Counterterrorism Officials Look for Ways to Stop Small Unmanned Aircraft

By Stew Magnuson
Two hand-launched unmanned aerial vehicles made headlines at about the same time earlier this year.

On Feb. 2, a DJI Phantom quad-copter crashed on the White House lawn. The incident sent Secret Service agents scrambling.

About one week prior to that incident, a small UAV with six-propellers crashed in a Tijuana, Mexico, hotel parking lot a short distance from the border with San Ysidro, California. Aboard was three kilograms of narcotics, local news reported.

“All of the sudden everyone is screaming about counter-UAVs,” said Robert Newberry, director of the Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office.

The CTTSO is responsible for developing new technologies to solve tough problems facing law enforcement and counterterrorism professionals.

The two incidents have put a spotlight on the counter-UAV problem, Newberry said at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict symposium.

The White House incident turned out to be an accident. A drone user in a nearby apartment lost control of the toy. But it did highlight a potential vulnerability.

 As for the incident at the border, the intentions were fairly obvious, he said.

“I don’t think they are using quad-copters to move heroin in Tijuana. I assume it was to come across the border,” he said.

The Islamic State terrorist group is employing drones. And New York City police are reporting that peeping toms are using them to peer into residents’ windows, he noted.

The CTTSO is looking for ways to thwart the bad guys who are employing UAVs. It will release a broad area announcement document asking for those with solutions to propose ideas.
“But the problem they all have is they don’t want to shoot them down. They could have an explosion. They could land on somebody’s head,” he added.

Nets are one possibility, but what most officers in the field want is to be able to take control of them remotely and land them safely.

“It is not as simple as you think it is ... you don’t just figure out the frequency and go grab hold of the UAV. There is a lot of frequency noise,” he said.

Operators could also change the frequency. “So there is lot that goes into ‘How do I take control of the UAV and take it away from the operator so I can control it safely?’ It is going to be a big challenge. But it certainly is solvable.”

That will not be the end of the problem, Newberry said.
“Everything we do to counter it, there will be a counter to the counter. So that will be another evolution,” he said.

Topics: Robotics, Unmanned Air Vehicles

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