Defense contractors market drone defense technology

December 28, 2015

By Marjorie Censer

As drones become increasingly popular and prevalent, some defense contractors are finding new opportunities to sell technology related to controlling them.

Take CACI International, which is offering what it calls SkyTracker, a set of sensors and processing systems that can identify drones in the air or on the ground as well as track down their handsets.

The company acquired the foundation of the program in 2013 when it purchased Six3 Systems, Mike Kushin, executive vice president of CACI's national and cyber solutions group and a former Six3 employee, told Inside Defense earlier this month.

"For the DOD, [Six3 had] built various different types of solutions for supporting force protection overseas," he said. "When we joined CACI, the combination of the expertise that CACI brought -- along with Six3 -- allowed us to start building something that supports domestic-type capabilities."

CACI has created two versions of the system: a "point defense" version that handles smaller areas and mobile support, and an "area defense" variant for larger geographic areas, such as airports. The contractor handles the installation and training as well as upgrades as needed.

CACI's system is designed to detect the radio frequency emanations from the drone and the operator's handset and is designed to work well in urban environments, Kushin said.

CACI is seeing significant opportunity in the domestic market, both for government agencies like the Federal Aviation Administration as well as for private groups, according to Kushin. However, so far, the company is focusing its initial sales efforts on government agencies.

"The number of potential sites that could need something like this is in the thousands," he said. "It is certainly a brand-new market for us to look at the FAA, to look at firefighting, to look at stadiums."

The company has already seen significant interest from commercial customers, according to Kushin.

But "CACI's legacy is supporting national defense and homeland defense," he said. So far, "we're keeping our focus on the government side."

Selex ES too is seeing opportunity in this area. The Finmeccanica company has a product, dubbed Falcon Shield, that specializes in detecting and stopping drones.

Steve Williams, one of the capability managers for Selex's electronic warfare unit, told Inside Defense this month that the need for Falcon Shield continues to grow.

"It's becoming ever more clear . . . that drones are being used to supply drugs, weapons, communications devices into prisons, being used to transport drugs across borders," he said. "Certainly, we've seen an ever-increasing risk to passenger airliners."

"The proliferation of these kinds of vehicles [is] really just exponential," Williams added.

The system uses radar and electronic surveillance to detect emissions from drones, even in a cluttered environment, and then offers defeat mechanisms, including an electronic-attack capability that allows users to take control of remotely piloted drones. A spokesman said the company has been talking to U.S. government agencies about the technology.

"We've gone through a lot of effort here in our system design to ensure we can deliver the design in a manner that is compatible with operating in urban environments," Williams said. "We don't end up delivering a defeat mechanism that just causes the vehicle to either land in an uncontrollable manner in a crowd of people or crash into a building."

The system works both in military and civilian environments, according to Williams.

"The addressable market is significant," he added, noting that movie sets, major stadiums and celebrities or executives seeking protection might have a use for the technology.