“Who saw what, and when?” House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, posed this question after a bold postal worker flew a small, low-flying gyrocopter on April 15 through 30 miles of restricted airspace to land on the U.S. Capitol lawn.
More than 32 agencies tasked with protecting Washington, D.C., including NORAD, the FAA and the Capitol Police passed blame back and forth in the April 29 hearing on this event with ominous overtones for the future.
Even while security problems and what to do about them are endlessly debated by bureaucrats, perhaps a simple solution is available.
The FAA and NORAD early warning systems are in place for tracking airspace beginning at about 500 feet above the ground. Flying at around 100 feet, this gyrocopter was visible to these multibillion-dollar systems only intermittently. The Capitol Police indicated they had no “actionable information” regarding the gyrocopter until officers visually sighted it as it was about to land.
The landscape of security across the globe has changed drastically in the past decade. Drones, personal flight vehicles (such as a gyrocopter) and cars that will soon drive themselves mean that long-range radars designed to detect large bomber planes and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) do not work against these new technologies.
Chaffetz pointed toward technology recently used to upgrade border protection as a possible part of the solution for the detection problem. Compact Surveillance Radar (CSR) is among technologies being tested along the Arizona/Mexico border to track human ground traffic.
This same radar successfully detects low flying drones (unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs) approaching airports, electrical substations and other critical elements of our infrastructure. By tracking the movement of short-range drones, CSR can triangulate the launch point; hence, the drone operator.
The FAA lost track of the gyrocopter’s flight at lower altitudes. CSR monitors altitude, speed and distance in real-time at distances ranging from 10 feet to thousands of feet above ground, and is able to cue cameras on target for additional verification and identification.
When Doug Hughes landed his gyrocopter on the Capitol lawn, chaos ensued. Despite the protections in place, no forewarning was provided, leaving security personnel scrambling to protect and evacuate members of Congress and visiting dignitaries on the grounds. Imagine if a system had been in place to wirelessly alert the Capitol Police or the Congressional Sergeant at Arms via cellphone at the first sign of movement with photos of the threat.
CSR has that capability. For example, SpotterRF‘s CSR system has the capability to have detected and cued cameras onto the threat as soon as the invisible perimeter (by ground or air) was breached, eliminating the need for the question, “Who saw what and when?”
Chaffetz was appalled to learn that we are using “70 year-old technologies” to monitor and protect the U.S. Capitol. The most current technology would have been able to detect and follow the gyrocopter from 6,500 feet away, taken photos and given security personnel time to react while being small enough to fit on a Wi-Fi antenna mount.
This isn’t a pipe dream; the technology already exists, and is in fact in use at Mt. Rushmore, dams in San Diego and other locations, several crucial Maryland bridges, Exxon’s Alaskan oil fields and many more.
While it sounds elaborate, idealistic, and even like science fiction, this cutting-edge solution is not out of reach. Many leading security systems integrators are qualified to install a CSR system around the U.S. Capitol in less than a week.
The Japanese government is similarly seeking solutions for drone detection, after a UAV was found on the roof of the prime minister’s house in April. Recognizing that newer technologies such as CSR are available, officials have commissioned their security partners to find ways of detecting with radar, zeroing in on engine noises or jamming radio signals.
With a little imagination and foresight, we can bring the future of security right where it needs to be: here and now.
Author Logan Harris is CEO of SpotterRF.