Lawmakers push DOD to designate new ‘executive agent’ for counter-small drone oversight

If the legislation is passed, the proposed mandate would be carried out in compliance with an existing DOD directive.
U.S. Marines with the Low Altitude Air Defense Detachment to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 365 (Reinforced), 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), conduct simulated counter unmanned aerial systems operations aboard the USS Wasp (LHD 1) during Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX) in the Atlantic Ocean, April 14, 2024. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Aydan Millette)

Lawmakers on the House Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee want Pentagon leadership to designate a new go-to senior official to oversee, review and advance all the military’s pursuits to counter emerging and intensifying threats from small drones. 

Tucked into the subcommittee’s new markup of the Servicemember Quality of Life Improvement and National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2025 is a proposal that would mandate the defense secretary to name an “executive agent responsible for providing oversight of” the department’s efforts, training and technology programs to thwart risks associated with “small unmanned aircraft and systems.”

It’s no secret that drones have been transforming how troops fight at a tactical level on contemporary battlefields, like in Ukraine and the Middle East. 

Since October, U.S. forces in the Red Sea have been on alert and shooting down less sophisticated, one-way attack drones being fired from Yemen by the Iran-backed Houthis, in retaliation for Israel’s war in Gaza. The Pentagon’s top weapons buyer Bill LaPlante recently warned that it’s “getting too expensive” to have to mostly curb those threats with missiles and assets from Navy destroyers or fighter jets.


Notably, the Defense Department’s Joint Counter-small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Office (JCO) was launched in 2020 to experiment with and enable the deployment of various counter-drone weapons — including interceptors, lasers, high-power microwaves and electronic warfare systems. However, there’s still much to be done by DOD to fully field and scale UAS attack countermeasures, and appropriate training mechanisms and doctrine.

The House subcommittee’s proposal does not explicitly call out the JCO, or clarify how that office would coordinate with a new counter-drone executive agent. (DefenseScoop requested further information from multiple congressional spokespersons Monday.)

But according to the legislative text, the executive agent’s main responsibilities would include: coordinating and integrating joint requirements to counter threats posed by small drones; providing “a common individual training” to military personnel “on countering such threats;” and executing “joint research, development, test, and evaluation activities on behalf of the military departments with respect to counter-UAS systems.” 

The mandate, the bill states, would be carried out in compliance with DOD Directive 5101.1, which outlines guidance for DOD executive agent designations and was last updated in 2022.  

“As witnessed on the battlefield in Ukraine, the United States has been late to realize the world is changing in response to the proliferation of unmanned air vehicles (UAVs). That’s why my subcommittee mark supports codifying a U.S. Defense Department executive agent who will be responsible for overseeing counter small unmanned aircraft. This is crucial to enabling the U.S. military to respond to rapidly evolving challenges, address the organizational gap for battlefield sensing, and advance our defensive capability.” Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., chairman of the subcommittee, said in a statement to DefenseScoop.


Updated on May 14, 2024, at 11:35 AM: This story has been updated to include a statement from Rep. Rob Wittman.

Brandi Vincent

Written by Brandi Vincent

Brandi Vincent is DefenseScoop's Pentagon correspondent. She reports on emerging and disruptive technologies, and associated policies, impacting the Defense Department and its personnel. Prior to joining Scoop News Group, Brandi produced a long-form documentary and worked as a journalist at Nextgov, Snapchat and NBC Network. She was named a 2021 Paul Miller Washington Fellow by the National Press Foundation and was awarded SIIA’s 2020 Jesse H. Neal Award for Best News Coverage. Brandi grew up in Louisiana and received a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland.

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