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The 2016 edition of Black Dart, the Defense Department’s formerly classified counter-drone exercise, will expand to Eglin Air Force Base this year, in search of more space and more capabilities, including ships.

The exercise will test technologies for detecting, identifying, tracking and defeating Unmanned Aerial Systems. It’s run by the Joint Integrated Air and Missile Defense Organization (JIAMDO). Eglin base will also provide littoral and maritime areas where counter-drone technologies can be tested against real targets. A token to the exercise’s size is the fact that two Aegis destroyers will take part in this year’s exercise.

Navy Lt. Cdr. Ryan Leary, the exercise’s director, said in a Pentagon interview: “Eglin will allow us to add further uncertainty in the way of providing multiple locations for launching UAS at different distances so we can explore the full nature of the threat and the full nature of the (defensive) capability,”

According to Leary, the drones taking part in this year’s exercise will range in size from less than 20 lbs to 1,320 lbs.

Going up against those “surrogate threat” drones – launched onto the Eglin range from unannounced locations at unannounced times – will be more than 50 counter-UAS systems, ranging from those that merely detect to those designed to take control of a hostile drone.

Key points Black Dart will “further investigate” this year include “non-kinetic and non-destructive negation of threat UAS” – a necessity in urban areas, where simply shooting down a drone could risk injuries to innocent bystanders and property damage.

Robi Sen, whose company Department 13 will test its MESMER drone-hijacking system , notes that ISIS has used drones in the battlefield and to help target or plan assaults against foes such as the Kurdish Pesh Merga, Hezbollah has used a crude harness to arm small drones with bomblets and drop them on Syrian rebels.

According to, Black Dart 2016, whose $4.8 million budget grew $600,000 from last year, will also see some 25 government entities test systems or take part. They include the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and – for the first time — the Federal Aviation Administration.

The FAA previously just approved the flights at Black Dart. This year FAA representatives are coming to learn and test new concepts of operation for protecting civilian air traffic from drones as close calls with airliners, medical rescue helicopters and firefighting planes are a growing hazard.