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US Army solidifies requirements to counter small drones

WASHINGTON — Pentagon leaders approved in late September a set of requirements to help counter small drones, laying a path for how industry can develop technology to plug into a single command-and-control system, according to the general in charge of the effort.

The defense secretary delegated the Army in November 2019 to lead the effort to take a petting zoo of counter-small unmanned aircraft systems, or C-sUAS, many of which were rooted in urgent needs from Middle East conflicts, and to consolidate capability into a select group of interim systems. Army Maj. Gen. Sean Gainey, who is leading the effort through the Joint C-sUAS Office, spoke to Defense News on Oct. 2 ahead of the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference.

That part of his project would be followed by the development and fielding of a long-term system.

The office has already taken 40-plus systems and whittled the selection down to three systems-of-systems approaches — one from each service — for fixed and semi-fixed sites. The office also settled on the Light-Mobile Air Defense Integrated System from the Marine Corps as a mounted or mobile system; Bal Chatri, Dronebuster and Smart Shooter for dismounted, hand-held systems; and one command-and-control system.

The C2 system is called Forward Area Air Defense C2 and is sponsored by the Army, but it does include interoperable systems from the Air Force and the Marine Corps.

The threat is changing, according to Gainey, as the use of signals evolves. What this means is the long-term solution must bring in new technology and easily swap out old capabilities.

“It’s how rapidly we can integrate it, and by writing those requirements standards, it’s a big win for us because now if you’re building to that, then we allow industry to compete in this process by building component technology that can integrate into this open architecture,” Gainey said.

The Army will host a virtual industry day at the end of the month to share its requirements.

While Gainey was careful to avoid divulging classified requirements, he said the initial C-sUAS systems focused on Group 1 drones (such as Raven and Wasp) and Group 2 drones (such as ScanEagle). The program will also focus on Group 3 drones (such as Shadow), he added.

“We have a capability out there that can get after Group 3,” Gainey said, “but we know we need more focus in this area.”

Overcoming the threat of drone swarms will also receive increased attention, he added.

The plan is to test available capabilities at common ranges twice a year, he explained.

Meanwhile, industry is conducting several demonstrations a year, “so we have a good pulse of what technology they’re working on,” Gainey said. “What our efforts are doing is trying to help focus them in.”

Because the Joint C-sUAS Office was established in the middle of a budget cycle, Gainey said, the Army is working through the funding aspects; not just to keep interim systems funded, but to ensure there’s enough to develop

Dr. Deborah Birx warns about COVID spread in small gatherings; praises aggressive college testing as model

The frequent, recurrent testing on college campuses should serve as a model for communities at large, she said, so they can detect cases as quickly as the schools.

“It gives me really great hope to see how the college students have modified their behavior because they know what it takes to be safe,” she said. “And they have been able to mostly keep themselves safe with very low test positivity rates.”

Birx commended the Broad Institute for its key role in testing in the Northeast. Soon after the crisis began in March, the lab converted its laboratory into a high-throughput COVID-19 test processing center.

This spring, the institute signed contracts with 108 public and private colleges in the region to provide testing for students, faculty, and staff. Among the 1.7 million tests conducted for the colleges and universities so far, the positivity rate is 0.1 percent, or approximately 1 in 1,000, according to the Broad. The most recent seven-day average positivity rate for the state is 1.0 percent, according to the Department of Public Health.

The Broad collects samples from the schools and processes the tests for $25 per test, a discounted rate set for the schools compared to the $35 to $50 the institute regularly charges.

Birx was scheduled to meet with Governor Charlie Baker after visiting the Broad Institute.
Birx was scheduled to meet with Governor Charlie Baker after visiting the Broad Institute.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

“This is really the best part of our COVID response is when you see hospitals transcend their competitive status, when you see universities transcend their normal competition to work together putting the students and the safety of the students first,” she said.

Birx also toured the testing facility that Boston University has set up on its campus. That institution tests many students twice a week. She was also expected to meet with Governor Charlie Baker later on Friday.

About the Thanksgiving and winter holidays, Birx said she hopes that if college students return to their communities they will have low positivity rates and bring home with them good public health strategies that they learned at college.

If and when students return to campuses after the winter holidays, she said schools should aggressively test and quarantine them as they did when students began school in the fall.

Public spaces and stores and restaurants in the Northeast have largely become safe because of vigilant mask wearing and social distancing, but the problem now is at home, she said.

“People are yearning to be together and believe that if I know you or you are my family member you couldn’t have asymptomatic COVID. And we now learn that you could,” she said.

Birx, a strong supporter of wearing masks, distanced herself from President Trump, who even after testing positive for COVID-19, has been seen at the White House without a mask and plans to resume campaign travel this weekend.

“You’ve heard very clearly my position on masks and not only is it my position on masks, I wear a mask,” she said.

As fall turns to winter, she said,