AUSA NEWS: Army to Use AI to Defeat Small Drones

By Yasmin Tadjdeh

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The Army’s office for countering small drones sees artificial intelligence and machine learning as key technologies for defeating enemy systems, service officials said Oct. 15.

AI is “critical to what we're doing in the counter-UAS world,” said Maj. Gen. Sean Gainey, director of the Joint Counter Small Unmanned Aircraft System Office and director of fires, G-3/5/7. 

Artificial intelligence will reduce the burden on human operators and improve their decision-making, said Col. Marc Pelini, division chief for capabilities and requirements.

The military wants AI-enabled systems that can speed up reaction timelines for thwarting drone attacks, which are seen as a growing threat, he said during a media roundtable at the Association of the United States Army’s annual conference, which was held virtually this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The technology has the potential to reduce false alarms by weeding out non-threats, and identify small unmanned aerial vehicles that might otherwise go undetected, he noted. It can also reduce the complexity of systems, making them more user friendly, Pelini said. The services want a "military specialty-agnostic capability" that a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine can intuitively operate.

The secretary of the Army is designated as the Defense Department’s executive agent for counter-small unmanned aerial systems, which includes platforms in UAS Groups 1 through 3. Systems in those groups — which are smaller and have less endurance than larger drones such as the MQ-9 Reaper — include platforms such as the DJI Phantom 3, the DJI S1000 and the Forpost system.

The Army office for countering small drones will be putting out a new strategy, Gainey said. Operational requirements have already been approved by the Joint Staff. The strategy is currently in draft form but should be delivered to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper “relatively soon,” he added.

The organization, alongside the Army’s Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office, is also getting ready to host a virtual industry event Oct. 30 to discuss the technology with companies, Gainey said.

According to an Army statement, the event will “provide information regarding emerging requirements, address the multitude of ... challenges, and encourage competition and efficiencies in future technology development and procurement activities.”

It will be open to all vendors and will cover strategy, training, current capabilities and operational capability requirements, according to the service. It will also outline future acquisition approaches, “on-ramp” opportunities and plans for standardized test protocols.

The office recently conducted an assessment of fielded counter-UAS capabilities to determine which systems the military should continue to invest in, Gainey said. Criteria included effectiveness, usability, sustainment and integration. 

The results were released at the end of June and included a number of platforms. In the “fixed/semi-fixed systems” category, the office selected the fixed site-low, slow, small unmanned aircraft system integrated defeat system, or FS-LIDS; the negation of improvised non-state joint aerial-threats, or NINJA; and the counter-remote control model aircraft integrated air defense network, or CORIAN.

The “mounted/mobile system” category included the light-mobile air defense integrated system, or L-MADIS. 

The “dismounted/handheld systems” category included Bal Chatri, Drone Buster and Smart Shooter.

Finally, the “command-and-control” category included the forward area air defense command-and-control, or FAAD-C2, platform as well as interoperable systems, such as the air defense system integrator, or ADSI. It will also include the multi-environmental domain unmanned systems application command-and-control, or MEDUSA C2, once it becomes interoperable with FAAD-C2, according to the Army.

“With that assessment now complete, the department will continue to work with industry to bring these interim systems to full maturity or to eventually replace them with follow-on, enduring systems,” Gainey said. “This is probably where most of our effort is going right now, engaging with industry as we look at what's next for these systems [and] balancing our core requirements.”

Meanwhile, the office is working with partner organizations such as the Defense Digital Service and the Defense Information Systems Agency to mitigate cyber vulnerabilities within its counter-drone systems, Pelini said. It also wants to use AI to exploit potential vulnerabilities adversaries have in their systems via spoofing and other methods, he added.

Topics: Robotics and Autonomous Systems

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