Correction: The timeline for IFPC Inc. 2-I has been updated to reflect a correct date for development of full RAM capability.
WASHINGTON -- The Army's strategy to counter unmanned aircraft systems is close to publication, according to the service's Capabilities Integration Center director, but the service isn't waiting for its final release to move full-steam-ahead to address what the Army has identified as a capability gap against current threats.
The commercial drone market is a billion-dollar industry. Hundreds of thousands of small, commercial drones are purchased each month around the world. The low cost of small unmanned aircraft like quadcopters make it easy for hobbyists to purchase, but also makes it very easy for drones to end up in the hands of the nefarious.
Russia in the past several years following its invasion of Crimea has shown hybrid warfare techniques using unmanned aircraft systems to spot soldiers on the ground, which then allows the drone operator to call for fire directly on the spotted target.
The Islamic State is also using drones regularly and the Joint Improvised Defeat Organization (JIDO) has recently asked for more money to get after the threat, including help countering UAS carrying explosives.
The ARCIC director, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, said the Army is working to close the capability gap identified through observing Russia’s tactics and other enemy forces.
The counter-UAS strategy is with senior Army leadership waiting to be signed, but in the meantime, the Army "moved out and we began to learn about how we can solve this problem," McMaster told reporters in a teleconference ahead of the Association of the US Army’s annual convention in Washington.
The Army took existing capabilities down to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, home of the Fires Center of Excellence, and developed a different way to use the capability to get after the UAS threat, McMaster said.
To develop a solution, the service changed the software to a radar, looked at directed energy solutions, and put it on vehicles it already has and integrated them into organizations that already exist, McMaster said. "Then took that concept into a more challenging environment."
A year ago in October, the concept was refined at the pilot Army Warfighting Assessment at Fort Bliss, Texas, where the Army developed a capability production document, McMaster said, adding, "we are going to field that system very quickly."
The Army has also worked to develop the capability at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, under Desert Challenge and is also developing parts of the solution under the Rapid Equipping Force, according to McMaster.
Army Secretary Eric Fanning told Defense News in a recent interview that the new Rapid Capabilities Office will prioritize counter-UAS along with other top priorities like electronic warfare, survivability, cyber and position, navigation and timing capabilities.
Vital to the Army’s counter-UAS capability going forward will be the Indirect Fire Protection Capability Inc. 2-I, Lt. Col. Michael Fitzgerald, the IFPC Inc. 2-I product manager, told Defense News in an August interview at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama.
While existing air defense systems like Avenger and National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System (NASAMS) have some capability against UAS, they do not protect like the IFPC is designed, he added.
The Army originally developed the IFPC to counter rockets, artillery and mortars (RAM), but shifted gears in Inc. 2-I -- because the UAS threat is an ever increasing concern -- to focus on that as well as cruise missiles. The next block of development will focus back on the RAM threat. The final development block will extend the range of the system.
IFPC Inc. 2-I initial operational capability against UAS and cruise missiles is set for 2020, with an initial RAM capability incorporating a second missile set for IOC in 2022. Development of full RAM capability will begin in 2024, according to Fitzgerald.
The system consists of a variety of capabilities already resident in the Army inventory such as the Sentinel radar and interceptors like the AIM-9X Sidewinder missile. The service has also, over the course of a few short years, developed a multi-mission launcher (MML) as part of IFPC completely internally for a fraction of the cost of contracting the work out.
The MML has tested a variety of missiles like the Hellfire Longbow missile, Stinger missiles, miniature hit-to-kill missiles and the Israeli Tamir interceptor and down the road the Army will try out directed energy against UAS targets as part of the program.
Northrop Grumman’s Integrated Battle Command System (IBCS) will also be tied into IFPC and would connect the system to other air defense systems on the battlefield like Raytheon’s Patriot. IBCS isn’t ready yet; it will reach initial operational capability in 2019.
While the Sidewinder is the first missile of choice – the baseline capability – for IFPC Inc. 2-I, integration work for a second interceptor will start in fiscal 2018. The Army is studying which interceptor that might be and will likely be close to selecting that interceptor toward the end of this year, Fitzgerald said.
The IFPC program office is also partnering with the Sentinel radar office to work on developing the radar to a point where it can detect smaller and smaller UAS with great standoff capability, he noted.
The Army also tested a counter-UAS prototype at its annual Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) in May this year. The C-UAS Mobile Integrated Capability (CMIC) prototype combines a vehicle already used by the service’s fire support teams, the Q-50 Counterfire Radar System, the Lightweight Laser Designator Rangefinder (LLDR) and Northrop Grumman’s Venom mast, which transmits Q-50 radar information and supports the LLDR.
Industry is also hard at work to fill the capability gap.
Lockheed Martin, for instance, unveiled ICARUS last year at AUSA, which can detect and counter UAS. The system uses a non-kinetic, cyber-based solution to defeat drone threats, according to Michael Panczenko, the company’s director of cyber engineering and technology.
Another non-kinetic counter-UAS approach is Finmeccanica’s Falcon Shield which uses radar, infrared search and track, a high-performance electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) camera and acoustic sensors to identify small drones and defeat them.
Lockheed Martin has also changed the software in its Q-53 radar that is designed to detect, classify, track and determine the location of indirect fire to detect and track unmanned aircraft, Rick Herodes, the company’s Q-53 program director, said.
The radar demonstrated at Fort Sill this year its ability to detect both RAM and UAS targets simultaneously, Herodes said. "There is some question out there in the world if you do air surveillance, does it reduce your [RAM] mission, and the answer is not in what we’ve done," he said.
Dynetics, a Huntsville, Alabama-based company, has come out with its GroundAware radar. The radar has a "very accurate, zero false track" capability that can detect humans and animals out to three kilometers and vehicles and UAS out to five, according to Mike Stokes, the company’s GroundAware product manager. The radar can also classify the target, determining whether it’s an animal, a human, a vehicle or an aircraft.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts from Kenyon College.