2022 was a busy year in the UAS and Counter-UAS world. Several stories were followed in both industries, including the expansion of Counter-UAS legislative authorities in the United States, the war in Ukraine, drone deliveries, drone rule-making and regulation, new drone model releases, drone flights into stadiums, and prison drone drops, to name a few.
What lies ahead in 2023? Here are some storylines the Counter-UAS and airspace awareness sectors will be watching.
Acquisitions and Mergers
As the Counter-UAS industry continues to evolve and mature, acquisitions and mergers are becoming more common. Numerous product and service suppliers are competing for a limited market.
There is not one single technology that can provide airspace awareness and security. Rather, a defense-in-depth approach consisting of multiple detection and mitigation technologies is crucial. The integration of multiple technologies into product offerings has become increasingly important.
Strategically, acquisitions and mergers can increase market share, diversify product and service offerings, reduce costs, achieve economies of scale, increase synergy, and increase the knowledge and talent pool.
In the last year or so, examples of this have been seen with BlueHalo acquiring Citadel Defense in late 2021, the acquisition of LiteEye by Highland Partners, DroneShield selling equity to Epirus, and Leonardo DRS merging with RADA.
Acquisitions and mergers are highly likely to continue into 2023. How will this change the Counter-UAS and airspace awareness landscape change in the coming year?
Strategic partnerships are nothing new. They offer some of the benefits of an acquisition or merger while maintaining the integrity and structure of the companies involved.
A strategic partnership between one or more companies provides an opportunity to reach new markets, share ideas and resources, build innovative solutions for new and existing customers, increase brand awareness, and build brand trust.
Examples of strategic partnerships in the industry in 2022 include Dedrone and Johnson Controls, and the partnership between DroneShield and xReality Group (XRG) subsidiary Operator.
The rollout of Remote ID in the U.S.
With the increased use of drones, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is set to roll out Remote Identification (Remote ID) in the United States. The purpose of Remote ID is to integrate drones into the airspace safely and lay the groundwork for more complex drone operations.
Remote ID will require most drones operating in U.S. airspace to have a form of Remote ID capability. Remote ID is essentially the broadcasting of information regarding a drone in flight, such as its location, altitude, ground control station or takeoff location, drone identification information, etc.
There are three ways for drones to meet the Remote ID rule:
- Operate a Standard Remote ID Drone. Drone manufacturers must comply with Remote ID rule requirements beginning on September 16th, 2022. A current list of Remote ID-compliant drones can be found on the FAA’s website.
- Operate a drone with a Remote ID broadcast module. The broadcast module is a device that will broadcast information about the drone and its takeoff location. The module is retrofitted to the drone.
- Operate without Remote ID at an FAA-recognized identification area (FRIA) sponsored by community-based organizations or educational institutions.
The Remote ID rule takes effect on September 16th, 2023. Remote ID will not be the silver bullet for Counter-UAS and airspace awareness. Remote ID will be one of many data points to consider during operations and operational responses.
Expansion of Drone Delivery Services
Drone deliveries were not new in 2022, but its expansion during the year did not go unnoticed. Drone delivery in 2023 and beyond will continue to evolve and expand in the medical field, retail, and other industries.
Amazon recently announced its drone delivery program successfully delivered packages to customers in California and Texas. Walmart’s drone delivery service with DroneUp delivered packages to areas within Arizona, Florida, and Texas. Walmart plans to expand its drone delivery services in the near future to Arkansas, Utah, and Virginia.
Why is this topic important to Counter-UAS and airspace awareness in the homeland setting? Awareness of who, why, and what is in your airspace is an important consideration for any operation.
Nefarious and Careless Use of Drones
Many terms describe the pilots involved in drone incidents that make the news. Careless, clueless, willfully negligent, and nefarious are a few names that come to mind.
Throughout 2022, there were numerous examples of drone incidents that made headlines. In the Cincinnati area, there were two high-profile drone incidents at a National Football League (NFL) playoff game in January and a Major League Baseball (MLB) game in April that led to the indictments of two individuals.
Two separate federal prison incidents in Texas in May led to the arrest and subsequent guilty pleas of two individuals. Bryant LeRay Henderson pled guilty to a May 4th incident at the Federal Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas. Davien Phillip Turner pled guilty to a May 19th incident at the Federal Correctional Complex in Beaumont, Texas.
There were weekly reports that included suspected sightings at airports, sightings over critical infrastructure, prison contraband deliveries, stadium incursions, and more. In the upcoming year, the trend will continue.
Increased Use of UAS for Defense
The invasion of Ukraine, and other recent conflicts have highlighted the growing importance of drones in modern warfare.
In Ukraine, the world has witnessed the ingenuity of Ukranian defenders. They effectively use commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) and custom-built drones. The pilots can deliver ordnance on targets or use drones as a surveillance platform to identify targets for airstrikes and artillery.
The Turkish Bayraktar TB2, a Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) uncrewed aircraft system, has proven to be a formidable weapon in defense of Ukraine. The system is capable of carrying a payload of 150kg. It has an endurance of 27 hours, and an operational maximum altitude between 18,000 to 25,000 feet. The TB2 has a communication range of around 300 kilometers. The TB2 achieved many operational successes in Ukraine that have led to other countries seeking similar technology for defense.
The end of 2022 and early 2023 saw other news stories that included the incursion of North Korean drones into South Korea, and the detection of a Chinese drone in the vicinity of the Japanese islands of Okinawa and Miyakojima. In the coming year, the use of drones in military conflicts will continue to gain attention, as well as funding from militaries around the world.
Evolution of UAS Technology
The drone industry and the integration of drones into societies are evolving rapidly. Airspace awareness and Counter-UAS technologies are working hard to keep up with what seem to be weekly press releases and news stories about new drone technologies, drone models, and uses of drones.
Technologies that increase the payload capacities and endurance of drones are always of interest. Of higher importance, are technologies that increase the communications range and command and control (C2) or navigation options of drones to their intended destination. Those factors influence the types and configurations of systems used to defend a protected asset.
The UAS and Counter-UAS industries will always be closely related. The new year will continue to see the introduction of UAS technologies and uses that impact the Counter-UAS industry.
Expansion of Counter-UAS Authorities
When the Biden Administration released its Domestic Counter-Unmanned Aircraft National Action Plan in April, with subsequent support from the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS), there was a “buzz” in both the Counter-UAS industry as well as within the public safety, law enforcement, and critical infrastructure sectors. The plan built off of existing legislative authorities provided to DHS and DOJ in 2018.
There was anticipation that before the authorities for DOJ and DHS expired on October 5th, 2022, there would be incremental authorities and logical steps taken to increase the security of the public and critical infrastructure. A bipartisan bill, The Safeguarding the Homeland from the Threats Posed by Unmanned Aircraft Systems Act of 2022, was introduced in July. The bill introduced by Senator Gary Peters and Senator Ron Johnson included features recommended in the Biden Administration plan.
There were no new laws passed regarding Counter-UAS during the 117th Congress. The authorities for DOJ and DHS were extended through a series of continuing resolutions until President Biden signed the 2023 government spending package. His signature on the bill extended the Counter-UAS authorities for DOJ and DHS until September 30th, 2023. Any expansion of authorities in the near future will be in the hands of the 118th Congress.
Is 2023 A Pivotal Year For the Industry?
2023 could be a pivotal year for the industry. The increased use of drones by criminal organizations, the economic impact of the careless and clueless drone pilots at locations such as airports, and the proliferation of the use of drones in military conflicts may be enough to gain the attention of lawmakers not only in the United States but around the world.
The industry will grow as we learn more about the safe deployment of Counter-UAS and airspace awareness technologies. Those lessons will be especially important in urban environments. Those lessons will inform us how to train and integrate this technology into our physical security infrastructure. Stay tuned for more Counter-UAS stories in 2023!