OSD Joint Test Prepares for Upcoming Field Test at Point Mugu, California

John McGrath
Photo John McGrath Candid Sky Productions

Nellis Air Force Base—The Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) Joint Test and Evaluation Joint Counter Low, Slow, Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Joint Test (JCLU JT), sponsored by the United States (US) Air Force Warfare Center and operating from Nellis AFB, is well into planning for its upcoming final field test. This test will support the JCLU JT’s identified goal to understand the ease, operation, and threat that low, slow, small (LSS) unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) can have against US forces. Chartered to begin this effort in August 2012 and focused on the combatant commands and the warfighter, OSD put JCLU JT into operation to develop a way to protect the force and improve defense against the LSS UAS threat.

The JCLU JT focus is identifying characteristics of the LSS UAS threat to the joint warfighter and developing tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) to detect and identify these threat systems. This, in turn, will improve the ability of the integrated air and missile defense (IAMD) operators to detect, track, and identify the LSS UAS threat. JCLU JT’s efforts have, to date, resulted in interaction and close coordination with deployed forces executing real world mission support. This interplay built upon an award winning effort to support the force; specifically, the recent announcement that Ms. Elaine McDonell, JCLU JT’s Test Manager, was awarded the 2014 National Defense Industrial Association’s Contractor of the Year Award.

This award recognized the efforts of Ms. McDonnell and JCLU JT personnel in the successful planning and execution the team’s first field test in July-August 2013 at Point Mugu Sea Test Range, CA, during Black Dart 2013. The annual Black Dart event is the premier, and only, Department of Defense (DOD) counter-UAS demonstration and JCLU JT will again participate in the 2014 event this summer.

The LSS UAS threat, which the JCLU JT endeavors to mitigate, is not just confined to the potential adversaries facing the US and their use of Groups 1 and 2 UAS. The potential threat against the Homeland potentially encompasses the “do it yourself” or remote controlled model aircraft (RCMA) constructed by individuals using commercial, readily available, sophisticated technology. These aircraft have the potential to be threats against units deployed overseas as well as here in the US.

While utilizing DOD collection systems to enable the transfer of data to the IAMD operators and improve the protection of the warfighter while deployed overseas is paramount, understanding what the threat could develop from internal to the Homeland is also important. As JCLU JT’s efforts continue forward towards its final field test, it is imperative to recognize and view up close what the RCMA/Groups 1 and 2 threats could be. To this end, in early May, the JCLU JT team had the opportunity to view this potential threat up close.

A visit to the William G. Bennett Memorial Remote Controlled Aircraft Field near Cashman Field provided an outstanding opportunity to view Groups 1 and 2 UAS in the form of gas- and electric-powered RCMA. These RCMA, observed on display and in flight at the field, ranged in size from a micro quad-rotor UAS of a few ounces to a Group 2 jet-powered, 51 pound UAS.

The President of the Las Vegas Radio Control Club, Mr. Gil Terzo, hosted the JCLU JT personnel, discussed various attributes of his organization’s RCMA operations, and arranged a walk around of the aircraft at the field. JCLU JT personnel were able to observe the capabilities of the lightly constructed aircraft, some of which were able to fly into a near 20-mile per hour headwind and were virtually silent. The JCLU JT personnel also had the opportunity to speak with the pilot of the jet-powered Group 2 UAS. It was built to resemble a US Air Force F-84 Thunderbird plane and had a range of 26 miles and a speed of 130 miles per hour.

The visit gave the JCLU JT personnel a superb occasion to look at readily available locally purchased or homemade Groups 1 and 2 UAS. The characteristics of the UAS observed identified the potential threat of these aircraft and how hard they are to detect, track, and identify. The perspective provided will inform how the JCLU JT continues its efforts as the organization moves forward into the final field test.

As JCLU JT moves forward to culminate efforts during the upcoming field test at Black Dart 2014, we look to validate and further refine our lessons learned and TTP developed in concert with US Central Command, US Northern Command, and US Pacific Command. Black Dart is an outstanding counter-UAS demonstration event with a representative air and missile defense infrastructure that will enable JCLU JT to increase timeliness, accuracy, and reporting of LSS UAS threats in support of the combatant commanders and counter this threat to the joint warfighter.