JUST IN: Pentagon’s Counter-Drone Office Holds Second Industry Demo

By Mikayla Easley

A Defense Department counter-drone office has hosted its second industry demonstration to evaluate technologies available for its effort to mitigate the threat of small, but lethal unmanned aerial vehicles.

The Joint Counter-Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Office, or JCO, recently held the demonstrations at Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona. Over a three-week period that began Aug. 30, five vendors showcased either ground-based aerial denial systems or handheld dismounted systems. The event allowed contractors to demonstrate their capabilities while giving the military an opportunity to evaluate new technologies that could close gaps in its counter-drone efforts.

The Army created the JCO in 2019 in response to a growing number of U.S. adversaries acquiring and using small unmanned aerial vehicles in battle. Since then, the office has been working with the military services and the Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office, or RCCTO, to address challenges posed by small drones and pave the way for investments in future defensive capabilities.

During the recent demonstrations, contractors' systems were tested against commercial, off-the-shelf drones the military frequently sees operated throughout the world, Mike DiGennaro, the team lead for the office's counter-UAS testing, told reporters Sept. 24. He added that these types of drones are “prolific throughout the world, and they are some of what we’re seeing used as threats in some of our protected areas.”

Two companies were invited to test their handheld systems. IXI Technologies brought its DroneKiller technology that employs a software defined radio, while DroneShield tested a solution designed for one-hand operation called the DroneGun MKIII.

When faced with an incoming small UAS, the two systems put out a radio frequency signal that interfered with the way the drone was operating.

Other companies that participated in the demonstration tested the ability of ground-based aerial denial systems, or kinetic systems, to shoot down incoming drones with ammunition. Northrup Grumman tested the XM1211 30mm Proximity Round, Smart Shooter tested its Smash Hopper and Flex Force brought the Agile Small Deflection Precision Stabilized Weapon System.

All three systems faced a drone that flew the same flight path and interacted with the target while providing what countermeasures it could, DiGennaro said.

If the JCO feels like one of the vendors could aid the Pentagon’s counter-UAS efforts, it could be offered a contract in the future, according to a fact sheet provided to reporters.

Col. Greg Soule, director for the acquisition and resources division at JCO, told reporters that the office is still evaluating the data from the demonstrations and therefore no company has been notified of a contract. He added that while officials couldn’t yet share the results of the demonstrations, there was still room for improvement for some.

“Just like anytime you’re doing testing with equipment that is still in the research and development phase, there is going to be some trial and error and optimization that needs to be done along the way,” Soule said.

The most recent demonstration was the second industry event hosted by the JCO and RCCTO. The first was held in April, also at Yuma Proving Ground, and was done in collaboration with the Air Force. It focused on testing low-collateral effects interceptor capabilities that can defeat and avoid small drones with minimal or no collateral damage.

The JCO will continue to host industry demonstrations and test new capabilities biannually to address gaps the military may have when facing small drones in the field. The next demo will be held in April 2022, although the JCO has not determined exactly what gaps in counter-UAS technology the office will look to address next, Soule said.

“There’s a sense of urgency and everybody on my team in the community is working hard to close these gaps as quickly as we can,” Soule said, emphasizing that U.S. military personnel around the world could potentially face threats from small drones at any time.


Topics: Robotics and Autonomous Systems

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