Counter-drone technologies demonstrated at DoD’s Black Dart event

One only needs to look at recent news reports to see incidents involving members of the public using drones, including a quadcopter that landed at the White House, said Air Force Maj. Scott Gregg, Black Dart’s project officer [see “DHS warns local law enforcement to watch for drones used by terrorists, criminals,” HSNW, 3 August 20; “D.C. security gaps exposed by gyrocopter landing on Capitol grounds: Senate panel,” HSNW, 7 August 2015; and “Sound waves disable drones by disrupting the drone’s gyroscope,” HSNW, 11 August 2015].

Drones can easily be purchased over the Internet or at a hobby shop, Gregg said. Defense officials are focused on staying ahead of the threat, he said.

If there is anything that the terrorists have shown, it’s that they’ll be innovative and use anything that they can at their disposal to do what they’re trying to do,” Gregg said.

What we’re trying to do at Black Dart is make sure that we are staying ahead of the game and that we have a good understanding of their capabilities before those capabilities outpace ours,” he added.

The smaller class of drones was an “emphasis item” this year at Black Dart, in response to concerns from combatant commanders and interagency partners, including law enforcement agencies, Gregg said.

It’s a problem for everyone,” he said.

More than seventy countries are using UASs, either in government or military application, Gregg said.

Gregg points out that radio-controlled model aircraft have similar performance and capabilities to some of the UASs that are considered to be threats.

It’s a burgeoning market. The threat is expanding rapidly, proliferation is expanding rapidly and it’s not just a military threat,” he said. “Our allies are using them, our coalition partners are using them, but our adversaries are using them too.”

SRC and counter-UAS technology
As EE Times’s R. Colin Johnson reports (““‘Black Dart’ counters drones: Military aims to down hostile UAVs,” EE Times, 11 August 2015), one of the most active participants at Black Dart 2014 was North Syracuse, New York-based SRC Inc., a not-for-profit company formerly affiliated with Syracuse University.

Johnson notes that SRC writes software connecting their AN/TPQ-50 counter-fire radar with the CREW Duke counter-improvised explosive device (IED) system, and a small armed drone called Switchblade, built by Aerovironment.

As Braking Defense notes, SRC began working on the system three years ago. The premise behind SRC’s system is straightforward. Growlers, F-35s, and other aircraft provide the first ring of defense against drones. If any penetrate through that first ring, however, or if an enemy deploys smaller tactical drones, then troops need defense against that threat.

SRC has been developing radars and working in electronic warfare for decades. We have existing, proven technologies that can be applied to the unmanned aircraft system (also known as drone) surveillance and disruption needs of our customers,” Dave Bessey, SRC’s Business Development Director and Counter-UAS program lead told EE Times.

We originally tested our solutions a few years ago at Black Dart, and have been making improvements each year. Today, we are a leading provider of counter-UAS technologies to the U.S. Army.”

Johnson writes that at this year’s Black Dart, SRC showed its SR Hawk surveillance radar. The company says that the SR Hawk provides continuous 360-degree surveillance of the ground, harbors, and airspace, detecting personnel, land vehicles, marine vessels, avian targets, and low-flying aircraft like drones.

We take a layered approach to UAVs, first using radar to tell that something’s up there, then using other sensors and electronic signals like jamming to differentiate them from birds, then deciding if they are hostile, and if they are, finally deciding whether to take out them out, or their ground controllers, or both by choosing from a broad set of countermeasures,” Bessey told EE Times.

And I would just add to that, collateral damage becomes a very big issue,” Tom Wilson, Vice President of Product Accounts at SRC, told EE Times. “There are lots of ways to bring a drone down, but where you’re bringing it down becomes crucial especially in populated areas. The two big open areas are distinguishing drones from birds, once you decide it’s a drone then the second big area is deciding if it’s a threat or not, and third are what you do about it in a populated area — you can’t just shoot it down and if you use some other method how do you know you’re not going hurt somebody when it crashes and end up in a lawsuit?”

Where a drone is shot down and falls may not be a problem on the battlefield, but in civilian areas it’s another story — one that has not yet been solved. “We’re really in the infancy of this, all the different organizations that handle security and force protection kind of issues are trying to work through what’s the right set of sensors, what’s the right kind of countermeasures, who is going to take it, what authorities do they need — all those sorts of things need to be worked through,” Bessey told EE Times.