The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) earlier this month at Miami International Airport (MIA) kicked off a test and evaluation program of technologies that can passively detect, track and identify (DTI) drones to enhance aviation and airport security.
The testing program will be a “living pilot” and “ongoing testbed” to examine different technologies for drone DTI and then provide data and lessons learned to be shared with other airports and government partners, Jim Bamberger, branch chief for public area security and infrastructure protection within TSA’s Office of Requirements and Capabilities Analysis, said during a kick-off event on Aug. 3 hosted by MIA. Every two to three months TSA plans to bring in new technology to be tested, he said.
Multiple technologies provided by multiple companies will be tested at the airport over time, Bamberger said. The technologies will be passive so as to not interfere with systems and operations around the airport, he added.
In addition to detecting, tracking and identifying small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), the technologies can provide operators with altitude, direction speed and type of UAS, where it was launched from and locate the operator, Bamberger said. The technology setup TSA displayed at the press event at MIA showed the entire sensor package on a tri-pod that stood about five-feet tall.
Bamberger said the system is very mobile, can be set up in 15 minutes, and can be powered by battery or through a local source.
“It allows us to begin weeding out compliant operators and focusing on the non-compliant operator or the criminal operator or the careless operator,” he said. “So, it goes a long way at being able to say, ‘how do we take out the drones that are authorized to be used and focus on the drones that are not authorized to come into the airport perimeter so that we can eventually prevent that from happening.’”
Eventually, TSA hopes to also test mitigation technologies, which can disable a drone, Bamberger said. Once TSA is “confident” in the safety and effectiveness of the DTI technologies, “then we can start looking at counter or mitigation technology as a next step.”
Rep. Carlos Gimenez (R-Fla.), ranking member on the House Homeland Security Committee’s oversees transportation security, said at the event that after the DTI technology is proven that “eventually” authorities need to be able to counter potential UAS threats from bad actors.
Gimenez said he plans to ask Rep. Bonnie Watson (D-N.J.), the chairwoman of the Transportation Security subcommittee, to take a “deeper” look at the drone security issue.
The U.S. government launched its counter-UAS efforts for potential use in homeland applications shortly after drone sightings at Gatwick Airport near London in December 2018 caused hundreds of flights to be canceled. TSA eventually was given responsibility in the U.S. for protecting airports from persistent drone threats.
TSA is also working with authorities at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and other stakeholders to establish a second UAS DTI testbed there.