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Small, unmanned aircraft systems, or drones, are easy to obtain and launch and they’re hard to detect on radar, making them of particular concern to the Department of Defense, according to officials taking part in the Black Dart 2015 counter-UAS demonstration held here.
Air Force Maj. Scott Gregg, Black Dart project officer, speaks to the media in front of a MQ-9 unmanned aircraft system, at Naval Base Ventura County and Sea Range, Point Mugu, Calif., July 31, 2015. The drone, Gregg said, is in the largest categories of UASs, or Group 5, flies at more than 18,000 feet in altitude and weighs more than 1,300 pounds. It was being used as part of the two-week Black Dart counter-UAS demonstration, July 26 to Aug. 7, to assess and improve technologies, tactics and techniques used by DoD and its partners. DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando
Black Dart 2015, which began July 26 and runs to Aug. 7, is DoD's largest live-fly, live-fire joint counter-UAS technology demonstration, Navy Cmdr. David Zook, chief of the Capabilities Assessment Division with the Joint Integrated Air and Missile Defense Organization, or JIAMDO, told reporters yesterday.
Zook briefed reporters at Naval Base Ventura County and Sea Range here. He said the demonstration is bringing together some 1,000 people, including industry personnel, observers from allied nations, and participants from four military branches.
Small drones can be launched from virtually anywhere and fly a significant radius, Zook said.
"Small manned and unmanned aircraft have always been hard to find,” he said. “It's hard to tell the difference in the radar cross section from that and other small airborne vehicles or even birds.”
Black Dart 2015 provides “a unique and very valuable window for us to come together for two weeks here and practice in a littoral environment, a land-based environment and a deep-sea environment in many different scenarios," Zook said.
Zook said the demonstration features cooperation and interoperability among military services in air and missile defense, while also assessing the anti-UAS capabilities of DoD, its agency partners and industry.
Previous Black Dart demonstrations have resulted in new systems or improvements in technology, tactics, and procedures that have helped the warfighter, he said.
Staying One Step Ahead
One only needs to look at recent news reports to see incidents involving members of the public using drones, including a quadcopter that landed at the White House, said Air Force Maj. Scott Gregg, Black Dart’s project officer.
Drones can easily be purchased over the Internet or at a hobby shop, Gregg said. Defense officials are focused on staying ahead of the threat, he said.
"If there is anything that the terrorists have shown, it’s that they’ll be innovative and use anything that they can at their disposal to do what they're trying to do," Gregg said.
"What we're trying to do at Black Dart is make sure that we are staying ahead of the game and that we have a good understanding of their capabilities before those capabilities outpace ours," he added.
The smaller class of drones is an "emphasis item" this year at Black Dart, in response to concerns from combatant commanders and interagency partners, including law enforcement agencies, Gregg said.
"It's a problem for everyone," he said.
More than 70 countries are using UASs, either in government or military application, Gregg said.
Gregg points out that radio-controlled model aircraft have similar performance and capabilities to some of the UASs that are considered to be threats.
"It's a burgeoning market. The threat is expanding rapidly, proliferation is expanding rapidly and it's not just a military threat," he said. "Our allies are using them, our coalition partners are using them, but our adversaries are using them too."