North Dakota Forms Task Force To Support, Test Technology For Countering Rogue Drone Activity

FARGO, N.D. — Expanding on North Dakota’s already robust reputation in unmanned aircraft systems development, state officials announced efforts this week to further pioneer another aspect of the technology: defense against rogue users.

The creation of an industry-led task force that will back the development and advancement of technologies to protect and defend against threats posed by nefarious drones was announced May 31 by North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum during an address at the annual Drone Focus Conference in Fargo.

“The goal of this task force is to identify both commercial and government opportunities to accommodate UAS operators who want to test detection and countermeasures in North Dakota,” Burgum told the conference crowd.

Thomas Swoyer Jr., president of Grand Sky Development Co., and Nicholas Flom, executive director of the Northern Plains UAS Test Site, will serve as co-chairmen of the task force. Other members of the group will represent organizations such as the governor’s office, the North Dakota University System, the North Dakota National Guard and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The formation of the UAS Detection and Counter-UAS Task Force comes as the presence of drone technology continues to grow worldwide as more and more applications are developed for it — not all of which are safe or legal.

That’s where countermeasures come in to keep unsavory drone activity at bay. Examples of existing measures range from shooting down drones, disabling them and their control systems with electronic warfare or even training raptors such as eagles and falcons to snatch them out of the air.

“The UAS industry is rapidly evolving, so having the ability to develop countermeasures, test them, and put them in place before they become obsolete is crucial to our nation’s continued safety and ability to compete on a global scale,” Swoyer said in a statement.

The U.S. military has researched methods for stopping rogue drones, and the North Dakota task force is expected to advance those applications as well as address a commercial need for counter-UAS technology.

As part of its charge, the task force also would arrange amenities to test countermeasures in North Dakota, help identify opportunities for technology development, create a testing and evaluation area within North Dakota, identify emerging and potential threats posed by UAS technologies in both military and civilian environments and enable UAS operators to develop and deploy protective technologies in response to identified threats, according to a news release.

“North Dakota’s support of the UAS industry makes it the perfect location to conduct this necessary work, and Grand Sky is the ideal base camp for operations,” Swoyer said in a statement. “The unique amenities that make Grand Sky successful – uncongested air space and flight schedule certainty – are the same amenities that will make this counter UAS initiative succeed.”

Grand Sky, a 217-acre aviation and technology park under construction on Grand Forks Air Force Base, is the staging ground for other research endeavors in the state, including beyond-visual-line-of-sight flight testing expected to begin this summer. Much of that research involves the Northern Plains UAS Test Site, which was created by the Federal Aviation Administration in 2015 to research the safe integration of drones into national airspace.

“Researching the technologies for detecting UAS and developing countermeasures aligns well with the mission of the Northern Plains UAS Test Site, which is to enable safe UAS operations in the National Airspace System,” Flom said in a statement. “The creation of this task force is another great example of how North Dakota will continue to be a leader in the unmanned aircraft industry.”

Interested parties are encouraged to contact task force co-chairmen Nicholas Flom (nflom@nd.gov) or Thomas Swoyer (swoyert@grandskynd.com) for more information on research and development opportunities and testing area amenities.

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