NEWMARKET — ArgenTech Solutions is being tapped by the U.S. government to use its drone technology to help fight wildfires.
The Newmarket technology services company, which was founded in March 2009, will deploy technology that will serve as an “eye in the sky” spotter for firefighting crews in their battles against future forest fires.
The firefighters’ eye will be a vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) drone that is part of unmanned aerial system (UAS) being developed by ArgenTech Solutions (AgTS) under a new four-year contract with the U.S. Department of the Interior.
“We’ll get phone calls – ‘I need you there in 24 hours’ – we drive our equipment there and we set up at the site. We work for the fire commander, and we fly when he wants, what he wants, providing him a map of the fire as it changes,” said Keith Haney, CEO of AgTS (https://argentechsolutions.com).
As well as giving a visual of the wildfire below, the drone will serve as a high-flying communications relay between the crews on the ground and the aerial firefighting planes as they attack the fire with water and chemical retardants.
“The Department of the Interior has determined that the eye-in-the-sky monitoring of the wildfire is invaluable to them,” said Rita Castonguay Hunt, who is in charge of UAS commercial services for AgTS. “There’s no other real way to get the situational awareness that they need to protect homes and protect firefighters and to try to keep everyone as safe as possible.”
With this contract, AgTS will provide UAS services in support of wildland fire operations, search and rescue (SAR), emergency management, and other resource missions throughout the lower 48 states, Alaska, and Hawaii.
This operation will be based in Boise, Idaho. It will start with a team of six to 10 people, eventually growing to four teams.
Testing of the system – with a drone that is larger than a good-sized desk – was scheduled to start in May at the Concord Municipal Airport.
Haney and Hunt believe that their system will be useful not only in fighting wildfires but pinpointing areas at risk of future wildfires.
“There’s a lot of dry undergrowth and it’s more hazardous for a fire,” Hunt said. “The fire can accelerate and burn through as opposed to just scarring pine trees at the bottom and fizzling out. One of the things they’re testing right now is the technology to fly over certain areas and determine ‘OK, we need to go in there and clean that up, but we need to do a controlled burn so that we don’t have a wildfire that gets out of control here.’”
“And the beauty of our technology,” added Haney, “is that we can see through the canopy and we can measure distances.”
AgTS is developing this UAS with a South African company, Epsilon Engineering Services.
Haney, a 1977 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, is a retired Navy commander. He was vice president of Defense Holdings Inc. (formerly Noesis, Inc.) and president of Hawaii 5-0 Technology Services before starting AgTS with two other partners. The company doesn’t design and manufacture its own technology.
“We are more service oriented: How can I take your technology, get it into the marketplace,” Haney said. “You’ll see this theme all the way through here where we will leverage new technologies.”
AgTS contracts are almost entirely for government work – most of that military, a smaller portion (such as its new contract with Interior) is non-military, involving UAS.
According to Haney, with each contract AgTS provides the UAS pilots, maintenance and subject matter experts, such as mission coordinators. Its employees, under contract to the government, are embedded at the site of a particular mission.
For example, AgTS is under contract with the U.S. Department of Defense to deploy the ScanEagle, a small, long-endurance, low-altitude unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) built by Insitu, a subsidiary of Boeing, and used by the military for reconnaissance, often used in identifying locations of improvised exploding devices (IED).
“The average service that we provide right now in Afghanistan or Iraq is at night, flying 11,000 to 18,000 feet, can’t hear us, can’t see us. We’re looking at electro-optical infrared sensors so that we can watch everything,” Haney said. “We’ll watch five or six guys pile into a couple of trucks, they’ll drive around, they’ll stop and plant an IED, IED, IED. We mark those with GPS coordinates. During the daytime we support the EOD (explosive ordinance disposal) technicians going in and blowing those things up or removing them, as well as the fire mission to go in and take out the truck and the guys that were driving it.”
Unlike a VTOL drone, the ScanEagle is launched by way of a catapult. It was originally designed and known as the Insitu SeaScan, a remote sensor for collecting weather data as well as helping commercial fishermen locate and track schools of tuna.
AgTS embedded personnel work six months of deployment, then come home for three months. The company’s home base is on Beech Street Extension in Newmarket, where 10 people work. It has an operations center in Vancouver, Washington, from which the embedded personnel are deployed. Up to 45 people work in and out of the Vancouver center.
A second new government contract for AgTS is with the Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane Electro-Optic Technology Division to provide world-wide technical support for maintenance of the U.S. Army’s Gray Eagle UAS.
This contract will support the repairs and ongoing sustainment of sensors utilized on the Army Gray Eagle and Sky Warrior MQ-1 UAVs supplied by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems. These are essentially Predator drones equipped with Hellfire missiles.
“It has sensors – classified sensors – on board to look at a whole lot of different things,” Haney said. “We provide experts to go around the world and conduct maintenance on the sensors that are on board. So the usual suspects – places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti, Africa, South Korea. It’s the same process we use here: We train a guy, we make sure he can go overseas, he goes, he stays there for about six months, he does maintenance on those sensors for the Gray Eagles, then he rotates back for three months.”
Haney noted almost 90 percent of his employees are former military, a third are active reserve or National Guard.
“We’re primarily a military-oriented company,” Haney said.
AgTS received the 2018 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award last August at a ceremony at the Pentagon for the outstanding support AgTS provides its National Guard and reserve service member employees. AgTS was chosen for the award from nearly 2,000 employers nominated by more than 2,350 Guard and Reserve service member employees.
“We’re big on growing our people,” Haney said, noting employees can move from one role to another, such as a pilot becoming an operations manager or an operations manager becoming a pilot.
The market for government UAS contracts is relatively new, especially in non-military aspects such as the Department of the Interior. But AgTS already has a lot of field experience as it grows into more non-military contracts.
“I can go into this business with 100,000 flight hours,” Haney said. Full story:
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