Department of Homeland Security beefs up counter-UAS efforts

By Patrick C. Miller | May 21, 2018

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice are seeking new legal authorities from Congress to use counter-drone technologies for specific missions in urban environments.

According to DHS, given the rapid technology advancement and proliferation of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), the public safety and homeland security communities must address the potential for drones to be used “nefariously or maliciously to hurt people, disrupt activities and damage infrastructure.”

DHS’s Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate established TACTIC—the Technical Assessment of Counter-UAS Technologies in Cities—to assess the performance and suitability of commercial counter-UAS solutions in homeland security settings. Currently, most counter-UAS systems are legally prohibited from operating in the national airspace.

In December 2017, DHS S&T’s National Urban Security Technology Laboratory (NUSTL) executed the second part of the 2017 TACTIC for the Program Executive Office for UAS. This occurred at the Urban Training Center (UTC) located at the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia, in partnership with the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory.

The UTC’s mock city enabled S&T to replicate environments relevant to homeland security operations. While this TACTIC event didn’t evaluate mitigation techniques, Anh Duong, S&T’s program executive for UAS, said it could be added in future events.

“There is a huge market of commercial counter UAS solutions out there,” Duong said. “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.”

TACTIC requires a wealth of data, such as information collection from the test environment, counter-UAS systems evaluation and flight of the UAS. S&T funded the Stevens Institute of Technology to develop and outfit an Instrumentation Van (I-Van) that serves as a portable counter-UAS data collector. Loaded with equipment such as spectrum analyzers, GPS trackers, cameras, acoustic sensors and weather devices, the first-of-its-kind I-Van enables highly efficient and accurate data collection.

“We anticipate moving our testing from mock cities to real cities from time to time,” Duong said. “We also hope to see more advanced counter UAS technologies.”

The S&T Directorate focuses on developing and delivering counter-UAS capability technical upgrades for DHS operating components with high priority needs. The directorate helps guide, advise and provide technical expertise to all components and Homeland Security Enterprise partners on the steps they can take and technology they can legally use to counter unwanted or malicious UAS.