Literally the last time this topic was reported on, anywhere in the US press. Feb. 13, 2012:

Pentagon working with FAA to open U.S. airspace to combat drones

http://articles.latimes.com/2012/feb/13/business/la-fi-military-drones-20120214
(If you can find any more recent news items, please send them to me: makingprogress(at)ashevillefm.org.)

Update 2016: General Atomics has announced a new variant of its Predator drone, the "Certifiable Predator B". It is the first military-grade UAV developed specifically to operate in US domestic airspace. "in cooperation with the FAA will subsequently meet domestic airworthiness certification standards".
http://www.ga-asi.com/mq-9b

Update: General Atomics has announced they have re-named the Certifiable Predator B, the "SkyGuardian". This announcement omits previous references to the intent to qualify for FAA approval to operate in US domestic airspace.
http://www.ga.com/ga-asi-names-newest-predator-b-variant

Update: Dec. 31st 2015 2016
Section 334(b) of the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act mandates that: "Not later than December 31, 2015, the Administrator shall develop and implement operational and certification requirements for the operation of public unmanned aircraft systems in the national airspace  system."

 According to FAA spokesman Les Dorr, responding to questions from this author, "An Advisory Circular (“guidance”) that responds to the Section 334 mandate" has been drafted, but is still being reviewed. He was unable to say when it would be published. Also according to him, no one in the US media (other than this author) has ever asked about Section 334.
("Public unmanned aircraft systems" is how the FAA is required to refer to government (including military) drones.)

Update: December 17th, 2015

ASSURE, the FAA-designated Center of Excellence on UAS integration led by fmr. USAF General James O. Poss, has named a new Associate Director of Research: Dallas Brooks. His previous positions include that of Chair, Dept. of Defense Unmanned Aircraft Systems Airspace Integration IPT, Office of the Secretary of DefenseThe Department of Defense's designated lead for UAS airspace integration across all Military Services"

Among other things, he authored the 2011 DoD UAS Airspace Integration Plan
"In support of their operational, training, and test and evaluation missions, DoD UAS require safe and routine access to the U.S. National Airspace System (NAS) similar to manned aircraft." 

...and this cryptic statement:

 "Similar UAS operational needs are rapidly evolving for Other Government Agencies (OGAs).”



(OGA is the informal military euphemism for agencies such as CIA or NSA)

How the Defense Department's UAS Airspace Integration Plan has become the FAA's UAS Airspace Integration Plan.


Original post: 
“The stuff from Afghanistan is going to come back”

Authors note: I am not a journalist - I am simply a concerned citizen. I have pulled everything on this blog from public sources, in the hopes that someone in the media will decide to investigate it.


The DoD plan to use the FAA's drone integration process to achieve NAS access for their military drones was spelled out in three articles in the lead-up to passage of the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act. Here, in the LA Times, 2/13/12:

Pentagon working with FAA to open U.S. airspace to combat drones


"The stuff from Afghanistan is going to come back," Steve Pennington, the Air Force's director of ranges, bases and airspace, said at the conference. The Department of Defense "doesn't want a segregated environment. We want a fully integrated environment."
That means the Pentagon wants the same rules for drones as any other military aircraft in the U.S. today."


And here, in Breaking Defense, 8/18/11:

Feds Carving Up U.S. Airspace For Drone Tests

"The Pentagon and the Federal Aviation Administration are carving out between four to 10 “bubbles” in  civilian airspace above the United States to test UAS, Steve Pennington, executive director of the Defense  Policy Board on Federal Aviation, said today. These airspace bubbles will be located across the country and provide DoD and the FAA space to show that  UAS can fly in heavily-traveled commercial airspace in all conditions across the United States."

And here, in the Military Times, 2/4/12:

AF, firms seek UAV flights in civil air space

"We're going to bring aircraft back from Iraq and Afghanistan, and we're going to train in the [continental U.S.]," said Steve Pennington, the Air Force's director of ranges, bases and airspace, and executive director of the Defense Department's FAA policy board. "So the challenge is how to fly in nonsegregated airspace."

Nonsegregated: meaning, no restrictions on military drones operating in the National Airspace (NAS) - Reapers, Predators, etc., occupying the same airspace as commercial/civil aircraft over our heads. The DoD has been trying to get this "routine" access for over 10 years.  
Read "Background: War on Terror" for some of the history leading up this point.

The 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act is how they are going to accomplish this.

How could this go unreported?  
The Act directs the Administrator of the FAA to establish a testing program for the eventual integration of UAS, or drones, into the National Airspace System. This has been reported on extensively, as it applies to potential "civil" or commercial drone applications (Amazon package delivery, aerial photography, agricultural uses, etc.)

However, at every step leading up to this for the years up to and including the Conference Report on the 2012 ACT, Congress and the DoD have referred to the need to integrate "military" unmanned aircraft into the NAS. But the FAA is barred from regulating "military" aircraft. They are bound by federal statute to refer to them as "public" aircraft. So the final version of the Act conforms to the FAA language, and directs them to integrate "civil" (commercial) unmanned aircraft, and "public" (military) unmanned aircraft into the NAS.

Could this be why no one has reported this up to now?:























The FAA definition of "public aircraft" is spelled out here. Essentially, from Title 49 USC 40125: Qualifications for public aircraft status:  

"(c)AIRCRAFT OWNED OR OPERATED BY THE ARMED FORCES"

Again, from the Senate version:
"(a) IN GENERAL- Within 1 year after the date of enactment of this Act, the Administrator shall develop a plan to accelerate the integration of unmanned aerial systems into the National Airspace System that--
(6) addresses both military and nonmilitary unmanned aerial system operations;"

 From the House version:

(4) address both civil and public unmanned aircraft systems;


One assumes that a necessary component of assessing the viability of integrating military and non-military drones safely into the NAS is how they will interact with each other. The FAA's 2013 "Roadmap" on UAS integration refers to "public UAS integration activities – primarily those of the Department of Defense (DoD)". The principal military initiative on UAS integration is the Ground Based Sense And Avoid (GBSAA) system. It is being installed at a limited number of DoD bases that currently operate military drones. The Roadmap makes clear that they are distinct from the six FAA-designated 'civil' test programs. However, as it turns out, most if not all of those programs happen to conduct part of their operations at one of the GBSAA-equipped DoD bases. If the FAA and the DoD are preparing to open US domestic skies to military drones, it would likely involve the six designated UAS test sites set up by the FAA. 







Read about those FAA test sites, some of the military and defense contractor personnel who are involved, and those military bases they are operating at here.

Read about the history that led up to the 2012 FAA Act, and the intention to open the NAS to military drones here.
 
Just to know what this "integration" might allow into the skies above our heads, read about the "Gorgon Stare" city-wide Reaper drone surveillance package here.

Update: May 8th, 2015. A team of 15 university-based drone testing programs, including NC State's NGAT program, has been selected by the FAA as the official "Center of Excellence for Unmanned Aircraft Systems". Read the press release here. This designation includes funding and a five year mandate to continue research into integrating drones into the National Airspace System. The particulars of what type of testing will be conducted where has not been announced.

The newly-designated FAA "National Center of Excellence (COE) for Unmanned Aircraft Systems" is headquartered at Mississippi State University, and the Executive Director is:

Air Force Major General James Poss (retired), Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance.
http://www.af.mil/AboutUs/Biographies/Display/tabid/225/Article/108037/major-general-james-o-poss.aspx

http://www.assureuas.org/leadership.php

Coincidentally, he is the military official most responsible for the development and deployment of that "Gorgon Stare" surveillance technology.

"With the new tool, analysts will no longer have to guess where to point the camera, said Maj. Gen. James O. Poss, the Air Force's assistant deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. "Gorgon Stare will be looking at a whole city, so there will be no way for the adversary to know what we're looking at, and we can see everything."
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/01/AR2011010102645.html


More on General Poss, and his role in developing future FAA domestic drone policy here