On March 12, 2020, the RAND website published a report entitled “small unmanned aerial system advantage capabilities”, which was written by 11 people, including Bradley Wilson, Sean Tierney (Technical Analyst) and Brendan Toland (deputy director of the Navy and Marine Corps Center and senior researcher of operations research). The main points of the report are as follows:

Research questions

(1) What are the functions of small UAV systems that can be used for evil purposes in the next 5-10 years?

(2) What are the performance characteristics of currently available systems, and what do market trends reveal about the potential development of these properties?

(3) What challenges do these systems pose to the detection, identification, classification and response of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and what impact will they have on its future anti small UAV operations?

Especially in the environment with serious sensory interference, such as urban areas, it is difficult to detect, identify, classify and take countermeasures against the evil small UAV system weighing less than 55 pounds. As DHS prepares for potential threats from small UAV Systems, it will need to know the types of threat scenarios that can use these systems, what design elements evil actors may use, and what technologies and capabilities may be used to threaten public security or promote DHS’s efforts to respond to such activities in the near future.

In order to support DHS to determine which aspects of anti UAV system capabilities should be prioritized for investment, this report studies the development trend of small UAV Systems, which may contribute to the performance characteristics of evil users, And how such actors use a single small UAV system (or multiple systems) for various types of operations – from monitoring U.S. government facilities to disseminating chemicals at large-scale public events.

Overall, the commercial small UAV system market has been developing towards making it smaller, lighter and more difficult to detect. Its speed, range and durability are also significantly improved, while its acoustic characteristics are declining. Some small UAV systems have sufficient payload capacity to carry large quantities of explosives or illegal goods. All these trends may benefit evil actors and challenge DHS’s efforts to deal with them.

important discovery

(1) Today’s technology may even lead to the evil use of small UAV Systems

• this report identifies four possible use cases involving the evil use of small UAV Systems: unauthorized reconnaissance or surveillance, transportation of illegal materials, kamikaze (i.e. kinetic energy) attacks, and chemical, biological or radiological attacks.

• of the systems on the market today, 27 can accomplish all four tasks, but they mainly come from the military market. However, there are currently about 500 systems that can perform at least one of these tasks.

(2) The market trend of commercial small UAV system is the continuous improvement of its performance

• payloads such as micro radar, hyperspectral capability and lidar have been developed to work on Small UAV Systems.

• evil users of small UAV Systems will continue to be interested in jamming and cheating GNSS satellites because of the low power required and the ability of small UAV Systems to enter barrier free positions, thereby maximizing the impact of such attacks.

• there are many usage guides on the Internet, which describe how to use small UAV system with cellular network transceiver for remote control, how to operate small UAV system remotely, and how operators can not be found by law enforcement officers in case of malicious operation.

• the current strong open source software and hardware ecosystem can support other sensors and control systems required for autonomous control, automatic driving and remote operation.


• due to the natural trade-off of imaging sensors, DHS should give priority to the system integration method for target detection, classification and recognition.

• for small UAV system threats, radar does not have to detect and track at a very long distance as necessary for most military systems. Since higher frequency bands are more vulnerable to adverse weather conditions, DHS should study and explore how to use higher frequency bands (e.g. Ku, KA).

• considering that the market trend tends to weaken its acoustic characteristics, acoustic detection will be limited, and DHS’s investment in acoustic detection of small UAV Systems is unlikely to see future benefits. Similarly, lidar is unlikely to be useful and is likely to produce false alarms in practical use. For these reasons, these capabilities should not be the focus of DHS investment.

Responsible editor; zl

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