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The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) plans to shoot down drones near airports, as we saw in our story from earlier today, to “mitigate” the risk the unmanned aircraft pose to air traffic. The Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) Federal Air Marshal Service would operate a Defense Department counter-unmanned-aircraft system, according to new plans. Two Republican lawmakers, however, protested against the proposed “Concept of Operations.”

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Department of Homeland Security to shoot down drones near airports

The Trump administration recently proposed a plan that allows for shooting down drones near US airports. This plan, however, upset two Republican lawmakers, who argue that it is “irresponsible,” and that it exceeds the department’s authority.

The Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the Department of Justice drafted a “Concept of Operations,” which would make the TSA the lead federal agency to counter drones that pose a threat to US national airspace or airports.

A letter sent last week from ranking members of the House Homeland Security Committee and a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to the acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf explains that the TSA Federal Air Marshal Service would operate a Defense Department counter-unmanned-aircraft-system to “mitigate” the risk near airports.

Earlier this month, the TSA informed Congress about the airport drone proposal, and it is expected that the discussions between the agencies will continue.

According to CNN, a DHS official said that the TSA already has counter-drone technology available that can bring down an unmanned aircraft immediately when it poses a threat to an airport or air traffic.

According to the DHS, the plans to mitigate the risk of drones went into high gear after the drone sightings at London Gatwick airport last year disrupted air traffic, leaving hundreds of thousands of travelers stranded during the busiest travel season.

Representatives Mike Rogers (R-AL) and Sam Graves (R-MO) argued in a letter to Wolf that the DHS plan “goes far beyond” the authority provided by Congress to take measures to counter the threat of drones in the United States.

According to a congressional staffer, DHS had already asked Congress for shoot-down authority over federal assets, and that the department is now “trying to use some loophole” to shoot down unmanned aircraft near airports, which is “well beyond the current authorities.”

DHS was authorized by Congress last year to take counter-drone measures “up to and including its destruction” if they pose a threat to the safety or security of a “covered facility or asset.” This includes specific federal buildings and events that fall under the protection of the DHS, such as the Super Bowl or presidential inaugurations. However, Rogers and Graves point out in the letter to Wolf that US airspace and the area around airports does not fall under that category. The Republican representatives wrote that the department “does not have the authority or experience” to operate equipment required to counter unmanned aircraft in the way it proposes.

According to CNN, a spokesperson for the TSA responded in a letter that the agency is “committed to a unified federal response to a persistent disruption of airport operations due to an unmanned aircraft system (UAS),” and said that “federal entities will only seek to mitigate a UAS in limited emergency circumstances in order to ensure the safety and security of the national airspace.”

According to the news outlet, an aide from the Democratic-majority House of Representatives said that DHS “owes Congress significant information” as to how it will implement unmanned aircraft authorities. The aide added, “We look forward to receiving the report the department was required to submit over a month ago.”

In a statement, Rogers and Graves said that “nobody wants drones to cause disruptions at our airports, but to hastily hand over authority to shoot down drones to an agency that doesn’t have a critical knowledge or experience of how our aerospace system functions, is irresponsible and dangerous.”

The FAA is the only federal agency that fully understands the “incredible complexity” of the national airspace system, according to the two Republican House members. The lawmakers said in their letter to Wolf that the DHS’s experience operating the Defense Department counter-drone system “particularly within complicated air traffic overpopulated airspace is sorely lacking.”

As we reported before the DHS had raised concerns about the potential for foreign as well as domestic terrorists to use drones in attacks on US soil.

Last year, when Congress authorized the DHS to shoot down drones, it received praise from former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. She said at the time that “the evolving threat posed by malicious drone technology is quickly outpacing the federal government’s ability to respond.”

What do you think about the Department of Homeland Security’s plans to shoot down drones near airports? Let us know in the comments below.

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