New Pentagon data on the military's domestic drone use documented 11 missions during the 2018 fiscal year – reportedly matching the total used in operations in the previous six years.
According to the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College, the Department of Defense recorded just 11 missions between 2011 and 2017. The center pinned the trend on a DoD shift last August that made it easier for military drones to be deployed at home.
Breaking down the Center's graph on drone use, ZDNet noted most of the military's 2018 missions fell under the category of "Defense Support of Civil Authorities" – responses to requests from the governors of California and Oregon for support during last year's wildfire season, as well as helping the South Carolina National Guard with its Hurricane Florence flood response, the Center noted. DoD drones were also on call throughout 2018 to provide southern border support for a regiment of the Army.
The military also used its unmanned aerial systems in three cases to provide DoD installation and airspace support, the graph showed. And it responded to a request from the governor of New York for support during an emergency response training exercise; for five months during the fiscal year, it used drones to support the Customs and Border Patrol's counterdrug operations.
Up until last year, the Pentagon could only deploy drones to help state or federal civilian authorities with the direct approval of the Secretary of Defense. In August, however, then-Defense Secretary James Mattis issued the memo enabling other military leaders, and in some cases governors, to authorize drones use.
The Center noted other U.S. agencies outside of the Pentagon are also using drones domestically – specifically, the Department of Homeland Security, for patrol of the nation's borders.