Citing the proliferation and combat performance of electronic-warfare (EW)-armed small Russian and Iranian drones, the U.S. Army is accelerating a new Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems strategy intended to match, if not fully overpower, rival nations’ weapon systems.
The plan calls for continued fielding of groups of interconnected swarming drones, extremely small, soldier-launched drones and unmanned aircraft even able to fire weapons or function themselves as explosives.
“The SUAS capability is a tool that enables small units to overcome limitations presented by terrain and quickly employ capabilities forward to increase the forces’ influence across larger portions of assigned areas of operation. Delivering these capabilities at echelon allows leaders at all levels to individually conduct information collection,” the strategy writes.
While addressing the particular needs of infantry units and Brigade Combat Teams in combat, the strategy cites the short and long term tactical aims of a full span of small drone missions, to include Short, Medium and Long Range Reconnaissance. The drones themselves are varied as well, as they include both three-inch soldier hand-held drones as well as portable rucksack systems and other, slightly larger integrated unmanned vehicles operating in coordination with one another while supporting ground units.
“Deployment and use of robotic systems integrated across the BCT will enable commanders to expand or reduce the density of the battlefield without adding additional manned systems. SUASs will provide the “unblinking eye” to equip battalion and below echelons with early warning, enhanced detection of potential threats at greater distances, and assist in the prediction of future enemy actions,” the strategy states.
The strategy document specifies both Russian and Iranian threats, in a clear effort to emphasize the importance of countering innovations now emerging from hostile nations. The report cites the Russian “Zala-421-08” small scale drone which has “in large quantities seen successful employment in the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.” The Iranian Farpod small drone is also mentioned as a system containing significant improvements in range and electromagnetic warfare capabilities.
The report specifies key developmental and tactical trajectories to include planning out to 2028 and beyond. Long-Range reconnaissance is identified as more than 10km, Short-Range is of course those closest in threats with medium in between. Not only can small drones provide that “persistent stare” across high-risk battlefield areas for targeting and force positioning operations, but they can also themselves perform certain crucial attacks with EW systems to jam enemy weapons guidance or radio communications and even function as explosives programmed to detonate upon enemy formations, vehicles or other high-value structures.
Kris Osborn is 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.