Technology trends are dramatically transforming legitimate applications of drones, or small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS) while simultaneously making them increasingly capable weapons in the hands of state actors, non-state actors, and criminals. They also pose a risk when operated recklessly or negligently.
The Department of Defense (DOD) has published a new strategy that will provide the framework for addressing sUAS hazards and threats in a variety of operating environments, including the U.S. homeland, host nations and contingency locations.
Initially, DOD emphasized the deployment and employment of government and commercially-built materiel to address the immediate risks posed by sUAS; however, the Department said this resulted in many non-integrated, redundant solutions and introduced challenges that complicated the DOD’s ability to keep pace with a constantly evolving problem.
DOD’s counter-sUAS (C-sUAS) strategy provides the framework for addressing sUAS across the spectrum from hazard to threat in the homeland, host nations, and contingency locations. The C-sUAS strategy has three primary objectives. First, to use innovation and collaboration to protect DOD personnel, assets, and facilities in the homeland, host nations, and contingency locations. Second, to develop materiel and non-materiel solutions that facilitate the safe and secure execution of DOD missions and protect against adversaries. And third, to build and broaden American relationships with allies and partners to protect U.S.interests at home and abroad.
The Department will address these objectives by focusing on three lines of effort: Ready the Force; Defend the Force; and Build the Team. To Ready the Force, DOD will maximize current C-sUAS capabilities and use a risk-based approach to guide efficient and rapid development of a suite of materiel and non-materiel solutions to address emerging requirements. To Defend the Force, DOD will coordinate the delivery of joint capabilities and synchronize the development of operational concepts and doctrine. Finally, DOD will Build the Team by leveraging its existing relationships, create new partnerships, and expand information sharing to meet emerging challenges.
The very ubiquity of sUAS operating within the United States presents a unique set of challenges. In the context of airspace management, commanders are challenged to determine the intent of sUAS operations through procedural and positive airspace control measures. DOD says efforts to integrate sUAS into the National Airspace System (NAS) have been slow to develop. However, it does give a nod to initiatives by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to implement technologies like Remote Identification as part of an effective Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management System.
The FAA announced on December 28 the final rules for UAS, which will require Remote Identification of drones and allow operators of sUAS to fly over people and at night under certain conditions. An accompanying rule, also announced on December 28, rule requires that small drone operators have their remote pilot certificate and identification in their physical possession when operating, ready to present to authorities if needed. This rule also expands the class of authorities who may request these forms from a remote pilot. The final rule replaces the requirement to complete a recurrent test every 24 calendar months with the requirement to complete updated recurrent training that includes operating at night in identified subject areas.
On December 29, the FAA announced UAS airspace restrictions over two DOD locations. The first facility is Rock Island Arsenal located between Davenport, Iowa and Rocks Island, Illinois. The second facility is the Biometric Technology Center in Clarksburg, West Virginia.
While the FAA is providing much needed support, DOD also faces a challenge because existing laws and federal regulations were not designed to address sUAS as threats, and the continued rate of technological change makes it difficult for the legal authorities to keep pace. DOD says this has inhibited its ability to employ effective defenses against these potential threats.
DOD’s new strategy calls for common information sharing architecture solutions to be developed to address current and future threat sUAS. Solutions must draw from standardized interfaces that enable joint and multilateral information sharing that is interoperable and capable of plug-and-play. Additionally, the strategy says DOD will develop a centralized sUAS threat data architecture to inform the Department’s work in developing and validating C-sUAS requirements.
The new approach will require all DOD stakeholders to work collaboratively and to partner with the national security innovation base (NSIB) and other non-federal entities to facilitate rapid development of joint capabilities to mitigate hazardous sUAS and deter and defeat threat sUAS. New partners must be attracted to defend against evolving threats from non-state actors. Strong partnership between the DOD and the NSIB will also ensure a healthy U.S. commercial innovation base for the future. And the Department will also seek to establish new agreements with civilian organizations and expand multilateral collaboration.