How the U.S. Military Wants to Kill Enemy Mini-Drone Swarms
There are several tools and tactics being examined.
There is little point in engineering large numbers of swarming, armed, high-tech drones to support fighter jets, ground troops, and Navy ships unless they are fully networked and upgradeable.
Such is the thinking when it comes to the Pentagon’s new U.S. Department of Defense Counter-Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Strategy (C-sUAS) which, among many things, calls upon a need for common technical standards such that new generations of weapons, sensors and software can be added as they emerge.
“As we upgrade current C-sUAS capabilities and develop future solutions that will be employed across all operating environments, our systems must share a common architecture and be both complementary and interoperable,” the report writes.
An ability to perform software, hardware, weapons, and sensor upgrades are of great relevance given the pace of technical change. Newer form factors and higher resolution sensors are fast-enabling smaller drones to operate at ranges and with levels of image resolution historically unique to larger platforms. Hardware miniaturization is packing much more technical power into smaller platforms, yet software standards and common IP protocol can implement a common technical infrastructure such that changes can be made quickly to operational effectiveness.
“We will develop a centralized sUAS threat data architecture to inform the Department’s work in developing and validating C-sUAS requirements. With a common architecture and a common threat picture, we will increase agility and responsiveness in addressing emergent threat sUAS….Our materiel solutions must draw from standardized interfaces that enable joint and multilateral information sharing that is interoperable and capable of plug-and-play,” the strategy writes.
The strategy points to a common DoD effort, beginning last year, to stand up a special Joint C-sUAS Office to help develop “doctrine, requirements, materiel and training” solutions appropriate to the technical, strategic and tactical reality.
New drone technology and new drone threats naturally change emerging warfare tactics, to the point wherein dismounted infantry may need additional ways to defend against massive mini-drone attacks. These new defenses could include electronic warfare jamming protections or even transportable lasers, portable interceptors, mobile tracking radar or even “area” guns. Armored convoys might need newer kinds of aerial sensor protections to be on guard against large groups of mini drone explosives designed to find, track and then explode moving ground targets such as tactical or armored vehicles. This is one reason why there are so many portable electronic warfare devices, some of which operate using artificial intelligence, that are able to detect and intercept electromagnetic signals. Many of the devices are getting smaller and more precise, as some can deconflict portions of a crowded electromagnetic spectrum, jam or disable enemy electronic guidance and surveillance systems, or even launch offensive electronic attacks as might be needed.
A mini-drone threat can also impact the equation when it comes to providing aerial sensor support to ground forces on the move; should advancing forces be unable to detect an approaching swarm of attack drones, operations could quickly be compromised. This tactical circumstance is why many land units organically operate drones and aerial sensors themselves while on the move.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.