The Current State of CUAS in the US: Let’s Not Get Caught with Our Pants Down

This article is part of a 7-part series on the state of CUAS in the US homeland. List of Article Titles – The Current State of CUAS in the US:

  1. Introduction – Let’s Not Get Caught with Our Pants Down
  2. Stadiums – Open Air for Pandemonium
  3. Prisons – Cigarettes are not Guns
  4. Regulatory – Outdated Regulations Need Updates
  5. Critical Infrastructure – The Grid
  6. Border – Gateway for Illegals and Contraband
  7. Terrorists – Maniacs are Intelligent Too

“There are places that drones should not fly”–Patrick Egan. No truer words can be spoken and two areas of major concern for civil air defense are large crowd gatherings such as concerts/ stadiums and prisons. These two examples are different in the intent and purposes of the flights, yet each can still be just as dangerous and expensive to asset owners. We should also speak about the regulations to remind us of what we are facing when confronting Congress on these issues, then the issues surrounding stadiums because I believe that stadium owners are in a well-suited position to lobby on these issues and bring about changes to US regulations. Then we will move on to more nefarious drone flights in prisons, which can be just as dangerous to prison guards, but the general public is not as effected by this and I have found prisons to take a backseat to an important issue that directly affects them every day. Usually the mentality of the general public is to just lock people up and throw away the key. The prison world can seem miles away from most even though they are located in some people’s backyards. We will then welcome my partner Jeff Anders who will write the article Part 4 Regulatory on how legislation is being shaped as we speak on CUAS for civil defense. The next we few articles we will write about are on Critical Infrastructure, Border Protection and close out our article series on Terrorist activities here in the US and abroad and the warfighters role in CUAS.

Almost everyone has witnessed in real life or on YouTube a video of a “droner” who disregards federal law flying (probably intoxicated) at a stadium during halftime, a tailgate party or before a concert starts with the vehicle started from the parking lot which is on the asset owner’s property. These “droner’s” are far different than terrorists who wish to bring harm to the US general public. US drone operators are a cause for concern when flying in these types of environments, besides the disregard for federal law the pilot has also failed to take into account the safety of the general public who could experience harm in favor of their own personal enjoyment. There are also concerns for a terrorist attack and the FBI has released statements that say the threat is imminent. A terrorist attack unlike the droner’s are different in that the flight was probably planned and researched to create a “mission” instead of a last-minute “let us fire the drone up” scenario during halftime by some intoxicated fan. These two examples although on the surface seem to be very different in threat levels can equally become just as deadly or dangerous.

The regulatory challenges are many that concern the FAA, FCC, DOJ, DHS and DOD who all take direction from Congress. The regulators do not create new laws they only enforce them; many people misunderstand this facet of US politics. By trying to cozy up to one of the departments or agencies to change a law is the wrong direction of the regulatory process. People should ban together in groups like the CUAS Coalition to lobby Congress effectively on changing the regulations to allow for civil defense operations. One or two visits to your legislator is not enough to get anything done except a nice handshake and meet & greet. People need to be in front of Congress every day or at least once a week to gain exposure and a foothold on changing regulations like we are here at the CUAS Coalition. People believe that a few visits, some emails and phone calls will convince a legislator to move on an issue, this is false legislators move for a variety of reasons with one being that of a budget. Lobbyists use their connections and knowledge to track down and trace where a program’s budget comes from because ultimately Congress signs the check. Once the source of funding is obtained the lobbyist has power over the program by persuading the source to discontinue or increase the flow of funding.

Manufacturers are positioned to make money on their products if the laws are changed. We have spoken to over 100 manufacturers and not many have signed on to our coalition. We don’t understand how they will sell a product if they do not lobby to have the laws changed. The biggest problem we hear over and over again is they can’t sell any products because the clients are scared of the repercussions of breaking federal law. Manufacturers while reading this are thinking that lobbying is too expensive or they have worked with lobbyists before or had an associate with lobby experience. These can all be correct however our coalition is no frills, you are not paying for luxury office space on K Street here in Washington DC. You are paying for our time to get things done right.

Here at the CUAS Coalition, we have developed standards that our members can use to help further their research and tactics.

Wikipedia Definition of Active Counter Measures for Aerial Threats

“In military applications, “active” countermeasures which alter the electromagnetic, acoustic or other signature(s) of a target thereby altering the tracking and sensing behaviour of an incoming threat (e.g., guided missile) are designated soft-kill measures. Measures that physically counterattack an incoming threat thereby destroying/altering its payload/warhead in such a way that the intended effect on the target is majorly impeded, such as close-in weapon systems, are designated hard-kill measures. Both types are further described in active protection systems.”

Soft Kill Level 1 Basic Detect and Awareness

Basic detection phase is primarily to identify the threat and should be presented to the user within a display to give situational awareness to the user such as speed, distance and time in relation to the user.

Soft Kill Level 2 Flight Controlled Mitigation  

Through the use of electronic mitigation, the flight controller is interrupted in a way that the first person controlling the drone no longer has control and the operator of the counter drone equipment has full control of the intercepted vehicle.

Hard Kill Level 1 Projectile or Kinetic Based Mitigation

Any use of mitigation equipment that has a projectile launched to knock the threat from the air. This includes tracking of a target with a ground or air asset that projects a net, missile, ballistic, motor, or weapon such as a rifle or shotgun round intended to disrupt the vehicle from flight.

Hard Kill Level 2 Laser or Magnetic Mitigation

Any use of a laser or electromagnetic pulse to disrupt flight of a threat.

Each level has pros and cons of usage, anytime a drone gets impacted by a Hard Kill then you will have fallout from the various pieces of drone debris falling from the sky. When you destroy a drone you also lose valuable data onboard such as the log files and video in which you might gain intel about the advisory. Soft Kill seems to be the best for civil defense minimizing the fallout of debris from the sky. Obviously, the best situation is to control the drone back the ground in working condition, land it close to the security team and confiscate it to run forensic testing. While at the same time locating the operator, and detaining them for questioning which could lead to an arrest.

If the current group of legislative bills are passed how would DOJ and DHS cover the many different scenarios and locations that will need CUAS operations? This should be handled through the deputizing of state and local law officials who would have temporary power to operate CUAS equipment. This enables a wide degree of people to use CUAS equipment, but still in a controllable and limited ability. One of the worries is that the equipment will fall into the wrong hands, there are ways in which equipment can be tracked and rendered useless through updates. If people cannot keep control of the equipment they will not receive an update to run the equipment.

One of the Coalitions ideas is to also to implement a licensing program that will come into play after the current regulations are changed. Our Soft Kill levels will be licensed through the FCC and much like a HAM radio operator one could take a test online and be licensed to use the equipment. Hard Kill licensing while much more complex and potential for destructive damage should have its licensing through DHS and those will have to complete an online test and practical exam to demonstrate competency in handling the equipment like being qualified for a weapon. These examples are just some of the practical ways to implement CUAS equipment so that we can get the ball rolling now and not be caught with our pants down.

https://cuascoalition.org/

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Rob Thompson
Rob Thompson is the co-founder of Falcon Foundation, a 3rd generation commercial multi engine pilot, Part 107 holder who also holds a Master of Science from James Madison University for his work in aviation system designs and technical & scientific writing. Falcon Foundation provides leading advocacy efforts in the unmanned aircraft systems industry, managing government relations, committees of association, executing legislative and regulatory strategies and creating law through the corresponding legislative committees. By working independently on advocacy issues, educating the clients on public policy issues quickly, and by engaging team members to facilitate successful results. Client policy issues will include aviation regulation, unmanned aircraft systems, Part 107 waivers, the regulatory process, and industry safety concerns. Client groups include aviation professionals, unmanned aircraft systems, and operators, both commercial and hobbyists, and non-aviation business sectors, including small business service and manufacturing sectors.