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University of North Dakota, DHS Sign Cooperative Research and Development Agreement for UAS Operations

A new agreement between UND Aerospace and the U.S. Customs & Border Protection, Air and Marine Operations is a great opportunity for UND  faculty and staff to involve aviation and UAS students in real-world scenarios and research, as well as to educate and train DHS employees, according to UND Aerospace officials.

UND and U.S. Customs & Border Protection to share resources for more efficient training and use of unmanned aerial technologies

The University of North Dakota and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security recently signed an agreement to collaborate in matters of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) operations, training and research.

Specifically, the UAS program at UND’s John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Science’s plans to align key resources and technologies with those of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Air and Marine Operations (AMO) location in Grand Forks.

Over the next two years, the organizations will build a partnership that expands knowledge of UAS training and operations, counter-UAS systems and air domain awareness technologies, according to the agreement signed in late July.

From Grand Forks Air Force Base, AMO’s National Air Security Operations – Grand Forks (NASOC-GF) conducts initial and recurrent UAS training as well as enforcement operations with manned and unmanned aircraft. Additionally, NASOC-GF aids in disaster relief and emergency response efforts of its federal, state, local and tribal partners, according to AMO.

The now-codified connection between the two entities is key to keeping UND at the forefront of UAS education and research, said Paul Snyder, director of UND’s UAS program. Just as AMO will be able to tap in to UND Aerospace’s rich UAS curriculum, subject matter expertise, training equipment and technology, UND will be able to better understand the operations and training environments within a major sector of the UAS industry.

“Further engaging with industry to improve the education of our students represents a tremendous opportunity,” Snyder said. “This type of access allows us to better understand what they’re doing in matters of education and training, and vice versa, which will enable us to better prepare our students for a rapidly evolving industry.

“This partnership really is a win-win that combines our expertise to more safely and efficiently harness these beneficial technologies.”

Snyder further said he anticipates future research projects with CBP that reach UND’s faculty, staff and students – exposing them to additional uses for counter-UAS and air domain awareness systems, as well as other UAS operations accompanying the already in-depth curriculum of UND’s UAS degree programs.

Robert Kraus, dean of UND Aerospace, acknowledged the critical importance of air domain awareness and counter-UAS systems as the world increasingly adopts UAS platforms and technologies. He seconded Snyder in saying UND’s graduates will be better qualified to enter the unmanned aviation industry as a result of the partnership.

“The agreement is a great opportunity to have our faculty and staff involve our aviation and UAS students in real-world scenarios and research, as well as to educate and train DHS employees,” Kraus said.

UND signed the cooperative research and development agreement with the Science and Technology Directorate, the primary research and development arm of the Department of Homeland Security.

“Building on the success of past endeavors, we look forward to working with UND and implementing improvements to our UAS training programs.” said David Fulcher, acting director of Air and Marine Operations at NASOC-GF. “We are thrilled to be able to capitalize on the talent and expertise at the University of North Dakota.”

The University is home to the nation’s first UAS Operations degree program, which has grown since 2009 to comprehensively educate its students in matters of UAS and counter-UAS operations. These include piloting, crew resource management, safety management and human factors in operating small, medium and large UAS. UND is also one of the first universities to enter the Federal Aviation Administration’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Collegiate Training Initiative program, which places UND on the forefront of adapting its curriculum to the requirements of the National Airspace System.

In recent years, the University and CBP also partnered to offer the Air and Marine Operations Pathways Program, which recruits sophomore and junior pilots as trainees. Students who complete a set number of work hours are able to move into an official role with the agency, participating in missions protecting the nation’s borders.