From aerospace to public safety, the emergence of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), commonly referred to as “drones,” are a timely example of how technology is changing the homeland security landscape. The proliferation of these cheap and capable small UAS entering the national air space for business or recreational purposes presents a formidable challenge to efforts to prevent such technologies from being exploited for nefarious purposes.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) is working to better understand how UAS advances can be applied to protect the lives of the public and increase operational efficiencies and improve command and control decision-making, along with counter-UAS (CUAS) technologies to protect the homeland from the nefarious use of drones.
Since its launch, S&T’s Program Executive Office for Unmanned Aerial Systems (PEO UAS) has integrated and orchestrated S&T’s various UAS efforts under one umbrella by pursuing a three-pronged approach to homeland security policy, technology and component operations. In the policy arena, PEO UAS is the DHS-designated leader of the interagency community that addresses nefarious UAS use, and co-leads the National Security Council’s technology and response work groups. PEO UAS also collaborates with international and domestic partners to share information and test data.
Countering UAS (CUAS)
DHS S&T's work helps homeland security officials counter nefarious drone use through several approaches.
- Advisory: Develops computer models and analysis tools to enhance countering capabilities and explore potential threat scenarios.
- Capabilities: When faced with urgent threats and protection needs, knowing what types of commercial CUAS technologies are available and how equipment relates to unique operational, testing, and evaluation needs.
- Tech Transition & Acquisition: Provides support to ensure CUAS solutions are agile, adaptable, and reliable, and best practices are captured from early adopters and interagency partners.
- Addressing Future Threats: Maintains awareness of tech trends and forecasts, conduct horizon scanning to determine market implications (i.e. for operational use or as potential threats), and incorporate data to address future threats.
In addition to countering nefarious use of drones, DHS S&T also helps improve legitimate use of this technology to support homeland security operations.
- Advisory: Provides “consumer reports” on various classes of commercially available UAS platforms and sensors by conducting test & evaluation in specific Homeland Security Enterprise use case scenarios.
- Addressing Future Opportunities: Maintains awareness of tech trends and forecasts, conduct horizon scanning to determine market implications within the mission objectives of DHS.
On the technology front, the PEO UAS directs the development of modeling and simulation software and other computational capabilities to gain valuable analytical insight into the UAS domain. Much of this modeling work involves determining core UAS physical characteristics and signatures and calculating the performance of CUAS systems in specific settings. PEO UAS maintains an active test program to assess commercial solutions through its Technical Assessment of CUAS Technologies in Cities effort managed by our National Urban Security Technology Laboratory (NUSTL). Another effort focuses on developing an urban test bed and operational prototype to improve UAS detection, tracking and identification in the National Capital Region. These refined CUAS performance models, combined with timely descriptions of potentially nefarious UAS, support security planning for special events by optimizing existing capabilities and informing acquisition plans for new capabilities.
In addition to CUAS technology, PEO UAS is working with NASA on a UAS traffic management system to integrate drones into the national air space. This project will stimulate cooperative UAS use while assisting in identifying nefarious UAS. The PEO UAS helps enable UAS use by law enforcement by leading efforts to identify existing government, military and emerging commercial sensor technologies for both small and large UAS – especially for those operating in denied environments – including efforts to harden wireless communications and navigation. In 2018, the S&T established a common test site for UAS demonstration and research in Mississippi.
Finally, S&T aids DHS components and homeland security practitioners in their ongoing efforts to plan and execute security arrangements for National Special Security Events and high-value locations. This allows components and law enforcement partners to optimize CUAS security postures, like predicted attack modes and the optimal placement of sensors. The PEO has provided operational support for the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, the Presidential Inauguration, and the 2017 Super Bowl — and on one such occasion helped to detect unauthorized drones. S&T directs resources for forensic analysis after engagements and assists in developing CUAS concept of operations and table top exercises. It also works with the First Responder community to define UAS/CUAS use cases, technical requirements and training needs.
The opportunities and threats that UAS technology presents will continue to impact our nation for years to come. S&T goes beyond delivering knowledge products and analysis to provide DHS components with hardware and software system upgrades that are scheduled for delivery this year and next. S&T, through the PEO UAS, will continue to provide the tools, knowledge and leadership to help fortify the nation’s safety and security posture in the face of the current UAS challenge.