Defense Department unable to track down drone “mishap” data

DoD Secretary contradicts January 2013 report to Congress

Written by Shawn Musgrave
Edited by Michael Morisy

A version of this story appeared on Motherboard

As published today on Motherboard, the Office of the Secretary of Defense has denied having any database of military drone crashes. This directly contradicts a report submitted to Congress last year indicating that OSD transferred precisely this data to the Federal Aviation Administration.

In January 2013, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, which oversees the DoD Unmanned Aerial Systems Task Force, reported to Congress that it had “provided the FAA with 6 years of [unmanned aerial system] mishap data” to allow federal airspace regulators “a better understanding of UAS safety considerations.”

But after MuckRock submitted FOIA requests to both the FAA and OSD as part of the Drone Census, officials from the Defense Secretary’s office insist that is has no record of such a database. Even when pointed to the precise page and paragraph of its own report, OSD records officers suggested that MuckRock pass the request on to each individual military branch.

Just as the FBI struggled to count its drone inventory, the Defense Department now claims incompetence to track down its own data. Given longstanding criticism of DoD’s scattershot management of its drone fleet and the storied lack of coordination (and even outright competition) between the military branches, such a blunder is not particularly shocking or even beyond possibility. But as the FAA gropes toward integrating drones into domestic airspace by 2015, legislators, regulators and the public need the kind of comprehensive safety data that only the military holds.

If the Defense Department can’t track down the right hard drive or filing cabinet, maybe the Secretary needs a new secretary.


Image via Wikimedia Commons