The Defense Department has formally given guidance to all U.S. military installations on how best to address drones they deem a threat — including shooting them down.
“Protecting our force remains a top priority,” DoD spokesman Army Lt. Col. Jamie Davis said in a statement Monday. “That is why the Department of Defense issued very specific, but classified, policies that detail how DoD personnel may counter the unmanned aircraft threat to personnel, vital facilities, and critical assets.”
Davis said the policy itself is not new, as it is based off language enacted in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act.
“The NDAA is the basis for most of this,” he told Military.com. “The newness of it is that weâ€™re providing guidance to the local installation commander[s] to craft their public affairs guidance.”
Language in Section 1697 of the NDAA, “Protection of Certain Facilities and Assets from Unmanned Aircraft,” amended Chapter 3 of U.S. Code Title 10, according to budget documents.
Through Section 130i, it gave the department the authority “to take certain actions with respect to unmanned aircraft systems, including using reasonable force to disable, damage, or destroy them,” a defense official told Military.com on Monday.
“We wonâ€™t go into the specific rules for the use of force; however, we retain the right and obligation to act in self-defense,” the defense official said, reiterating the DoDâ€™s latest stance.
The official added, “We never discuss that because then hobbyists or [those who intend harm] will know how to push the limits.”
Section 1697 offers additional help to specific missions across the Pentagon. For example, protection for the U.S. Air Forceâ€™s nuclear mission is highlighted under the bill.
The billâ€™s language says the defense secretary may authorize armed forces to take action to mitigate threats posed to “the safety or security of a covered facility or asset.”
The meaning behind “covered facility” is broken down even further.
According to the bill, “The term ‘covered facility or assetâ€™ means any facility or asset that a) is identified by the Secretary of Â Defense for purposes of this section; b) is located in the United States (including the territories and possessions of the United States); and c) relates to — 1) the nuclear deterrence mission of the Department of Defense, including with respect to nuclear command and control, integrated Â tactical warning and attack assessment, and continuity of government; 2) the missile defense mission of the Department; or 3) the national security space mission of the Department.”
Some Air Force leaders have been outspoken about the issue, asking for even more specific language as it pertains to their bases.
In July, Air Combat Command commander Gen. Mike Holmes told audiences that he wished for more authority to mitigate pesky hobbyists bothering ACC bases for fear they may become a bigger hazard.
Holmes said ACC tracked two incidents earlier this summer in which small drones disturbed operations at ACC, including one in which a drone almost collided with an F-22 Raptor.
“I have no authority given to me by the government to deal with that,” Holmes said at an Air Force Association breakfast on Capitol Hill on July 11. “Imagine a world where somebody flies a couple hundred of those and flies one down the intake of my F-22s with just a small weapon on it.”
While there is overall authority to deal with the mishaps per the bill, the defense official on Monday clarified that Holmes wants guidance to specifically address ACC bases and missions, as it currently addresses nuclear facilities.
“It all goes back to that line of where you classify a threat,” the official said.
How officials are poised to shoot down a commercial drone remains a mystery. In the case of the close call with the F-22, could that aircraft have taken a shot?
“Even in war, what weaponry [you use] and proportionality matter,” the official said. “An F-22 shooting [down a small drone] is just overkill.”