The government this week plans to begin soliciting interest from industry for upcoming evaluations of technology for detecting, tracking, identifying and mitigating potential threats from small drones and other aircraft flying in the homeland.

The forthcoming Request for Information (RFI) is a joint effort by the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and will be issued through the government business opportunity website FedBizOps under the title “Air Domain Awareness and Protection of the National Airspace System (NAS),” Tim Bennett, the Air Domain Awareness Program Manager with S&T, told Defense Daily this week via an email response to questions.

The RFI had been expected earlier this summer. Bennett told Defense Daily in February that the notice would seek interested vendors for evaluations of technologies to detect, track and identify small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), ultralight aircraft, and small manned aircraft below 500 feet along the Northern Border. The evaluations were directed by House and Senate appropriators in their respective markups of fiscal year 2019 DHS appropriations bill.

DHS had hoped to begin the evaluations this year but Bennett in the emailed answers that they will now take place late next spring.

Bennett said “we have been touring the North to come up with demonstration sites for mountainous, plains, maritime and urban regions. We are looking at Montana for the mountainous, North Dakota for plains, and Michigan for the maritime and urban. We have also looked at Ohio for deep water maritime on Lake Erie.”

The evaluations will first take place in North Dakota after snow and ice melt. Based on lessons there, demonstrations will move to “other sites based on where the suppliers say their systems work best,” Bennett said. The initial demonstrations will be for just a “couple of days” in day and nighttime with longer evaluations lasting six months or longer to follow in “all environments” of systems “that show a lot of promise,” he said.

The lessons learned from the testing will aid potential users of counter UAS technologies about what systems they should buy.

“What we hope to learn is what systems work best in the different regions and environments,” Bennett said. “This information will be used by all Federal agencies to help make decisions on what to procure based on the location of covered asset they need to protect.”

Covered Assets refer to critical infrastructures, although the specifics are still being worked out, Bennett said. The Preventing Emerging Threats Act, which was part of the FAA Reauthorization Bill that passed Congress last October and was signed into law, gave DHS and the Department of Justice authorities to mitigate drone threats to covered assets in the U.S.

Previously, the Departments of Defense and Energy had limited authorities to protect their assets in the U.S. from small UAS. The Secret Service, which is part of DHS, also has authorities to use counter UAS systems.

A recent task force made up of airport stakeholders recommends that lawmakers in the U.S. and Canada pass legislation that extends the counter UAS authorities to state and local law enforcement agencies that would be the first responders to deal with potential drone threats in and around airports.

In the wake of a number of drone sighting in and around airports, airports on their own have been evaluating systems to detect, track and identify small UAS. The Blue Ribbon Task Force on UAS Mitigation at Airports urges governments to provide guidance on the use of these systems and states that UAS detection is a shared responsibility between governments and airports. It also points out that many airports don’t have the resources and capacity to deploy and monitor detection, tracking and identification technology.

The types of technologies that can be expected to be evaluated include radar, acoustic, electronic sensors and optical sensors, Bennett said. The forthcoming evaluations are important to understand not just what systems work best, but also to examine what systems work best in different environments and whether they produce collateral impacts such as disrupting nearby electronics.

In addition to airports, there is broad interest in protecting various critical infrastructures such as government facilities and assets, as well as stadiums and other venues from potential threats posed by drones. The U.S. Border Patrol recently purchased systems to detect drones along portions of the southwest border that are being used to smuggle drugs and help bring illegal aliens into the country undetected.

While the evaluating counter UAS systems by DHS and the FAA will be a new experience, these entities will draw on the experiences of DoD. Bennett mentioned lessons learned from the DoD’s Black Dart and Desert Chance counter UAS demonstrations will be leveraged for the upcoming DHS and FAA evaluations.

“Those evaluations were very important to see how systems work, but comparing results at an event and between different events is very difficult,” he said. “To correct this, we are using the testing process developed by DoD, DHS and other federal agencies to standardize evaluating CUAS systems.”