SOFWERX, a Florida-based experimentation hub created by the nonprofit Doolittle Institute and U.S. Special Operations Command, plans to host a series of demonstrations next year to assess technology that industry has developed to counter small unmanned aircraft systems.

SOFWERX intends to kick off the effort with a technology exposition from Jan. 29 to Feb. 1 in Tampa. That event will be followed by an outdoor demonstration sometime in March or April at a to-be-determined location.

Battelle's counter-UAS DroneDefender being operated by a U.S. soldier. Photo: Battelle
Battelle’s counter-UAS DroneDefender being operated by a U.S. soldier. Photo: Battelle

Top performers will then compete for more than $600,000 in cash prizes in a final evaluation “rodeo” in June in Las Vegas. SOFWERX plans to hold this “game of drones” in concert with the Defense Department’s Strategic Capabilities Office and the Air Force’s new AFwerX innovation center.

SOFWERX said it wants to discover “best-of-breed” solutions for finding, tracking and neutralizing small UAS. It “has particular interest in those solutions that provide hard-kills (permanently defeat drones), but will also assess all new, novel and provocative technologies. Key technologies of interest include autonomous functionality, mobility, discrimination and multiple target engagement.”

The counter-UAS effort is part of the “ThunderDrone” project that SOFWERX recently launched to promote drone technology. The first ThunderDrone event, which took place in early November, assessed a wide range of technologies and drew hundreds of people from government, industry, academia and laboratories.

Military officials are increasingly concerned about the proliferation of small, commercially available drones that could accidentally or intentionally fly onto U.S. bases. On Oct. 31, for instance, security forces saw unauthorized drones fly over Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, home to the B-2 bomber fleet. While no aircraft or other assets were damaged, the incident is under investigation, a base spokesman said.