ROBOTICS AND AUTONOMOUS SYSTEMS
Military Tests Anti-Drone Weapons at 'Black Dart'
POINT MUGU, CALIF. — The U.S. military is looking for new technologies to target and shoot down enemy drones. A growing sense of urgency about the threat posed by unmanned aircraft was evident at the 2015 Black Dart exercise.
Black Dart — which started in 2002 — is the Defense Department’s largest live-fly, live-fire counter-drone demonstration. The two-week event is being held at Naval Base Ventura County Sea Range in Point Mugu, California.
“Initially, it started out as just a UAS development capabilities demonstration, and over time transitioned into a counter-unmanned aircraft systems technology demonstration,” said Air Force Maj. Scott Gregg, director of this year’s Black Dart, which is run by the Joint Integrated Air and Missile Defense Organization.
Fifty-five systems will be used during the duration of the demonstration, Gregg said July 31 during a Black Dart media day. Additionally, 16 drone targets are being employed.
This year’s exercise has a particular focus on small UAS, said Navy Cmdr. David Zook, chief of JIAMDO’s capabilities assessment division.
“I think we’ve definitely focused on it more than we have in the past,” he said. “The proliferation of the smaller, micro and mini UAVs — the Group 1s, Group 2s — has increased our need and our demand signal to operate in that environment.”
Group 1 drones weigh less than 20 pounds. Group 2 systems weigh between 21 and 55 pounds.
Even though small UAS can only carry light payloads, sometimes just a few pounds, they could be loaded with dangerous materials, Gregg said. They are also more difficult to detect, he noted.
About 700 military personnel and observers from across the services, academia and private industry are participating in the exercise, Zook said.
“This is a joint problem. This is more than just what individual services can handle,” he said. The “services can come up with their own solutions, but we’re bringing a really unique place for them all to come together.”
The systems being used at Black Dart aren’t necessarily new, he noted. Some of them are programs of record but are being used in different ways during the exercise. That’s important in these times of reduced military budgets , he said.
“As we start running into sequestration-related … funding challenges, we need to be able to find the best” systems, he said. “We need to find ways to use our systems that we have right now and work them in different ways or different combinations so we can work that integration piece to get us more advantage.”
Information gleaned from the demonstration can be used to help the services make acquisition decisions or even change concepts of operations, Zook said. That in turn helps the war fighter, he said.
Some unmanned aerial vehicles participating in the demonstration include the MQ-9 Reaper, Tigersharks, Outlaws and others.
Black Dart was classified until last year. Now that it's no longer secret, industry is taking note, Zook said.
“Industry has always been a part of this and as Black Dart has become more visible [and] prevalent we have worked that partnership and evolved that partnership into more effective systems” that fill gaps, he said.
JIAMDO provides the range and targets and then allows industry and the services to bring in their own technologies and test them out. These could include surveillance, detection, identification or negation weapons, he said. JIAMDO spent about $4.2 million on this year’s demonstration.
Demonstrations such as Black Dart show that the military recognizes the growing drone threat and is working hard to counter it, said Marine Corps Lt. Col. Kristen Lasica, a military spokeswoman. JIAMDO is under the office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“UAS technology and the proliferation of it continue to increase at a phenomenally rapid rate. The threat is getting bigger. It’s getting easier for our adversaries and people with nefarious intents to do harm,” she said. “This demonstration, Black Dart, is a prime example of how the DoD, the Joint Chiefs of Staff specifically, prioritize this issue and that we’re going to continue to do everything in our power to ensure that our understanding of the threat and our mastery and how to counter it is superior to that of our adversary.”