The Pentagon deployed more drones domestically last year than the previous five years combined
In brief: The Pentagon deployed drones 11 times throughout the 2018 fiscal year. That’s the same number they deployed from 2011 to 2017 combined. The drones varied from civilian drones to military strike aircraft, and they were used for disaster relief, reconnaissance and everything in-between.
New data published by the Pentagon has revealed when drones were used, what they were used for and how long their missions lasted. Over half of the missions fell under the “Defense Support of Civil Authorities,” which only became viable this year after the Secretary of Defense removed oversight requirements.
The largest civil use of drones was in monitoring the California wildfires from as early as July, at the request of California’s governor. The Governor of Oregon requested the same thing, while the Governor of New York requested assistance in a training exercise. In total, state governors requested five of the drone missions.
Military bases and naval stations comprised the next largest portion of drone deployment, including requests from Kitsap-Bangor Submarine base and Camp Pendleton for “installation support,” and Cherry Point Air Station for an air show. South Carolina National Guard deployed a drone to gather data about the floods after Hurricane Florence throughout September.
The last two deployments were to defend the southern border and as part of unspecified counterdrug operations. In total, there were three year-long missions and eight short-term missions which lasted an average of three months each.
The drones deployed varied quite substantially, in terms of size, cost, and armament. The most popular drone was the infamous MQ-9 Reaper, which has a payload of four Hellfire missiles and two laser-guided bombs. Tying for second place were two much less powerful drones: the hand-launched RQ-11B Raven and the civilian DJI Phantom.
The MQ-1C Gray Eagle, a strike drone also equipped with four Hellfire missiles, and the RQ-21 Blackjack, a light reconnaissance drone, were both deployed once each.
While the Pentagon deploys 11,000 drones globally, their domestic deployment has been very confined due to strict regulations that limit usage to training, testing and emergency response. While that isn’t going to change, the variety of new uses discovered last year suggests that drone deployment will be more common than ever in 2019.