The larger Homeland Security Enterprise (HSE) is not taking advantage of or responding well to the increasing commercial and consumer use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and the work being done by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with these systems is more focused on its components needs and not the larger homeland security community, according to a report prepared by a research center that supports DHS.

“On balance, the HSE is not well poised to capitalize on, or respond to widespread commercial and consumer use of, unmanned systems,” says a report prepared by the Homeland Security Studies and Analysis Institute, a federally funded research and development center that is funded by the DHS Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate. “While work is underway in DHS, for example, it appears to be largely reactive, siloed, focused primarily (though not exclusively) on the air domain, and limited to DHS vice the larger HSE. This is not sufficient for disruptive technology.”

Coast Guard photo of a Puma AE UAS successfully landing on the flight deck of the Polar icebreaker Healy. The aircraft's wings are designed to dislodge upon landing as a precaution against impact damage.
Coast Guard photo of a Puma AE UAS successfully landing on the flight deck of the Polar icebreaker Healy. The aircraft’s wings are designed to dislodge upon landing as a precaution against impact damage.

The report, Unmanned Systems in Homeland Security, was published in January but wasn’t released until November and was discussed on Wednesday as part of a presentation hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) that examined the issue of unmanned systems in homeland security.

Since the release of the report 11 months ago, a small UAS has landed on the White House lawn, a manned gyrocopter went undetected and landed near the Capitol Building, and there have been a number of close calls near airports between small drones and commercial aircraft taking off and landing, Ken Rapuano, executive director of HSSA and a senior vice president at ANSER, a non-profit company that operates the institute, said at the outset of the CSIS discussion. He said it “is only a matter of time” before there is a serious accident involving unmanned systems, in particular UAS, “and we need to be prepared.”

The report also says that the United States government writ-large lacks a “broad policy and strategy on the domestic use of unmanned systems, which creates public safety, public affairs, and economic risks.”

Tom Bennett, an official with DHS S&T, said during a panel discussion that DHS is ramping up research and testing Of UAS for different missions and to make better use of the technology as various components see the need for the systems.

Customs and Border Protection has been using medium altitude long endurance UAS since 2004 for border surveillance mission and currently has a fleet of nine General Atomics-built MQ-9 Predator B and Guardian variant aircraft to patrol land borders and the maritime environment.

In 2012 the S&T branch assessed small UAS (sUAS) under the RAPS program to meet potential first responder needs and published a “Consumer Reports” on how different systems did in different situations. S&T had 15 companies and 25 different aircraft participated in RAPS, Bennett said.

The Coast Guard between 2004 and 2014 also looked at UAS, in particular the Northrop Grumman [NOC] Fire Scout tactical system, for shipboard operations. However, by 2014, with Federal Aviation Administration moving slowly on rulemaking for integrating the use of UAS into the National Airspace, the Coast Guard’s efforts slowed, Bennett said.

But in 2015 interest across DHS in UAS began to pick up again, Bennett said. The Coast Guard began to examine hand-launched sUAS this year during its Arctic Shield exercises for various operations such as search and rescue, and oil spill monitoring, he said. The service also used the Boeing [BA]-built ScanEagle UAS for land-based operations in support of the same missions, he said.

Bennett also said that the Coast Guard this year did a tethered UAS and flying wing program to examine the use of the systems for persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance as part of vessel operations. Power and signal can be directly transmitted through the tether, which can extend 1,000 or even 3,000 feet to achieve “constant stare” of what’s out in the ocean, he said.

The Coast Guard and S&T also in 2015 began the RAMPS program, which is like the RAPS program but for the maritime environment, Bennett said. RAMPS 1B is ongoing at Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland and is using five different aircraft to see how they do at finding people, speed boats and other things in the water, he said.

Next June RAMPS 1B will begin at other locations around the country to see how different UAS perform in different climates, Bennett said. Eventually, there will be RAMPS 2 project with NATO countries and other friendly nations such as Australia to see how everyone can work together with UAS for homeland security solutions in the maritime environment, he said. Bennett added that he hopes the Border Patrol will also be part of RAMPS 2.

S&T has also begun a RAPS 2 program that is geared toward the Border Patrol, which has needs separate from the first responder community, Bennett said. RAPS 2 will begin Jan. 11, 2016 and run through next July and involve 13 companies with more than 20 aircraft being tested at Fort Sill in Oklahoma, he said. Reports on the various RAMPS and RAPS 2 projects will be published too, he added.

In addition to actual UAS flight testing for use in various DHS operations, S&T is also conducting research to improve the use of UAS, Bennett said. The agency is investing in how the MINOTAUR mission system could be used for CBP’s MQ-9 fleet, Bennett said, adding that the Navy system, which is now being used by the Coast Guard, provides better control over mission planning, operations, and data sharing.

S&T is also helping CBP by funding research into moving target indicator sensors for the MQ-9 to better detect ground movement by people and vehicles, Bennett said.

In the area of sUAS, S&T is providing funding to NASA’s Ames Research Center to help with a major program on air traffic management involving unmanned systems. Bennett said that the Border Patrol and others in DHS need to be able to fly UAS safely in air space with helicopters and other aircraft.

The “biggest fright” of people within CBP is having one of their agents throwing a hand-launched UAS into the air and having a helicopter coming in and neither knows the other is there, Bennett said.

There is also work being done to counter the spoofing and GPS jamming efforts the “bad guys on the borders” are investing in, Bennett said.

Bennett said that there will begin to be a greater focus on sensors instead of the UAS platform because that “going to make or break us finding bad guys.” Moreover, there is interest in more commonality in logistics, data links and communications, particularly with sUAS which have no standards currently to allow sensors to be swapped out or a common control system to be used, he said.

S&T is also working with universities around the United States on UAS research and testing and is about to sign a memorandum with the FAA’s UAS Center of Excellence to better work together, Bennett said.