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The rapid rise of small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) isn't just an evolution; it's a game-changer in military strategy. It shows various unexpected ways these drones can be used, which will significantly impact areas like security, safety, emergency response, and business operations in society. There will need to be a cultural shift in security thought and action. Our traditional physical security programs which rely on a legacy playbook to enable the operational plan are not ready for an “air domain” event. The security ecosystem collectively is not ready nor capable of this reality, but the technology and capability exist. The evolution of the sUAS platform in society is moving fast and is being propelled by experiments across the world in various combat zones like Ukraine and Gaza. New, creative, and innovative ways to use these systems are consistently published and easily accessed daily through hundreds of media sources.  

Commercial drones have grown in size and capability, making it harder to respond effectively. The idea of anonymous drone delivery of dangerous items like explosives is alarming. Adding swarms, autonomy, and advanced AI raises security challenges. A "dark drone" doesn't emit traceable signals, hiding its control station. Even though dark drones aren't new, their threat has increased with advancing drone tech. Detecting such small, fast-moving objects is tough. Improving detection systems doesn't solve the problem entirely. Security businesses struggle with where to start in creating air domain security plans. Relying solely on RF sensors isn't enough; it overlooks complexities.  

In the aerial domain, experts in the field will tell you that drone detection, tracking, and potentially interdicting (only allowed in the US under certain defined circumstances) governed by a legacy 2018 legislative law, is simply hard to do, therefore it is important to think about a “layered sensor package” as the most efficient option for drones that are openly communicating and for dark drones. “Now, take, for example, layering multiple sensors into a detection and monitoring package — a system designed with RF, radar, and optical sensors. This type of arrangement would provide a layered approach to the detection, monitoring, and potential geolocation of an operator. However, bringing this to market at a price suitable for businesses has shown to be difficult. But in an age of technological advancement where the technology already exists and laws are hollow to the capability, it would make sense for a cost-effective layered sensor array to come to market and provide true drone defense for best results” (Edwards, n.d.).

In the case of dark drones, selecting sensors that use a combination of radar and optical technologies that effectively work together to detect and identify a dark drone is the optimal approach even if the platform is off the RF spectrum or in autonomous flight mode. There are companies in the drone market vertical that offer these solutions and the technology associated with precision radar and optical is improving rapidly. Now, let’s end with the most important steps of understanding this potential threat. To determine your true need for this type of technology it is important to first get your “ground game” in order. What does this mean? Simply stated, conducting a Drone Vulnerability and Risk Assessment (DVRA), followed by a technical reconnaissance of the airspace will give you the data needed to make an informed decision for this capital investment. The DVRA will solidify the reasonable and proportional threats associated with drones to your property. This is an important step before any technology purchase.

Once this assessment and test are complete then it will lead to a Drone Emergency Response Plan (DERP) and “Left of sUAS Launch” development and plan creation. Keep this methodological approach and model in mind as you expand your physical security program to include the “air domain.” In the end, technology requires a shift from the security status quo. We can no longer afford not to “look up!” Let’s keep the conversation going!

bill edwards.jpgBill Edwards, CPP, PCI, PSP, is a retired U.S. Army Colonel and a veteran of the Iraq War. He works as president of federal and public safety at Building Intelligence, Inc. Edwards has been a member of ASIS since 2018.