are best equipped: border countermigrant, border change-detection, and maritime counterdrug missions. Consequently, decisionmakers should consider ANG RPAs for incident-reconnaissance missions and, to the extent that policy restrictions allow, fixed-target surveillance. The authors also recommend developing a strategy that can help identify and address congressional concerns while providing transparency for the public as the Department of Defense works to explain its policies and uses for RPAs domestically.

Key Findings

There Are Five Types of Domestic RPA Missions

  • The mission types are border countermigrant, border change detection, maritime counterdrug operations, incident reconnaissance, and fixed-target surveillance.
  • Given their current capabilities, ANG RPAs are best suited to incident reconnaissance and fixed-target surveillance. As the ANG introduces more MQ-9s, the force will also become capable of border change-detection missions, which rely on synthetic aperture radar.

ANG RPAs' Utility in Domestic Missions Is Affected by Several Key Policy Constraints

  • The Secretary of Defense must explicitly approve any operational use of DoD RPAs within the United States.
  • RPA units must draft and gain approval of a Proper Use Memorandum outlining the mission, intended use of the imagery, and safeguards that will be employed to prevent unauthorized development or use of imagery.
  • Operating RPAs in most unrestricted airspace requires special approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the form of a certificate of authorization.
  • United States Code Title 10 and Title 32 offer further constraints on information sharing.

Recommendations

  • The current ANG RPA force can add the most value by freeing up DHS RPAs to focus on the missions for which they are best equipped: border countermigrant, border change-detection, and maritime counterdrug missions. Consequently, decisionmakers should consider ANG RPAs for incident-reconnaissance missions and, to the extent that policy restrictions allow, fixed-target surveillance.
  • The ANG should prioritize the MQ-9 conversion of units closest to the southwestern border. This would position aircraft with appropriate sensors closest to the areas where they would be best utilized, which would speed response while minimizing the need for transits to the border and thus requests for access to additional airspace.
  • When conducting RPA-related exercises and training, the National Guard should include events focusing on strategic-level policy constraints and coordination with personnel from OSD and other agencies.
  • The National Guard and other stakeholders should adopt procedures like those associated with the Secretary of Defense Orders Book; this would simplify the process of deploying and employing RPAs for domestic operations.
  • The ANG should host workshops or conferences to educate law enforcement agencies and first responders about RPA capabilities and the processes required to obtain support for law enforcement or emergency management operations. These exchanges should help stakeholders identify ways to streamline civil support processes.
  • The ANG should develop a strategy to identify and address congressional concerns while providing transparency for the public as DoD works to explain its policies and uses for RPAs domestically.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    Air National Guard Remotely Piloted Aircraft Capabilities

  • Chapter Three

    Constraints

  • Chapter Four

    Conclusions and Recommendations

This research was conducted within the Acquisition and Technology Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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