The Counter Terrorism Technical Support Office, a small technology development agency under the Defense Department's intelligence undersecretary, recently held a bidders' conference for classified counter-UAV technology. Above, a US Predator unmanned drone is seen in Afghanistan in a file photo. (Massoud Hossaini / AFP)
The US government, which has used missile-armed UAVs to kill hundreds in Pakistan and Yemen, is looking for ways to ward off the same kind of attacks on its own officials.
After all, several countries now produce unmanned aerial vehicles, including China, Iran and Russia, and they are in the arsenals of as many as 80 nations and even some nonstate actors such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah. So far, only the US and Israel appear to have launched lethal strikes from unmanned aircraft.
The Counter Terrorism Technical Support Office, a small technology development agency under the Defense Department’s Assistant Secretary for Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict, recently held a bidders’ conference for classified counter-UAV technology. Various US agencies have put some thought into the area from a military perspective, but this solicitation, issued by a division of the office that aims to protect “high-risk personnel,” reflects a more specific effort.
The solicitation seeks advanced technology development projects in two areas. One is “Concealable Body Armor for Rifle Protection.” (Current body armor, which can withstand rifle rounds, called Level 4 armor, is too bulky to be considered concealable.)
The second is for counter-UAV technology. There aren’t that many options. In 2011, Army Maj. Darin L. Gaub sounded a warning in an article for Armed Forces Journal, this magazine’s sister publication, titled “Unready to stop UAVs: It’s time to get serious about countering unmanned enemy aircraft.”
In an interview, Gaub said the consensus is that there are two primary methods of countering UAVs.
“One is the the ability to shoot it down. And the other is using electronic means: to jam it to cause it to crash, or hijack the frequency and take over the controls,” he said.
Professor Timothy Chung of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterrey, Calif., has also researched the problem.
“We need to be cognizant of the fact that nations elsewhere, and non-nation players, can easily develop unmanned systems themselves,” Chung said. “So that leaves us to think about the adversarial unmanned systems. We need to think not just about our unmanned system but the ones that want to attack us.”
He says there’s no guarantee that systems deployed against cruise missiles or other aircraft would be effective against all UAVs, which have their own characteristics.
“They are relatively small, relatively slow and relatively low-flying. All of those have their intrinsic challenges,” he said.
This story first appeared in C4ISR Journal.