WASHINGTON — Leonardo DRS has snagged a production contract for a small amount of vehicle-mounted weapon systems developed to shoot down and disable small drones, and the Army will assess it in combat next year, a DRS official said Monday.
The capability, called Mobile Low, Slow Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Integrated Defense Systems, or MLIDS, began testing this month at Yuma Proving Ground, Ariz., ahead of a deployment next summer, Ed House, DRS’ business development manager for land systems, said during an interview at the AUSA annual conference in Washington on Oct. 9. The contract is worth up to $42 million.
House could not comment on the number of MLIDS that would be deployed, but the hope is that the Army will be able to employ it to fill an urgent operational need: the emerging requirement to kill small, inexpensive unmanned aerial systems.
MLIDS is a collection of different sensors and weapon systems that have been integrated by DRS to fill the counter-UAS mission, and mounted on top of two separate all-terrain mine resistant ambush-protected vehicles, or MATV. The first MATV would be equipped with an elevated electro-optical infrared system — in this case DRS’ mast-mounted Surveillance and Battlefield Reconnaissance Equipment — which allows the vehicle to identify and track UAS. It would also get an electronic warfare system capable of jamming drones.
The second vehicle’s MLIDS equipment would be slightly different, House said. Instead of a camera, it would have a radar that would detect and track UAS. It would also have a variety of kinetic weapons capable of a “hard kill” of a drone, such as a turret with a 50 caliber gun.
One of those capabilities is a small UAS that can be launched from the MATV and flown forward to engage in an air-to-air fight with an adversary drone.
“I don’t want to talk to much about this; this is the sensitive part of it,” said House, who declined to specify which manufacturer is providing the capability. “It will be the first time it’s fired off the vehicle in October. … It’s going on [the vehicle] right now.”
Over the past seven months, Leonardo DRS has been rushing to incorporate a counter-UAS capability into the overall weapon system, which had been in development for the past four or five years. But, the system is first and foremost meant for ground-to-ground engagements and amounts to a major increase in lethality, House stressed.
“You’ve got to be able to kill a guy with an RPG all the time. You may see one UAS in a month. Who knows. But if you’re in combat, you can’t undervalue the importance of the ground-to-ground engagement,” he said.
For instance, DRS plans to eventually upgrade the 50 caliber machine gun with a 30 caliber machine cannon, which would be a step up compared to the baseline MATV, House said. A DRS spokesman said the timeline for integrating the 30 caliber gun would be dependent on tests of its ammunition, which is being developed by Orbital ATK.
No program of record for MLIDS exists yet, but the company is hopeful the Army will expand its buy in future budget cycles, he said.
Correction: This article previously referred to the 30 caliber and 50 caliber machine guns incorrectly.