Hoeven Hosts DHS Secretary at Grand Sky, Advocating Use of North Dakota UAS Expertise to Improve National Security

Senator Working to Develop Counter-UAS Technologies, Strengthen Border Security, Address Pilot Shortage & Support Safe UAS Integration into National Airspace; Included 5-Year Extension for UAS Test Sites in FAA Reauthorization

EMERADO, N.D. – Senator John Hoeven, a member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee and the Homeland Security Appropriations Committee, today hosted Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen at the Grand Sky Technology Park to see the facility and for a roundtable with local unmanned aerial systems (UAS) industry leaders. Today’s visit comes as part of Hoeven’s efforts to advocate for the administration to utilize UAS facilities and expertise in the region to improve national security, especially along the northern border where, for instance, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in Grand Forks is responsible for 900 miles of border. To this end, Hoeven is working to:

  • Develop counter-UAS technologies.
  • Strengthen border security.
  • Pass a five-year extension of the UAS test sites as part of the Senate’s FAA reauthorization bill to support the safe integration of UAS into the national airspace (NAS).
  • Address the pilot shortage.

“North Dakota has the right mix of federal, military, state and private UAS operations to meet the nation’s needs in addressing emerging security concerns,” Hoeven said. “I appreciate Secretary Nielsen for coming to Grand Sky to learn about our local expertise and how we can leverage the research, development, training and operations in this region to help improve our national security. Through our recent appropriations bills and other initiatives, we are advancing solutions to counter threats from the misuse of unmanned aircraft, ensure we have enough UAS pilots to meet our security and commercial needs and, ultimately, enhance our border security through the use of this technology. These efforts are further bolstered by the Senate’s FAA reauthorization bill, which includes a five-year extension of the test sites, including the Northern Plains UAS Test Site in North Dakota.”

Hoeven UAS Initiatives at DHS

Through his role on the Homeland Security Appropriations Committee, Hoeven is advancing these priorities by securing the following provisions in the Senate’s Fiscal Year 2019 funding legislation:

  • $13 million for counter-UAS technologies and instructs DHS to brief the Appropriations Committee on its funding needs in this area for the next five years.
  • $10 million for CBP to use contractors, like those at Grand Sky, to train UAS pilots to help address the pilot shortage and increase the use of its UAS fleet for border surveillance.
  • Requires CBP to report on whether using contractor-owned, contractor-operated aircraft could help further augment its border surveillance activities.
  • Includes language prioritizing security at the northern border and provides $6 million to test and evaluate methods for detecting low flying and slow aircraft that facilitate trafficking and smuggling. 

These provisions dovetail with bipartisan legislation Hoeven recently helped introduce, the Preventing Emerging Threats Act of 2018. The bill would give the DHS and the Department of Justice (DOJ) authority to protect important facilities from security risks posed by unmanned aircraft. At the same time, the bill directs the DHS to evaluate emerging UAS threats and to research and test technology to address these risks. 

Integrating UAS into the National Airspace

Hoeven also joined Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao last month to announce that North Dakota was selected as one of ten sites to participate in the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) UAS integration pilot program. As part of this program, the North Dakota test site and the state’s UAS industry will be at the forefront of establishing the safe operation of unmanned aircraft in the NAS, providing regulatory certainty for UAS operators and ensuring privacy concerns are addressed.

In addition, Hoeven has secured provisions in, and is working to pass amendments to, the Senate’s upcoming FAA reauthorization bill to advance the integration of UAS in the NAS. This includes:

  • Extending the authorization for the UAS test sites through 2024. This provision would also improve the existing test sites by directing research priorities, improving coordination with the FAA and enhancing protections for proprietary information to encourage more engagement with the private sector. 
  • Reinforcing privacy protections by advancing drone identification standards to hold operators accountable and promoting the adoption of written privacy policies.
  • A Hoeven amendment that instructs the FAA to report on the spectrum UAS should use to fly safely in the NAS.