The gyrocopter that flew into Washington this month has revealed a security vulnerability as military radar are not equipped to detect slow-moving crafts from flocks of birds, US officials said Wednesday.
The mini-helicopter that violated the city’s no-fly zone and landed on in front of the US Capitol on April 15 was not detected by radar because the systems are designed up to ignore small, slow and low-flying objects such as birds, kites or balloons, officials said.
“Identifying low altitude and slow speed aerial vehicles from other objects is a technical and operational challenge,” Admiral William Gortney, head of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), said in a hearing to lawmakers.
The flight of the small gyrocopter by a protester trying to draw attention to campaign finance reform has raised alarms about security in Washington and defenses against a possible drone assault.
Members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee questioned Gortney and other senior officials about how to avoid a potential attack by a mini-helicopter or a drone. The Admiral explained that the pilot could have set his gyrocopter on a collision course with the Capitol, which is the home of the US Congress. All 535 members were taking part to a session at the time of the incident.
The military experts are now working on a technical answer that could resolve the issue, Gortney explained, including the JLENS system that uses aerostats to detect drones or other small-scale aircraft. But this system is still undergoing tests and is not yet fully functional, he mentioned.
One lawmaker was extremely dissapointed that America could not forsee such a low-tech threat. “We can put a man on the moon, fly a rover to Mars, and we can’t stop a postman” coming in with a gyrocopter, said Mark Meadows, a Republican from North Carolina.
The incident involving the gyrocopter which happened two weeks ago has shown the potential danger that robotic aircraft pose, lawmakers said, adding that drones have become intensely used for both commercial and recreational flights.
“It’s not about mini-helicopters only, it’s about drones,” said Matt Cartwright, a Democrat from Pennsylvania.
In January, an intelligence agency agent lost control of a recreational drone and it crashed on the White House lawn. A Secret Service investigation soon followed.
Since September 2014, the Federal Aviation Administration has given 250 authorizations for drone flights operated by civilians, allowing the use of this kind of aircraft for farmers, filmmakers, and industry.
Image Source: The Independent