The Forward Area Air Defense Command and Control (FAAD C2) system will be the basis for the Department of Defense’s (DoD) joint counter-small unmanned aircraft system (C-sUAS) effort, Army Maj. Gen. Sean Gainey, Joint C-sUAS Office (JCO) director, said during a Jan. 8 webinar hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

The Department of Defense (DoD) released its counter small unmanned aircraft systems (C-sUAS) strategy on Jan. 7 focusing on open systems architecture and interoperability to counter threats caused by UAS. An implementation plan of that strategy will be released at the end of the month, Nicole M. Thomas, JCO division chief for strategy and policy, said during the webinar.

“We looked at, from a perspective of what we have right now, what’s the best C2 system we have right now, and FAAD C2 was that system,” Gainey said. “We can get the kinetic fire control off of that system. However, we understand that there are other systems out there that the services are using that show promise for example the MEDUSA for the Air Force…We use FAAD C2 as the basis, however where we are going to get to is really an open architecture standards based C2 system so we’re just plugging in based off of the standards as opposed to the box in itself but right now it’s FAAD C2.”

The acquisition process for C-sUAS technology will have to be fast to keep up with evolving threats. The JCO has implemented middle tier acquisition to rapidly develop prototypes and get capabilities to service members, Gainey said.

“With the rapidly evolving threat we need to be more agile,” Thomas said. “Some of the acquisition processes that are better suited for longer lead times won’t work in this type of environment so we just as a department need to be flexible so that we can continue to get after the threat to keep pace or to stay ahead of it. It’s not just applicable to counter UAS it’s applicable to anything else where the technology is evolving.”

During the first week of April the JCO and industry professionals will meet to conduct the first common test range testing event in Yuma, Gainey said. The test will include the Air Force and the Army’s Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO) and will focus on low collateral effectors.

Gainey said the programs the JCO selected to focus on came from an assessment of a majority of the systems available to get feedback about what was working best. The conclusion of the assessment was the JCO needed a system of system layered architecture with the ability to integrate different technologies and a common C2 system.

The JCO took the framework of interim systems from their assessment and assigned services responsibility for a specific system to develop and mature to meet the current joint requirements, Gainey said. The JCO would simultaneously look to future capabilities for those systems.

“For example, the Air Force has the low collateral effector, so they will go to our test range with RCCTO in April, issue an announcement to industry, and say, hey in April, we’re going to look at all the low collateral interceptors,” Gainey said. “Bring that capability to our Common Test Range in Yuma, and we will downselect to that and then we will open up a contract for all the services to then buy it and that gets after that open architecture concept. So, then next capability, whether it’s high energy lasers or whatever, the same type of concept moves forward.”

Gainey said this will create an “on-ramp off-ramp” path for integrating new systems into service. Current systems that can’t keep up with requirements will not be offered component capability and will no longer be used. The services would then evaluate a path to on-ramp new technology by assigning a service to take it to the test range and start the process over again.

To fund this effort, Gainey said the JCO already has approval for the research, development, test, and evaluation (RDT&E) line that all the services put money into. This creates reliable funding lines for new capabilities.

C-sUAS missions will be present in multiple operating environments including the homeland, host nations, and contingency locations. In the U.S., the JCO will be working with U.S. agencies like the Department of Justice (DoJ), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to counter threats and hazards created by UAS in the airspace, Thomas said.

“Oftentimes drones are also talked about as the new IED,” Thomas said. “There are similarities but the biggest difference is that there was never a good use for the IED. There are legitimate uses for drones. And so, we need to understand how to distinguish between legitimate users and nefarious actors. The drone in and of itself is not a threat. And so, you have to assess and determine what the threat is, the capability, and the intent.”

One major step in distinguishing intent is UAS remote identification (remote ID) that functions like a digital license plate for UAS. The FAA recently announced final rules for remote ID in the U.S. that UAS operators will have to follow.

“When that finally comes online that’ll be a good way to distinguish,” Thomas said. “So if you have a drone, you’re supposed to have it registered and so instead of looking at a screen full of drones and you’re not sure who is the various actor and which is a legitimate actor, if you’re registered then you can kind of disregard those. Now the things that you’re looking at are much more narrow and so that would help.”

Current C-sUAS efforts are focused on cutting the link between UAS and their operators. However, Gainey said this may shift as new technologies emerge. Future C-sUAS efforts could include mass swarming capabilities, integrating artificial intelligence (AI), and leveraging 5G.