Burgum forms UAS Detection and Counter-UAS Task Force to position North Dakota as leader in growing field

Wednesday, May 31, 2017 - 9:30am

BISMARCK, N.D. – Gov. Doug Burgum today announced the creation of a task force dedicated to supporting the development of technologies to detect Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) and counter the nefarious use of UAS.

The UAS Detection and Counter-UAS Task Force will explore government, business and research opportunities in the rapidly evolving field, while also working to accommodate UAS operators who want to test UAS detection and countermeasures in North Dakota.

Burgum made the announcement during the Drone Focus Conference in Fargo, with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., in attendance.

“North Dakota has already staked a position at the forefront of UAS applications and testing, with the state investing $43 million into advancing UAS research and development,” Burgum said. “This task force underscores our commitment to investigating UAS detection and countermeasures for the safety of our citizens and our airspace, as well as opportunities to further diversify our economy.”

A U.S. Army report last fall cited more than 600 types of UAS being used in more than 80 countries, with estimates ranging from 80,000 to 500,000 drones operating in U.S. airspace. Skyrocketing drone use, including deployments in war zones, domestic protests, along borders and near critical infrastructure, have highlighted the urgent need to explore the best methods to detect drones and counter nefarious UAS use.

Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford will be establishing the ad hoc UAS Detection and Counter-UAS Task Force. Sanford currently chairs the executive board for the Northern Plains Unmanned Systems Authority.

The task force will be co-chaired by Nicholas Flom, executive director of the Northern Plains UAS Test Site in Grand Forks, and Thomas Swoyer Jr., president of Grand Sky Development Co. in Grand Forks, the nation’s first UAS business and aviation park.

“Today’s announcement is an exciting step, building upon the collaboration between the public sector and private entrepreneurs that has made North Dakota’s UAS efforts so productive,” Sanford said.

“The unique amenities that make Grand Sky successful – uncongested airspace and flight schedule certainty – are the same amenities that will make this counter UAS initiative succeed,” Swoyer said. “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.”

Task force members will work to enhance UAS detection and identify potential threats posed by UAS technologies in both military and civilian settings. Countermeasure research so far has focused mainly on military applications, whereas the task force will explore both military and commercial applications.

“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. “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.”

Task force members will include representatives from the governor’s office, the test site, North Dakota University System, North Dakota National Guard and the UAS industry. University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott will serve in an advisory role.

Burgum encourages the task force to seek participation from government, academia and the private sector, and to coordinate with a wide cross-section of stakeholders and experts, including but not limited to the North Dakota congressional delegation, U.S. Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security – including Customs and Border Protection – and other entities as the task force sees fit.

The task force will deliver monthly progress reports to Sanford.