North Dakota forms task force aimed at counter-UAS testing

By Patrick C. Miller | June 07, 2017

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum last week announced formation of a state UAS Detection and Counter-UAS Task Force to support the development and advancement of technologies to protect and defend against threats posed by rogue drones.

The task force will coordinate facilities and services needed for UAS operators to test countermeasures in North Dakota and aid in identifying opportunities for technology development. The group is co-chaired by Tom Swoyer, president of Grand Sky Development Co., and Nick Flom, executive director of the Northern Plains UAS Test Site, both in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

“Anybody’s who’s in the counter UAS detection or countermeasure business is very interested in demonstrating the proficiency of their equipment to prove that it works,” Swoyer said, adding that this applies to commercial businesses as well as military contractors that might want to convert their technologies to civilian uses.

Other task force goals include developing a testing and evaluation area within North Dakota; identifying emerging and potential threats posed by UAS technologies in both military and civilian environments; and enabling UAS operators to develop and deploy protective technologies in response to identified threats.

Swoyer said that because testing in restricted military airspace is so limited, both military and commercial organizations are interested in what North Dakota has to offer. He said the state has heard from two federal government agencies that requested information on testing counter UAS technology.

“They’re going to be scheduling some site visits to come up to North Dakota in the coming weeks or months,” he said.

Flom noted that North Dakota’s FAA-approved test site—which has COAs for beyond visual line of sight operations and flight testing above 400 feet—offers unique capabilities to potential clients

“We’re able to do things that a normal operator can’t do,” he explained. “Part 107 is great, but what if you want to fly something that weighs over 55 pounds? What if you want to fly something beyond visual line of sight? We’re providing them with an area that they can do their testing in that—in the big scheme of things—doesn’t exist right now.”

According to Burgum, North Dakota is well positioned for UAS applications and testing because is has invested $43 million to advance UAS research and development.

“This task force underscores our commitment to investigating UAS detection and countermeasures for the safety of our citizens and our airspace, as well as opportunities to further diversify our economy,” he said.