The White House has released a long-awaited and much-needed national counter-UAS action plan. Following the announcement of this plan, legislation was introduced in Congress with a bill titled Safeguarding the Homeland from the Threats Posed by Unmanned Aircraft Systems Act.
The action plan and bill acknowledges the well-established benefits of drone proliferation, but also expresses a significantly increased level of concern regarding the simultaneous associated risks of malicious actors weaponizing unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) commercial. The strategic goal is to preserve the expansion of positive UAS activity while protecting the airspace by filling notable gaps in current laws and policies with new ground rules.
Although both the plan and the bill are quite detailed, comprehensive, and multifaceted, there are a few basic elements that are central to both and deserve particular attention.
In particular, the policy recognizes the importance of decentralization and extension of authority to maximize UAS detection capability; in this respect, characterization accuracy deserves no less priority, in order to minimize the risk of UAS misidentification. With respect to the critical area of mitigation, the plan and legislation appropriately reflect federal caution regarding mitigation technology that could carry potential hazards, such as operational disruptions or collateral damage. With these security considerations in mind, plans are beginning to encourage the adoption of appropriate technologies for more advanced mitigation options designed to address these security concerns and any movement towards such innovation should be encouraged and expanded.
Extension of Detection: Decentralization and extension of UAS detection authority to state, local, territorial, tribal (SLTT) and critical infrastructure levels
SLTT law enforcement agencies are responsible for providing security in many environments, use cases and scenarios where drones pose a tangible threat, including highly populated mega-events such as concerts, league games, marathons and political rallies, as well as at venues such as local government buildings and other facilities.
The ease of access and low cost of commercial drones make them readily available to malicious or negligent actors to wreak havoc at events, damage facilities, and harm local people. Drones can also be used to surveil law enforcement, attack local authorities, and even target high-ranking law enforcement officials or other figures. Local first responders in dangerous situations could be targeted in a terrorist attack via drones. Malicious actors can use drones to prevent first responders from helping victims or otherwise handling the situation.
In these situations, SLTT law enforcement may often be the only resource available to deal with and prepare for such incidents.
Granting UAS detection authority to these jurisdictions at the local level represents a major step forward in expanding the coverage and scope of security activities against rogue drones. The number, locations and resources of local law enforcement using C-UAS detection technology would result in a massive increase in forces ready to deal with these threats and strengthen the nation’s preparedness and responsiveness to the rapid increase in incidents and attacks.
That said, extending detection authority alone will not completely solve the problem unless some degree of corresponding mitigation authority is also extended, which indicates the next major pillar of the plan.
Mitigation Expansion: Federal Pilot Program for Expansion of C-UAS Mitigation Activity at the SLTT Level
Extending detection capabilities alone will have limited benefit without also extending complementary mitigation authority. The reasons for extending detection capabilities to SLTT also apply to mitigation. Ideally, the proposed mitigation pilot programs will have clear performance indicators and success factors such that if these objectives are met, the localized and extended mitigation authority will become permanent and expand its scope, depending on the risk.
Technology: list authorized detection equipment that avoids operations or communications
It is essential to shine a light on C-UAS solutions and promote counter-drone technology, ideally in such a way as to help the country to progress and overcome the shortcomings of legacy detection technologies, and to encourage innovation by putting emphasis on security, control and continuity. Encouraging the trial and adoption of new smart technologies, beyond traditional jamming and kinetic equipment, will help avoid the associated risks of communications disruption and collateral damage. The stated need to avoid or minimize negative impact on the communications spectrum and the National Airspace System (NAS) is critical, and this exercise should also point to next-generation approaches that overcome these legacy limitations. . Traditional UAS detection technologies have worked well in some environments and have a role to play in layered defense, but also have drawbacks in sensitive and urban environments.
Radar, for example, is known to often have a problem with false positives, as it can misidentify a bird or other flying objects like a drone. Optical solutions are ineffective without a clear line of sight, which is often the case in cities or hilly or mountainous terrain. Acoustic solutions are ineffective in noisy environments or with increasingly quieter drones. Recommended technology guidance should highlight and emphasize detection technologies that provide fast, accurate detections with no false positives and no line-of-sight limitation or noise constraint required.
More importantly, this technology licensing and listing exercise should cover mitigation technologies in addition to detection technologies, for obvious reasons. As with detection, legacy mitigation technologies also have major shortcomings and limitations in today’s sensitive and urban environments when faced with hostile drones.
Notably, one of the most common techniques, various forms of jamming, is only temporary, meaning the hostile drone pilot can regain control after the jamming stops. In addition, and to the points raised on the Plan and in the Bill, interference can disrupt communications and airspace operations.
The other alternative, multiple forms of kinetic solutions, all of which involve the physical firing of some form of projectile, are very risky in crowded situations and can cause severe collateral damage, either by the projectile falling or by the downed drone.
An authorized C-UAS Mitigation technology program could foster next-generation C-UAS technologies, including intelligent and cyber-centric technologies that can disconnect, seize and gain control of hostile drones, reprogram them to follow a safe route to a safe landing, and allow full continuity, without disruption of operations or communications, and which avoid the risk of collateral damage.
Critical Infrastructure: Enable and oversee placement of C-UAS mitigation equipment at critical points
The focus on protecting critical infrastructure from hostile drones is encouraging and timely. The world has witnessed the devastation caused by drone strikes on critical installations such as oil installations, power stations, ports and harbours. The urgency around this step is evident given the essential role of these infrastructure sites combined with the fact that they often contain storage for hazardous and potentially explosive chemicals and substances.
Authorizing the placement of C-UAS mitigation equipment for use by authorized Federal Security Agency personnel, or potentially newly authorized SLTT personnel, would be another step toward greater protection and coverage of the homeland against hostile drones. This could be a first step towards eventually providing site security personnel with similar or defined allowances with appropriate qualification, training and approvals.
In this environment and use case, it is imperative that detection and mitigation equipment is based on the latest technology with an emphasis on security, control and continuity, avoiding any risk operational disruption or collateral damage to critical infrastructure.
Incident Tracking: UAS Incident Database
Incident tracking databases can make a major contribution to a better understanding of the nature, changes and trends occurring in the ever-evolving drone threat. These databases should track not only the obvious data such as dates and locations, but also sectors, use cases, nature of the incident (attack, near miss, etc.) and, if possible , the actual make and model of the drone.
Conclusion – A Solid Foundation for National C-UAS Protection
The UAS Action Plan and recently introduced legislation include many relevant and timely measures and mechanisms to address the growing danger of rogue drones. These components show promise in their ability to bring the country’s C-UAS readiness to the next level of heightened urgency with more systematic and comprehensive defense.
Decentralization and extension of drone detection and mitigation authority to more local levels; support for next-generation technologies that specifically address the issue in a way that emphasizes security, control and continuity; the emphasis on critical infrastructure protection; and comprehensive incident tracking are all steps that need to be adopted quickly and applied as broadly as possible to maximize the value of risk reduction and achieve the broadest possible homeland protection coverage. In all of these stages, careful consideration should be given to expanding mitigation opportunities to the same degree that detection responsibilities will increase, so that the full incident life cycle is covered for the most results. safest possible.
The UAS Action Plan and the Homeland Safeguarding Against Unmanned Aircraft System Threats Act provide many urgently needed countermeasures to address the growing danger of hostile drones. These steps promise to bring the country’s C-UAS readiness to the next level of heightened urgency and provide a more robust, systematic and comprehensive defense. Strengthening and expanding these authorities and plans for both detection and mitigation will allow the new drone society and economy to thrive, while protecting the homeland from the growing risks of rogue drones.
Author: Jeffrey Star
Marketing Director, D-Fend Solutions