Guest post by Andrea Radosevich, General Counsel, Echodyne
Unlocking the skies for commercial gain is a dream shared by a number of the world’s largest and most successful companies, from online retailers to delivery and transportation companies to utilities and massive industrials. As a technology startup that has developed a detect and avoid radar for UAS, Echodyne would welcome interest from companies seeking to capitalize on UAS market potential.
THE ITAR CHALLENGE
Unfortunately, one obstacle to adoption of new technologies in the UAS industry has been the US International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), which restricts both exports of technologies from the US and also use of those technologies by foreign nationals in the US. Until recently, all airborne “tracking” radars fell under ITAR restrictions, creating a significant obstacle for multi-national companies that want to evaluate technologies that meet their business needs.
The key to unlocking the potential of the commercial UAS industry is the ability for UAS to fly beyond line of sight and, eventually, autonomously. But to safely fly beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS), commercial UAS must be able to detect and avoid other aircraft and obstacles. For manned aircraft, the pilot performs this function. For unmanned aircraft, there needs to be a technological solution supported by an appropriate regulatory framework.
Radar is the default solution for either ground-based or airborne detect and avoid (DAA) because it can detect and track objects in three dimensions at long range, and it can operate in all weather conditions. Military UAS use an electronically steerable phased array radar for DAA, and when the FAA adopted Minimum Operational Performance Standards (MOPS) for large UAS flying in Class A airspace, it required air-to-air radar as part of the DAA solution.
Electronically steerable phased array radars offer excellent performance, but they are large, heavy and expensive, making them unsuitable for commercial UAS. Several companies are innovating with radar technologies for small drones operating a diverse range of public and commercial missions.
IS DAA THE SOLUTION?
Our EchoFlight radar happens to be small solid-state electronically scanning array radar with similarities to the ones used on large military UAS, but with capabilities and cost scaled for commercial uses. Is it, or something like it, the right airborne DAA solution for small UAS?
Unfortunately, we have not yet been able to answer that question. Air-to-air radar is the right solution for large UAS as evidenced by the new FAA MOPS instituted after years of extensive testing. But commercial small UAS manufacturers and operators have been reluctant to consider or test any type of airborne radar because of stringent constraints under ITAR.
Industry needs to be able to explore the performance of air-to-air radar on small UAS, especially since it has already been proven to be the right solution for large UAS.
In the US, military items, like air-to-air radar and 5G MMIC chips, are controlled under ITAR rules, while commercial or dual-use items are generally controlled under the less restrictive Export Administration Regulations (EAR). Until recently, all airborne tracking radars in the US – both military and commercial – were controlled under ITAR. The highly restrictive ITAR rules apply to exports from the US, and also to the release of technology to foreign nationals in the US. US companies that employ foreign nationals often find it difficult to comply with the ITAR rules, and therefore choose not to use ITAR-controlled products. This has meant that both US and non-US companies have been unable to experiment with airborne radar technologies developed in the US.
THE NEW EAR RULE
Echodyne has long advocated for commercial radars to be treated less restrictively than military radars and, along with other industry partners, we have continued to highlight this issue with federal regulators.
On October 4, 2018, the State Department published a new rule that removes the ITAR restrictions on airborne tracking radars that fall below certain performance thresholds – i.e. commercial, non-military radars. These commercial radars can now be controlled under the more flexible EAR. To take advantage of the new rule, a radar manufacturer must submit its radar design to the export control agencies for review via a commodity jurisdiction request. Echodyne has done this, and is among the first to receive a determination from the State Department that our radar is now controlled under the EAR rather than the ITAR.
A small step for us, but a big step for the industry.
The recent amendment to the ITAR rules is a welcome change that enhances air safety and supports a growing commercial UAS industry in the US. Commercial UAS manufacturers and operators in the US now have greater flexibility to test radar as an airborne DAA solution as standards are being developed for safe BVLOS and autonomous flight. US manufacturers also now have greater ability to market their products to both domestic and international commercial
Many companies have plans for drone delivery of people, packages, medicine, and even basic necessities to remote communities. Many other companies are exploring small UAS for autonomous inspection of rail, powerlines, pipelines, and other remote and long-distance infrastructure. For each of these companies, safety is an imperative for business success. This rule change will allow UAS companies to experiment with sensor technologies and develop creative safety solutions.
The State Department intends to make further revisions to the ITAR radar category in the future, and it has solicited public comment on radar technologies that are already in commercial use or will be in commercial use in the next five years. The US export control agencies recognize that radar and UAS technology are evolving rapidly and that the export rules need to evolve in response. We applaud these actions by the US export control agencies to support the needs of the commercial industry while also protecting national security. The US has long been a leader in the global aviation industry, and an export control regime that distinguishes between commercial and military products will help ensure that the US is at the forefront of the burgeoning global UAS industry.
Andrea Radosevich is General Counsel at Echodyne Corp. Before Echodyne, Andrea spent six years at Intellectual Ventures where she helped incubate and launch spinout companies like Echodyne, founded in 2014; Evolv Technologies, founded in 2013 to deliver physical threat detection solutions; Kymeta, founded in 2012 to deliver satellite communication terminals; and TerraPower, founded in 2008 to deliver next generation nuclear power reactors. Prior to joining Intellectual Ventures, she was in-house counsel at Washington Mutual and AT&T Wireless. Her focus is on helping companies bring new technologies and products to market while successfully navigating complex regulatory environments. Andrea is a graduate of Harvard Law School and