The Department of Defense is authorized to use unmanned aircraft systems within U.S. airspace for more than a dozen different types of operations, from search and rescue to counterintelligence.
These domestic missions, and the official guidance or legal authority behind each of them, were tabulated in a newly updated manual on military support to civilian authorities.
See Appendix 1, Table 1 in Multi-Service Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures for Defense Support of Civil Authorities (DSCA), ATP 3-28.1, February 11, 2021.
Overall guidance on domestic use of DoD drones was provided in a 2018 memorandum issued by then-Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis that is still in effect.
“The primary purpose, and large majority, of DoD domestic UAS operations is for DoD forces to gain realistic training experience, test equipment and tactics in preparation for potential overseas warfighting missions,” according to a cursory DoD website on the subject.