Camp Lejeune, NC —
During the Advanced Naval Technology Exercise (ANTX) at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, in July, vendors and government entities demonstrated their technologies to the Navy and Marine Corps in the areas of command and control, communications, maneuver, logistics, force protection and unmanned systems.
As part of the force-protection demonstrations, several technologies focused on counter-Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS). Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division’s UAS Lab, part of the Sea-Based Aviation and Aeromechanics Branch, participated by acting as the adversary.
The four-member Red Team was responsible for mission planning with the vendors and piloting the commercial off-the-shelf and custom drones that the counter-UAS technologies were targeting. Owen McGarity and Jared Soltis were the primary pilots, Eric Silberg was a secondary pilot, and Kevin Kimmel was a pilot in training and UAS maintainer.
“Our role as Red Team was to challenge the contractor technologies that were being demonstrated and provide a certain amount of government perspective on the actual capabilities of the technologies,” McGarity said.
Flying from the beach or the Bluebird landing zone inland, McGarity and Soltis piloted their drones so they could push the limits of the technologies, which were ground-based systems mounted on either a vehicle or a boat.
“It wasn’t just the contractors flying against their own technologies,” McGarity said. “We were able to provide some amount of an independent and unbiased check on what they were bringing to the table.”
As part of the ANTX, the technologies were observed and reviewed by Navy and Marine Corps operational and technical assessment teams. These teams had a limited amount of time with each technology before making their assessment. McGarity and Soltis spent the entire several-day exercise with these teams, really getting to know the technologies.
“We were embedded with these technologies,” Soltis said. “We had a very good sense of what they could and couldn’t do.”
Soltis said they also filled out the assessment sheets since they had such an in-depth knowledge of how the systems worked.
There were two primary types of counter-UAS technologies that the Red Team was flying against, according to McGarity. One of these was a jammer that overwhelms the video and control signals to the UAS.
“You completely lose control, the video goes out, the command-and-control link from the transmitter controller goes out and the aircraft is left to figure out what to do on its own,” McGarity said, adding that it will generally follow its fail-safe protocol and return home.
He said the other counter-UAS technology was able to target specific aircraft.
“I was impressed by one of the contractor’s ability to selectively identify, take over and redirect what the aircraft would do,” McGarity said. “That’s really the forefront of the development. If you’re going to be deploying this technology, either at an airport or on a battlefield, you don’t want to be taking out everybody with a broad-based jammer, because you’re going to have friendlies. That’s what we saw as room for improvement for a lot of the contractors, was developing this library of aircraft to be able to take down selectively.”
This wasn’t the only ANTX the Red Team has been a part of. Last year at Camp Pendleton, California, Silberg, Carderock’s UAS Lab director, flew for the Red Team and Soltis was a technical assessor. While Silberg’s primary role at Camp Lejeune was as focus-area lead for unmanned systems, he was also able to assist the Red Team as an additional pilot during larger demonstrations.
To fly drones as part of Carderock’s UAS Lab, Silberg implemented a pilot-certification process. Potential pilots at Carderock have to pass medical requirements, take ground-school training and demonstrate proficiency with the types of aircraft that they will be certified to operate. Soltis and McGarity were the first Carderock engineers designated as UAS pilots.
“It certifies us to fly at a military installation. We have to be cleared, in the case of ANTX, by the air boss,” McGarity said, adding that the airspace on a military installation is tightly controlled with limits on the altitude they could fly to, as well as the spatial area they could operate in.
The process for pilot certification at Carderock is fairly new and a work in process for the Warfare Centers. The basic construct is that an Aircraft Reporting Custodian (ARC) is designated, similar to a squadron commander, who manages the program for a particular command. Silberg is Carderock’s ARC and is authorized to operate small, “group 1-2” aircraft, which are generally under 55 lbs.
For ANTX, the Red Team ”hangar” included 3DR Solos, DJI Phantom 4s, Parrot Discos and DJI F450s. These UAS were a mix of Carderock, Marine Corps and vendor vehicles and included both multirotor drones and fixed-wing aircraft. In addition to these, the UAS Lab has a variety of custom and commercial off-the-shelf aircraft.
“We can fly as a service to other folks on base, say if someone has a sensor or widget they want to take airborne, we can fly it for them,” Soltis said. “We also do our own research. We did our first flight in the MASK (Maneuvering and Seakeeping Basin), flying some micro-quadcopters around to test out the radio-frequency interference and the aerodynamics in the facility.”
McGarity said their aviation work ties into Carderock’s ship research.
“If you think about a lot of the work we do in the MASK, ship survivability, ship motion, we are trying to get the unmanned aircraft to land and integrate with the ships,” McGarity said.
Note: The Carderock UAS Lab was featured in a YouTube video at: &list=PL7WRGH6pAuScIQGZu3wW1MiFrWWBkz_mS&index=8