From the FBI to the military leaders, security officials are increasingly concerned about the weaponization of drones. One Tampa company is offering solutions.

Published January 7 in the Tampa Bay Times

From his headquarters in a burgeoning industrial park off U.S. 41 in Tampa, the head of a drone technology firm said the recent scare at London’s Gatwick International Airport was yet another red flag about the potential for danger, accidental or intentional, posed by drones.

Last month, more than 140,000 passengers were delayed by the cancellation of more than 1,000 flights at Gatwick over concern that drones were being illegally flown in the area, according to reports.

The incident, still under investigation, “shows the need to have a proactive approach” to detecting and acting against potential drone threats, said Ryan English, CEO and co-founder of FLYMOTION. Among other things, the company created five years ago provides innovative technology, including drone support, to local, state and federal law enforcement and first responder agencies and the Department of Defense. FLYMOTION also helps detect drones in real time so that counter measures can be taken as soon as they get off the ground.

One recent example took place at the Fort Lauderdale Airshow in May, English said.

Brought in by the Fort Lauderdale Police Department to help protect the show, which featured the Navy’s Blue Angel aerial demonstration team, FLYMOTION detected 46 drone flights in the temporary flight restriction zone set up by the Federal Aviation Administration. Seven of those drones were detected in the airspace where the performances were taking place. By tracing the drone signals back to the base station operating them, FLYMOTION helped police track down some of those disregarding the rules.

By honing in on the radio frequency links between the base stations and drones, FLYMOTION “detected, identified and located all 46 flights,” said English, a veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard, Hillsborough County Fire Rescue and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.

• • •

The weaponization of drones is an increasing concern for the military and law enforcement.

In 2016, the Iraqi offensive against the Islamic State in Mosul “almost came to a screeching halt” because of weaponized drones worth just $2,000 or so each, according to Army Gen. Raymond A. “Tony” Thomas III, head of U.S. Special Operations Command. At one point, Thomas said, there were 12 enemy drones — “killer bees,” he called them — “dropping 40mm nuggets. It was an immediate challenge.”

In October, FBI director Christopher Wray told the Senate Homeland Security Committee that the threat from drones “is steadily escalating,” according to Reuters. His comments came days after President Donald Trump signed into law legislation that gives the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI new powers to disable or destroy drones that pose a threat to government facilities.

A month later, Homeland Security officials put out a request seeking information about counter drone measures because drones “have quickly become a security concern due to the ease with which they can aid in intelligence gathering and/or be used as a malicious delivery platform.”

And in December, the New York City Police Department announced it would be operating its own fleet of drones for aerial surveillance.

Drones are also a big concern of U.S. Special Operations Command, headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base. In 2017, the command helped sponsor what it called the “Game of Drones” contest, offering more than $600,000 in prize money to help find the best ways of countering small drones that threaten U.S. and allied forces.

The contest was held in Nevada, sponsored by SOCom along with two other organizations: Afwerx, an Air Force technology incubator, and the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office.

It kicked off locally at the Sofwerx incubator in Ybor City, which continues to explore drone technology.

• • •

FLYMOTION operates out of a 3,000 square-foot facility, owns dozens of drones and has a fleet of vehicles including a Mercedes Sprinter van outfitted as a mobile command center. English co-founded the company with a fellow first responder veteran named David Stratchko. One of the many technology solutions the company provides is a system that can detect drones for about a 35-mile radius. As an example of just how many drones are flying around Tampa, the system has detected 534 drone flights since Dec. 1 from its headquarters in an area that includes both MacDill and Tampa International Airport.

The contest was held in Nevada, sponsored by SOCom along with two other organizations: Afwerx, an Air Force technology incubator, and the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office.

It kicked off locally at the Sofwerx incubator in Ybor City, which continues to explore drone technology.

• • •

FLYMOTION operates out of a 3,000 square-foot facility, owns dozens of drones and has a fleet of vehicles including a Mercedes Sprinter van outfitted as a mobile command center. English co-founded the company with a fellow first responder veteran named David Stratchko. One of the many technology solutions the company provides is a system that can detect drones for about a 35-mile radius. As an example of just how many drones are flying around Tampa, the system has detected 534 drone flights since Dec. 1 from its headquarters in an area that includes both MacDill and Tampa International Airport.

Contact Howard Altman at haltman@tampabay.com or (813) 225-3112 . Follow @haltman.

Howard Altman - Military Affairs and General Assignment Reporter
HOWARD ALTMAN

Military Affairs and General Assignment Reporter

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