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Border Police Wants a Bite of Burgeoning Anti-Drone Industry

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In April, U.S. Army officers met with representatives from Aurora Flight Sciences, a Virginia-based subsidiary of Boeing, to test whether the company’s technology could intercept and bring down an enemy drone. Aurora was one of three companies that took part in the test at the army’s Yuma Proving Ground, just 50 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona.

A marketing video shows how the system works: The AI-guided drone uses ground-based radar to locate other drones (called UAVs or UAS, short for unmanned aerial vehicles or systems) from range. When it gets close to an “enemy” drone, it “locks on with an onboard sensor” and fires a small projectile. The object fouls up the helicopter blades, and the “enemy” drone falls to the ground.

The demonstration was the first of its kind, held by the Defense Department’s Joint Counter-Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Office — the Joint C-sUAS Office, also called JCO — and a second one is planned for September. According to U.S. Army Col. Greg Soulé, director of the acquisition and resources division at JCO, who briefed reporters in April, the test came after 35 separate companies submitted white papers in response to a January request for information.

The demonstration was specifically focused on ways to defeat small drones in such a way as to “minimize collateral damage,” said Leland Browning, deputy director of JCO. “For example, if you were operating in urban terrain, and you wanted to minimize the amount of collateral damage from taking out one of these enemy UAS,” Browning continued, acknowledging the risk drones can pose to bystanders and infrastructure.

The tests are part of a rapid effort by the U.S. government to develop an answer to small drones, which are increasingly being used by terror groups and drug cartels. The staggering demand — hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of funding for research, in contrast to the relatively cheap cost of small consumer drones — has already created a private economy to produce counter-drone technology for the military, involving dozens of aerospace and defense companies.

In the current fiscal year, the Defense Department is looking to spend at least $404 million on research and development and at least $83 million on procurement of counter-UAS technology, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service. And other agencies, including Customs and Border Protection, are looking to capture a share of the market, raising concerns that the efforts could lead to further surveillance and militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border.

A review of contracting documents, as well as internal CBP documents and interviews with officials, shows that criminals using small drones, often to evade law enforcement, are now a major concern for CBP, which is casting a wide net looking for solutions to the problem.

U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Briar Purty tests Drone Killer Counter-UAS Technology during Urban Advanced Naval Technology Exercise 2018 (ANTX-18) at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, on March 21, 2018.


© The Intercept

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