- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 9, 2021

The U.S. Army wants counterdrone capabilities to be in the arsenal of even the lowliest private on the battlefield.

With what military planners call “unmanned aircraft systems” rapidly revolutionizing age-old war-fighting theories, every soldier, regardless of assignment, should know how to help knock out swarms of enemy drones before they can wreak havoc on a unit in combat, the head of the Pentagon’s counterdrone effort said last week.

Drones — armed and unarmed, sophisticated or off the shelf — represent a “rapidly proliferating, low-cost, high-reward asset” capable of reconnoitering an enemy position or carrying out direct, lethal attacks on U.S. personnel. The Army-led joint counter-small unmanned aircraft systems office was established to develop a strategy for addressing the growing threat.

“The threat continues to use [unmanned aircraft systems] as (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) platforms,” said Army Maj. Gen. Sean Gainey, director of the office.

Some have compared the impact of small and relatively cheap drones to the improvised explosive devices that have killed and maimed thousands of military members and civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr., who as head of U.S. Central Command in the Middle East oversees the theater most affected by the rise of IEDs, said the emergence of drones is changing the battlefield in a similar way.

“The growing threat posed by these systems, coupled with our lack of dependable, networked capabilities to counter them, is the most concerning tactical development since the rise of the improvised explosive device in Iraq,” the general said in an address Monday to the Middle East Institute.

Smaller, cheaper drones, he said, are “inexpensive, easy to modify and weaponize, and easy to proliferate. They provide adversaries the operational ability to surveil and target U.S. and partner facilities while affording plausible deniability and a disproportionate return on the investment, all in our adversaries’ favor.”

The U.S. no longer has a near monopoly on military drone technology. Defense analysts around the world are poring over data from the recent war between Azerbaijan and Armenia. The convincing Azerbaijani victory was largely credited to the use of Israeli- and Turkish-made drones that revealed enemy troop and artillery positions to devastating effect.

A counterdrone strategy can’t be focused solely on foreign battlefields. During a recent briefing with Pentagon reporters, Gen. Gainey said unmanned aerial systems have been seen flying near military installations in the U.S.

“They could be perceived as a threat because you really don’t know the intent of some of them,” he said. “You have to take any incursion as a threat.”

Beginning in April, the Army will host defense industry leaders at the Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona. The companies have been invited to demonstrate how counterdrone weapons systems such as high-energy lasers and powerful microwaves can defend large units.

Pentagon planners acknowledge they won’t have enough short-range air defense units to protect everyone on the battlefield. That means developing weapons systems and counterdrone strategies that everyone in a unit, regardless of their assigned job, can master, officials said.

“Anyone from a cook to a medic to an infantryman or tanker can operate the system. We’re trying to make the requirements and material solutions very intuitive,” said Army Col. Marc Pelini, the capabilities and requirements division chief at the joint counter-small unmanned aircraft systems office.

Gen. Gainey said his office is urgently searching for a counterdrone system suitable for soldiers on the front lines to use. It might be an electronic warfare weapon capable of jamming enemy drone signals, he said.

“There’s no concept set in stone right now. We’re creating as we’re moving forward,” he said.

His office also is exploring several locations for a formal counterdrone training academy. The Pentagon’s new base, which is expected to be established by 2024, will be known as the Joint Counter UAS Center of Excellence.

“We want everybody in the force to have the ability to defeat this threat,” Gen. Gainey said.

Nonresident training courses may be suitable for soldiers learning to employ only a particular counterdrone weapon system, but those who need to understand how the different systems interact might require temporary transfers to the base, officials said.

“We don’t see the counter-UAS problem set as one enduring solution. We see it as a range of capabilities that gives you the ability to assess threats,” Gen. Gainey said.

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