Army Tests Counter-Drone Technology (UPDATED)

By Allyson Versprille

To combat the increased use of small drones by adversaries, the Army is looking to develop technology that will more effectively counter them.

Over 90 countries and non-state actors operate drones today, including at least 30 that employ or are developing armed drones, according to a June 2015 Center for a New American Security report titled, “A World of Proliferated Drones: A Technology Primer.”

“We’ve been in this environment where improvised explosive devices … have proven very, very lethal to U.S. forces,” said Paul Scharre, senior fellow at CNAS, a Washington, D.C. think tank. Now “we’re looking at a world where instead of worrying about running into IEDs, the IEDs are coming [and] looking for us.”

The threat posed by the proliferation of drones is a “game changer,” affecting the way that U.S. ground forces think about protection, he said. They “have been able to fight for the last 50 years — basically the last half a century — without worrying about threats from the air” because the U.S. Air Force has been so dominant, Scharre said. “This begins to change that.”

Even if the Air Force has superiority up at 30,000 feet, smaller drones will be able to come in below the radar, which makes them harder to detect. Additionally, the U.S. military is not going to use an F-22 to shoot down a hobbyist drone, he said.

Soldiers and Marines are most susceptible to the threat because they are fighting in more congested, urbanized areas where adversaries, including actors like the Islamic State, might choose to use such vehicles, Scharre noted.

Northrop Grumman has developed a system called “Venom” that could address this growing problem, according to a company executive.

The system is currently being tested under a contract with the Army, said Charles Michaels, business development manager for laser systems at Northrop.

Venom demonstrated the ability to identify and track small unmanned aerial systems and provide precision targeting on the move at the Army Maneuver-Fires Integrated Experiment exercise held at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in July, Michaels said.

The core of the system is an enhancement to the company’s lightweight laser designator rangefinder (LLDR), a current Army program of record. The system can recognize targets in day, night and obscurant conditions, a December press release said. Northrop began delivering LLDR in 2004, and the service has fielded more than 2,700 systems.

Venom positions the rangefinder on a stabilized, gimbaled vehicle mount, Michaels said. It has a vehicle-agnostic design, meaning it can be installed on a wide range of Army platforms, he added. 

Clarification: In the second to last paragraph clarified that Northrop's lightweight laser designator rangefinder is a current Army program of record.

Photo: Northrop Grumman

Topics: Robotics, Unmanned Air Vehicles, Science and Engineering Technology

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