Testing Counter-UAS Systems in Urban Settings

Innovative technology can offer advances in the way people do things, expanding the scope of areas that were previously not explored and streamlining previously arduous tasks. This holds true with regards to developments in drones or unmanned aerial systems (UAS).

Participants and evaluators in an urban environment watch a drone as it performs specific skills. (Image credit: DHS)

Global efforts are being made that focus on applying drone technology to enhance and support people’s day-to-day lives, and the commercial market is also providing increasingly compact and relatively economical and capable drones. Considering the fast technology development and proliferation of drones, the homeland security and public safety communities should address the fact these UAS systems can be employed maliciously or nefariously to hurt people, damage infrastructure, and disrupt activities.

Testing in New Environments

Developing and providing counter-UAS (C-UAS) capability technical upgrades for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) operating components with high priority requirements has been the mission of the DHS Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) since 2016. S&T guides, advises, and offers technical know-how to all components and Homeland Security Enterprise partners on the steps they can implement, and the available technology they can lawfully apply to counter malicious or unwanted drones.

While the majority of CUAS systems are legally forbidden to operate in the national airspace, the Department of Justice and DHS are searching for new legal authorities from Congress to apply this evolving technology as part of some missions. As part of this project, S&T established the Technical Assessment of Counter UAS Technologies in Cities (TACTIC)—a test and evaluation series to evaluate the suitability and performance of commercial counter-UAS systems in homeland security settings.

There is a huge market of commercial counter UAS solutions out there. But most – if not all of them – have not been subjected to testing in urban environments that are relevant to homeland security. So to date there is very little real data on the performance of these systems in urban settings.

Anh Duong, S&T’s Program Executive for UAS

DHS S&T’s National Urban Security Technology Laboratory (NUSTL) executed the second part of the 2017 TACTIC in December 2017 for the Program Executive Office for UAS. This was done in association with the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, at the Urban Training Center at Virginia-based Marine Corps Base Quantico. The mock city there enabled S&T to simulate environments that would be more applicable to homeland security operations.

Opportunities to Test Counter-UAS Systems

In the week-long event, nine C-UAS commercial solutions with different types of sensors for tracking, detecting, and identifying small UAS were assessed. TACTIC enabled S&T to assess the capabilities of these technologies and gather important data that will feed other types of tools employed to advise DHS components. In addition, it also offered a chance for developers to see their advanced C-UAS technologies put into action under conditions that are applicable to homeland security and achieve direct feedback from prospective end-users.

Assessments such as TACTIC provide government and industry with a better understanding of C-UAS technologies, and how we can work together to deliver solutions to DHS and first responders. These assessments are key to ensuring systems meet the needs of technology end-users in the Homeland Security Enterprise.

Alice Hong, NUSTL Deputy Director

Informing Homeland Security Operators on C-UAS

In addition to DHS operating components, other state, local, federal, international government representatives, and first responder organizations made up the roughly 100 observers at TACTIC. Attendees got a firsthand opportunity to see how C-UAS technologies operate in a simulated urban environment and at the same time learnt the training and logistics requirements related to various technologies. They gained knowledge that could inform future technology training, acquisition, and operations.

Mr. William Bryan, S&T’s own Senior Officer Performing the Duties of Under Secretary for Science and Technology, as well as the White House Deputy Chief Technology Officer and Assistant to the President and staff from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy were some of the visitors to the exercise.

We are especially pleased with the visit by senior leadership from the White House and DHS S&T, and grateful for the enthusiastic participation of our customers from the DHS operating components. Their presence underlined the importance of the counter-UAS mission and the impactful contribution that DHS S&T is making.

Anh Duong, S&T’s Program Executive for UAS

Collecting UAS Data Efficiently

Data collection is very important for any test and evaluation effort. TACTIC needs an immense amounts of data—evaluation of C-UAS systems, flight of the UAS, and information collection from the test environment. In order to achieve this, S&T financed the Stevens Institute of Technology to devise and outfit an Instrumentation Van (I-Van) that acts as a mobile C-UAS data collector. This instrumentation van, loaded with a number of equipment such as GPS trackers, spectrum analyzers, weather devices, acoustic sensors, and cameras, is the first of its kind and allows data collection in an accurate and highly efficient manner.

Applying the I-Van is only one part of an effort to increase efficiency via standardized data collection. S&T is also looking for common test protocols and methods among international partners and agencies to bring down costs and ease data sharing.

We anticipate moving our testing from mock cities to real cities from time to time. We also hope to see more advanced counter UAS technologies,” Duong stated of future TACTIC exercises. This TACTIC event did not estimate c methods, but Duong indicated that it could well be added in upcoming events.

Evolving Security with Technology

UAS technology is fast evolving. Drones are becoming very cheap and very capable. More to the point, the bad guys can even use 3-D printers to make drones. We can’t count on knowing every single drone, because it may not be bought commercially but privately built,” Duong emphasized. “So from our standpoint of being able to counter them, we have to be able to anticipate where the technology is going and therefore incubate countermeasures accordingly.”

Development of C-UAS tools, efficient data collection, and technology assessments support DHS operating components and partners in their mission to plan for and deploy the most effective capabilities against malicious drones that threaten both the people and key infrastructure of the country.

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