JUST IN: Army Focused on Countering ‘Kamikaze Drones'
With loitering munitions dominating the battlefield in Ukraine, the U.S. Army is looking for ways to combat small unmanned aerial vehicles designed for one-way and sometimes deadly missions.
The Army’s Joint Counter-small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Office, or the JCO, will be conducting another capability demonstration next May to look at how the services can defeat one-way small UAS, said Col. William Parker, the office’s military deputy director. He noted that the demonstration will focus on the threat of group 3 drones that have a maximum weight of 1,320 pounds.
Sometimes called kamikaze drones, loitering munitions are able to fly to targets and strike with an explosive or other kinetic effect, resulting in both the target and drone being destroyed. The tactic has been repeatedly used during recent conflicts in Ukraine and the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which is giving the office ideas of how to defend against them, Parker said.
“Based on the capability that we have now, we have the technology to defend against those one-way attack drones and that’s what we need to continue our development [and] continue our investment,” he said Oct. 20 during a panel discussion hosted by the University of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Aerospace & Defense Innovation Institute.
The Army’s JCO is currently leading a Pentagon-wide push to address how the U.S. military will combat small UAS on future battlefields. Part of these efforts include hosting demonstrations twice a year with the services and industry that focus on a range of counter-drone tactics — from low-collateral interceptors to high-powered microwave technology.
Because low-tech drones have become an inexpensive asset for militaries around the world, there is an imbalance when considering the cost curve of defensive systems, Parker noted.
“Do I want to use that $1-million-dollar-plus Patriot missile in order to be able to engage that group 3, one-way attack that is currently inbound?” he said. “If that is all I have, then yes I do.”
The office needs to collaborate closely with industry to provide less expensive counter-UAS technologies and stabilize that cost curve, he added.
Parker said there is no “silver bullet” when it comes to counter-drone systems. Instead, the JCO is pursuing a system-of-systems approach that layers both kinetic and non-kinetic effects and is integrated into a common command-and-control system.
“That allows both the ability to use the best effector against the threat, as well as the warfighter who's actually operating equipment to be able to fight effectively using a common operating picture,” Parker said.
Layering capabilities would give operators the tools to detect and neutralize threats in varying environments, said Leigh Madden, the CEO of Epirus, a California-based company that specializes in directed energy solutions for counter-UAS efforts.
“There are technologies like high-powered microwaves that are not affected by the weather. There are other high-power or directed energy technologies, like lasers, that definitely are impacted by weather and smoke and other things,” he said during the panel. “So, I truly believe that a layered approach is the right way to go at it.”
Considering the events during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — which has seen both sides employ loitering munitions with success — the JCO’s efforts are on track, Parker said.
“On initial blush, it looks like we are headed down the right direction with respect to what we are doing and the lessons that we are pulling out of Ukraine,” he said.