Unmanned Aircraft Systems: Integration into the National Airspace System

  • Colonel Mark A. Colbrook

Although the Department of Defense (DoD) has a critical need to be able to develop and train Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), it does not currently have the authority from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to access the airspace it needs to fully realize the potential of these assets. Each Service has distinct airspace requirements that relate to how they train and utilize UAS. Due to these differences there is not a “one-size-fits-all” approach that meets each Service’s needs. Each Service, in coordination with the DoD, FAA, and other government organizations as necessary, must develop the policies, procedures, training programs, and equipment to meet the requirements necessary to gain this access. UAS already offer capabilities that are vital to DoD missions. As technologies continue to mature it is extremely likely that additional missions will continue to migrate to unmanned platforms. It is essential to the long-term strategic interests of DoD to maximize unmanned capabilities and retain a technological advantage in this discipline over any potential adversaries. Access to the necessary airspace to develop, train, and operate UAS is essential to maintaining this advantage.