Bureau of Prisons wants drone defense

Bureau of Prisons wants drone defense

It’s no secret that unmanned aerial systems have become a pesky issue for federal regulators.  From close calls with manned commercial aircraft to drones interfering with firefighters, a small group of bad actors have created enough havoc to spur the Federal Aviation Administration to consider requiring nearly universal UAS registration.

But it’s not just airports and firefighters who are finding drones a threat. Because of several instances of contraband entering prisons via drones, the Federal Bureau of Prisons has released a request for information to identify and assess the landscape of technologies and systems that can counter and mitigate possible nefarious intent of UAS.

The BOP is interested in integrated systems that will allow it to detect, track, interdict, engage and neutralize small unmanned aerial systems, the RFI said, though BOP acknowledges that not all its requested features may be available in a single system.

The RFI also includes requirements for the general operational environment, which include:

  1. Mixed use airspace where in both threat and “friendly” drones may be operating
  2. Drone performance that consists of:
    1. Flying altitudes from ground level to 18,000 ft
    2. Velocities from 0 to 100 m/sec
    3. Highly variable dimensions, but in general less than four feet in their maximum dimensions
    4. Materials ranging from carbon fiber to high density plastic to light metal alloys and others
  3. Both commercially-available as well as custom-made UAS
  4. Detection ranges of 1 mile with tracking at .75 miles and kill/interdiction as far out as possible
  5. Both command operation as well as autonomous functioning
  6. Use of GPS

There is no silver bullet or single technology that will be able to answer all the RFI’s requirements, according to a spokesperson from Drone Shield, a Washington, DC-based drone detection technology company.

Finding the right combination of requirements will be the challenge for vendors looking to respond, the spokesperson said. Detection, for example, will be easier than responding to incoming drones. For prison facilities in urban settings, jamming or a munition response can endanger the surrounding environment. Moreover, the Drone Shield spokesperson expressed skepticism when it comes to using jamming as a response to thwarting drones because prisons cannot even jam cell phones that inmates illegally possess within prison walls.  Other solutions could feature either non-lethal short-range net guns discharging netting that covers the drone, or nets that cover the prison to prevent from aerial intrusion.

Responses for the RFI are due Dec. 4, 2015.

About the Author

Mark Pomerleau is a former editorial fellow with GCN and Defense Systems.


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