From the AUVSI NE UAS and AAM Summit this morning, Brigadier General (R.) Peter L. Jones of the U.S. Army and Abigail Smith, Executive Director of the Office of UAS & Emerging Entrants Security at the FAA, delivered the keynote addresses, focused on Counter UAS Development and Deployment.
Counter UAS (CUAS) is technology designed to find, identify, and mitigate unauthorized airspace activity. Using a variety of components, CUAS tools find other traffic in the airspace: both compliant – equipped with Remote ID or other signal – and noncompliant. The tools then seek to identify and classify the aircraft they find as those that belong in the airspace, or those that should be kept out. Finally, authorized entities may mitigate or disable unauthorized aircraft. CUAS is essential technology for protecting critical infrastructure such as prisons, airports, energy installations, or national security events. For the drone industry, CUAS offers a complementary solution that can address the fears of drone incursions to enable legitimate drone operations at scale.
The Military Perspective on Counter UAS
Brigadier General Peter Jones is currently the President of PLJ and Associates, providing consulting support and subject matter expertise across the Department of Defense, industry, and research institutions. Today, Jones discussed the impact that drone technology is having in the hands of both military and civilians, and the need for robust and layered counter UAS systems.
“Every technology has a dark side,” said Jones. The Brigadier General has spent his long combat career thinking about warfare, and the warmaking capabilities of drones are being demonstrated daily in the Ukraine conflict. Jones said that this is one signal that battlefields have changed, dramatically and permanently.
“How we thought we were going to fight no longer exists,” said Jones, pointing out that certainly during the two world wars, the US enjoyed air supremacy. The early days of jet fighters, however, have evolved to new means of warfare.
“We used to say, if you can be seen you can be hit… now, if you can be seen the adversary gets to decide what they are going to do. Spoof you? Delay you? Take your command and control away?”
New means of warmaking like small drones highlight vulnerabilities. “We are home-based,” Jones pointed out, meaning that the U.S. is reliant upon our ports, rail systems, airport, and roads to transport troops, equipment, and supplies – in addition to the food and consumer goods that civilians rely upon. “That makes us vulnerable through those networks.”
Features of the Drone Fight in Ukraine
Drones not only highlight new vulnerabilities, but change the essential features of a conflict. In Ukraine, for example, drone use has expanded the depth of the battlefield frontline, from an area that may in the past have been a relatively narrow area to an area of conflict thousands of kilometers wide.
That battlefield is transparent to all parties, as drones offer a constant surveillance of maneuver tactics. Jones said that at any given moment, both sides in the Ukraine war are operating 40 to 50 drones. “”Counter UAS is essential to figuring out how to get that surveillance off your back.”
Drones now shift the fight to logistics, targeting ammunition depots, power structure, and essential infrastructure. Drones reduce the targeting response time at the tactical level, and can reduce ammunition consumption. Drones are so important to the battle that Ukrainian officials have called it a “24/7 technology race”: to replace the loss of an estimated 10,000 drones per month, Ukrainian forces are 3D printing parts, and innovating using pressed cardboard and balsa wood as components.
Counter UAS Technology for Effective Response
First and foremost, Jones emphasized the need to integrate counter drone technology into both defense and civilian systems. “We all believe in regulations. We’re following the rules on beyond visual line of sight,” said Jones. “But I can assure you that nefarious actors don’t think that way.”
Jones said that counter UAS technology requires a flexible framework of layered sensors and effectors for identification and mitigation. To detect compliant and non-compliant, authorized and unauthorized aircraft requires integrated sensors: active and passive radar, IO/EO sensors, acoustic technology, more.
Mitigation also requires a flexible approach to be useful in mutiple arenas. “In the military, you can go straight for the lethal,” said Jones, “You can’t do that in civilian areas.” Defense stakeholders consider bandwidth, and seek to be network enabled, but not network dependent. Other effectors include drone on drone mitigation, or using a drone to catch a drone.
Finally, counter UAS must be platform agnostic, able to be fixed or mobile depending upon the situation. “You have to integrate systems upon systems to begin to provide safety,” said Jones.
The FAA Perspective on Counter UAS Systems
Abigail Smith is a familiar and respected name in the drone industry. Prior to joining the UAS Security Office, she served as the Deputy Executive Director of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Office, responsible for coordinating the integration of small drones and advanced air mobility (AAM) operations into the NAS.
The FAA currently reports 860,000 registered drones “Those are just the registered ones,” said Smith, noting that the agency expects more than 2.5 million drones in the airspace over the next few years.
“…this tremendous growth… inevitably brings security risk,” said Smith. Her agency has been tasked with advocating for consideration of CUAS and equities in rulemaking, policy and standards, and leading industry and intra-agency dialogue on the protection of the NAS and integration of CUAS technology.
Part 89: Remote ID
Remote ID is an important piece of the security picture. The rule on Remote ID for drones was published in January 2021, requiring all commercial drones to be equipped with Remote ID broadcast capabilities. Remote ID functions much like the license plate on a car: drones will be identified while flying, but only authorized agencies will be able to link the identification to an operator name. In addition to being a foundational piece of a robust unmanned traffic management (UTM) framework, Remote ID will help to protect the airspace from drones whose operators either accidentally enter restricted airspace or operate unsafely: allowing authorities to better enforce drone and airspace regulations.
The FAA is currently developing an API to provide authorized security partners, including law enforcement agencies, access to the database that would link drones in the air with operator information. Due to supply chain issues that have hampered the availability of Remote ID broadcast modules, enforcement of the rule has been delayed until March 16, 2024: but Smith warned that the agency is ready to ensure that Remote ID is widely deployed. “We will be enforcing that rule,” Smith said. “I implore operators to comply.” (Note: While enforcement has been delayed, the rule remains in place: operators are required by law to comply with Remote ID regulations as soon as they are able to do so.)
Joe Ravi [CC BY-SA 3.0 ]Testing Systems, Developing Rules
The FAA is also moving ahead with evaluating CUAS systems and gathering essential data. The 2018 FAA Reauthorization bill mandated the testing and evaluation of counter UAS technology near airports. Systems are needed to protect both compliant aircraft – manned and unmanned – and airspace infrastructure from drone incursions. While there are solutions available, they aren’t always a perfect fit for civilian applications, Smith pointed out:”These technologies were designed for war zones, not civil airspace.” The FAA will partner with 5 different airports to test CUAS systems, presenting data to Congress and offering their findings to the global community.
The agency has also chartered an aviation rulemaking committee (ARC) focused on counter UAS solutions. The goal of the ARC is to develop rulemaking that will enable the expanded use of detection and mitigation technology while ensuring the safety of compliant aircraft of all sizes. The ARC has 58 members, representing stakeholder groups from aviation, public safety, CUAS, and society interest. 25 federal agencies and 14 allied global agencies participate as observers on the committee. The ARC plans to deliver their findings by the end of this year.
Smith emphasized that counter UAS is necessary to protect the airspace – but also to enable legitimate airspace operations at scale. “Good drone operators exponentially outnumber the bad ones… this isn’t just about airspace safety. It’s about all of us,” said Smith.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.
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